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The Matopos or Matobo Hills are a fascinating area of granite kopjes and wooded valleys commencing some 35 kilometres south of Bulawayo in Matabeleland. The hills were formed over 2 000 million years ago with granite being forced to the surface. This has eroded to produce smooth "whaleback dwalas" and broken kopjes, strewn with jumbled boulders and interspersed with thickets of vegetation.

The Matobo Hills cover an area of about 3 100 square kilometres, of which 440km is National Park, the remainder being largely communal land and a small proportion of commercial farmland.  Part of the National park is set aside as a Game Park, which has been stocked with game including both species of rhino.  This covers some 10 000 ha of beautiful scenery including spectacular balancing rocks and impressive views along the Mpopoma river Valley. Birdwatching can be a little frustrating with Parks regulations permitting vehicle-based access only.

Good perennial vegetation supports a significant herbivore population, including Rock and Yellow-spotted Dassie, which in turn leads to a diverse and prolific raptor population, including 35 diurnal and 9 nocturnal raptor species recorded within the Matopos. In total about 300 species occur.

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Specials

Verreauxs' Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Martial Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Brown Snake-Eagle, Black-chested Snake-eagle, Lanner Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Verreaux's Eagle-owl (mackinderi subspecies), Boulder Chat, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Red-billed Oxpecker and hybrid Oxpecker, Mottled Swift, Southern Hyliota, Pygmy Goose, Cape Batis, Purple-crested Turaco.

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Habitats

Rocky kopje and fringing vegetation, grassland, dams and streams, miombo woodland, mopane woodland and some stands of exotic species.

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Facilities

A network of roads, many requiring 4x4, walking trails, chalet and lodge accommodation, camping and picnic sites.

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Birding

This depends on whether you are based in or out of the Park, both requiring an early start with birdlife in the Matopos often hard to locate and somewhat sparse.  In winter "bird parties" are the key and might contain an appreciable range of species.  Having risen early, priority areas would be the thicker vegetation in search of insectivores and frugivores.  Later in the day with the possibility of thermals, it would be rewarding to look for raptors from a good vantage point on a convenient kopje.  Finally, as temperatures begin to rise it would be worth moving to a dam and locating resident waterfowl.

1. Rocky Kopje and fringing vegetation. Boulder Chat and Mocking Cliff-chat are two obvious species linked to rocks as well as Rock Martin, all of which should be seen.  The fringing vegetation often holds habitat-linked species such as Lazy Cisticola and Striped Pipit, as well as Cape Batis.

2. Grassland. Appreciable tracts of grassland exist between some of the kopjes and depending on the time of year and state of the vegetation, these may contain a number of grassland species. Cape Longclaw, Croaking Cisticola Red-collared Widowbird and Secretarybird have all been seen.

3. Dams and Streams. All the dams within the Park are artificial and depending on their size and amount of rainfall may or may not hold water. The largest dams, Mpopoma, Maleme, Mstheleli and Toghwana nearly always hold some water and support a limited number of waterbirds, African Pygmy-goose being a particularly rewarding sighting.  African Fish-eagle are resident at both Maleme and Mpopoma and breed on an annual basis.  Most of the watercourses contain flowing water during the rainy season, but many dry up during the winter months, with water restricted to a few pools.

4. Miombo woodland. Towards the eastern side of the Matopos a number of the valleys contain appreciable stands of Brachystegia woodland with associated avifauna. Being isolated from larger tracts of miombo further north, "specials" are limited to a few species only.

5. Mopane woodland. Small areas of mopane woodland exist principally on the way into the Park along the Circular Drive and at the Whitewaters Entrance. Most are linked to poor soils supporting annual grasses, which are favoured by herbivores, making these areas a good place to look for game and possibly oxpeckers

6. Maleme Dam area. There is a possibility of recording four different species of chats in this area; Mocking Cliff-chat and Boulder Chat are generally seen on the path from the rest camp to the dam, whilst in the vicinity of the dam, Familiar Chat and African Stonechat might be present as are Giant Kingfisher, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and Malachite Kingfisher.

7. Overhead. Swallows, martins and swifts should be well represented, the most impressive being Mottled Swift, which are known to breed at one site within the Matopos and might be recorded anywhere.

8. Of interest. In the '70's both species of oxpecker were introduced to the Park with a degree of success. The Yellow-billed Oxpecker population increased, whilst it was thought that the Red-billed Oxpecker had failed to become established. However, in the late 90's and again in 2006 hybridisation between the two species was recorded and photographed, the offspring showing features of both Red-billed and Yellow-billed species. Look carefully at any group of oxpecker you might encounter.

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General

Temperatures fluctuate considerably with frost not uncommon during the winter months. October and November are likely to be the hottest months of the year with temperatures in the mid 30's which can be unpleasant. Conditions are often made worse by the presence of mopane bees or 'sweat' bees which home in on any source of moisture. Rainfall fluctuates significantly with wet and dry cycles, the average rainfall being in the region of 600mm.  Most rain falls in mid to late summer.

Both the National Park and surrounding communal land are well serviced by a network of roads. However due to the exceptionally heavy rains of 2000 and 2001, some roads are badly eroded making 4x4 transport advisable. The main road through to Maleme and Circular Drive is tarred and should present few problems for conventional two wheel drive vehicles.

Picnic sites and walks within the National Park to caves or the summits of impressive kopjes such as Pomongwe, Bambata and Effifi, are well marked.

Accommodation within the Park is in the form of self-catering lodges or chalets and camping. Campsites are located at most of the major dams, whilst lodges and chalets are only located at Maleme Rest Camp. Book through the Dept.of National Parks & Wildlife Management.
Central Reservations, Harare
tel +263-4-706077 or 706078
fax+263-4-793867
e-mail reservations@zimparks.co.zw
Website Zimbabwe Parks Website
Reservations, Bulawayo
tel +263-9-65592.

Accommodation outside the Park
A number of private camps offer accommodation.  Contact details are:
Touch the Wild - P.O.Box 3447, Bulawayo, Tel 09 888922/888944/888968/888893
Amalinda Camp - P.O.Box 9088, Hillside, Bulawayo, Tel 09 243954
Big Cave Camp - P.O.Box 88, Bulawayo Tel 09 256843

Location The Matobo Hills are located 35 km south of Bulawayo and accessed from the Kezi Road. It is essential to obtain fuel before leaving the City as this is not available elsewhere.

Entrance Gates are located at Sandy Spruit (Circular Drive), Hazelside and Whitewaters, the latter also being the access point to the Game Park.  Park entry fees and accommodation are based on a three-tier system for Zimbabwe residents, southern Africa regional residents and international visitors (US dollars required)

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Verreauxs' Eagle Survey

The most impressive avian feature of the Hills is the high concentration of Verreauxs' Eagle, which have been studied for the past 40 years. The Verreauxs' Eagle Survey dates back to the late 50's and early 60's when W. R. Thomson of the Dept. of National Parks listed 35 Verreauxs' Eagle eyries. From 1962 - 1964, Carl Vernon located most of these and with the help of Branch members of the Rhodesian Ornithological Society (now Birdlife Zimbabwe) added a further 31. In 1965 Val Gargett established the Verreauxs' Eagle Survey with members divided into teams responsible for monitoring occupancy and breeding success. 20 years of work culminated in Val Gargett's book "The Verreauxs' Eagle", which is a wonderful monograph filled with data and facts about the Matobo Verreauxs' Eagle. The Survey continues to this day and is currently organised by the Matabeleland Branch Committee of Birdlife Zimbabwe. Val's work showed the importance of the dassie population to the Verreauxs' Eagle and the 80's and 90's have emphasised this, with drought and poaching impacting heavily on the communal land dassie population and consequently communal land Verreauxs' Eagle populations have plummeted.

Julia Duprée 2008
Martin Smith 2001
Derek Solomon 1997



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