‘Free walking’ may be banned in key Zimbabwe game park

Harare - Wildlife authorities in Zimbabwe are about to stop visitors walking freely in one of the country's best-loved national parks - and some locals are up in arms.

According to proposed regulations from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authority, anyone found walking without a guide in Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe will be fined $100.

Stunning Mana Pools, which is home to the Big Five, is unique in Zimbabwe and the region because visitors are allowed to wander freely.

The UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation world heritage site is beloved of photographers and popular among local and South African tourists who relish the unusual freedom of being able to go where they please in a game-rich area.

Mana means four in the Shona language and refers to the four large pools near the river that are the park's main feature.

The authorities also plan to introduce stiff daily fees of up to $300 for professional local and foreign photographers, according to a draft of the regulations which have not yet been enacted. Fans of Mana pools have left scores of comments on Facebook, many - but not all - against the new rules.

"That is ridiculous. The main reason why we go there is that we can park our car and walk to a good spot away from the world, to relax and enjoy nature in a totally unique way. Not being able to do this will destroy the point of Mana," a woman posted to the Zimbabwe National Parks and Game Reserves Facebook page.

Another said that the authorities had "shot themselves in the foot”.

The decision appears to have been taken in response to complaints about bad behaviour from a number of visitors to the park.

Tourists have left toilet roll on river banks, have driven through river beds and have deliberately baited animals to get good wildlife shots, wildlife lovers say.

There are also claims that a small number of locals and South Africans have posed as holidaymakers but are actually operators running unlicensed tours in the park.

Other national parks in Zimbabwe such as Kyle Recreational Park or Hwange National Park only allow walking with a guide.

"Can’t see it working... not enough rangers to do personal walks and way too expensive for the average... guess I won’t be doing Mana anymore," one man posted on Facebook.

But others have pointed out that the charge for a guide is not extortionate, at $25 per day.

Stakeholders plan to lobby the authorities in a last-ditch attempt to get them to change the rules.

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