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Wednesday 12 August 2020

New Hotel Development Threatens Livingstone's Elephants

(12th August 2020)

A controversial new hotel development is underway on a riverside site which is located within the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, a short distance above Victoria Falls. The site adjoins the Maramba River, marking the border of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A computer generated visualisation of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort development

A similar development, proposed in 2006 by Legacy Group Holdings for the same plot of land, raised serious concerns over the listing of the Falls as a World Heritage Site, resulting in UNESCO insisting on a moratorium being imposed on all developments in and surrounding the site.

The development was eventually ruled as being unsuitable within the National Park, and especially for a site designated as a wildlife corridor - important for allowing the free movement of local elephant herds to and from the river and minimising potential human-elephant conflict.

This new development appears to be going ahead on this site despite all these concerns.

'A Done Deal'

A scoping meeting for the development was held in Livingstone on 26th October 2018 where the plan presented to residents and stakeholders was to develop 80 hectares in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park at the confluence of the Maramba and Zambezi Rivers by putting up a 18-hole golf course, 2 hotels, conference centre and supporting facilities. 

The plans for the ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort’ included two three-floor hotel complexes (to accommodate 300 visitors and also including staff accommodation blocks), three swimming pools, a 600-seater conference centre, 450 chalets, 18-hole golf course, two river jetties and a slipway on the site.

 A satellite image of the area which has been modified to show the development site 
and proposed original development, including golf course.

The development is proposed by Mosi-oa-Tunya Resorts Holdings who have appointed Mukuba Property Development Company Limited to develop the proposed project site. The project is funded by the Zambian National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA).

Mukuba Pensions and Properties were represented at the scoping meeting by Daniel Holmes, and NAPSA represented by Rennie Mushinge (Mr Mushinge informed the meeting that he had previously been involved in the 2006 Legacy application). It was announced that DSA Architects, from South Africa, have been appointed architects for the project. The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), a legal requirement, was being undertaken by DH Engineering Consultants from Lusaka.

Local resident Gill Staden attended the scoping meeting, a requirement of the ESIA, and recorded in the Livingstone biWeekly Newsletter (7th November 2018):

"It hadn’t been well advertised so few people pitched up for it... Both Rennie Mushinge and Daniel Holmes spoke with confidence that the development was a done deal... . I felt that the meeting was just a box to tick [exercise]" (Staden, 2018).

A public disclosure meeting was held on the 14th of March 2019 to address concerns raised at the scoping meeting and those that were received via email and social media. 

A revised proposal was presented to develop 16.85 hectares in the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park at the confluence of the Maramba and Zambezi Rivers by constructing two hotels, a conference centre and supporting facilities. The planned 18-hole golf course was abandoned in favour of a golf 'chip and putt' course and bowling green covering an area of approximately 0.98 hectares. The car parking facility would have space for 452 cars.

The proposed project cost is estimated to be $149 million and the construction works will be completed over a two year period.

Private Concession Within National Park

The developers are believed to have been offered a 50-year lease to operate the site as a private tourism concession within the National Park. Mr Mushinge added that the development would include new regional facilities for wildlife officers as part of their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (Staden, 2018).

It is believed the developers are currently in advanced discussions with Radisson Hotels to operate and manage the hotel once complete. Earlier reports (and the ESIA) named Hilton Hotels as potential operators.

Map showing the World Heritage Site (thicker red line) and highlighting the location of the Maramba River development (yellow line). Note the thick green border around the core of the site - indicating the 500m 'buffer zone.' Also note the river and riverine fringe extending upstream is also included within the World Heritage Site From p.39 of the Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya 2007-2012 Joint Integrated Management Plan

Positive Spin

At the 2018 scoping meeting the developers expressed that belief that the  development would be environmentally sensitive and that it would actually improve the environment, as well as creating jobs and boosting the town's tourism economy.

The developers claimed that the wildlife value of the site would actually be improved by the planting of many trees and development of water features, and that birdlife would benefit from this. The landscaping would including the planting of more trees along the riverside fringe so that the development would not be visible from the Zambezi River (Staden, 2018).

Pushing the Limits

The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was finalised in June 2019 and presented at a public meeting in Livingstone in September 2019. [You can download the full Environmental and Social Impact Assessment here.]

Two key development constraints on the development are detailed. 

Firstly, all developments within the National Park/World Heritage Site area are required to be below the 'average tree height' so as not to visually intrude on the skyline. The summary section of the ESIA reports that the "hotel buildings are going up to 16.4m which is below the average tree height (18-20m)" (ESIA Report, page ix). However a few pages later it is stated that "The two hotels... are 16.15m high. The ecologist has confirmed that there are trees on the project site which are above 18m high. All structures on site are below tree height.(ESIA Report, page xix)

Clearly there is an element of confusion here, not just over the height of the buildings (16.15 or 16.4 m high?) but also the definition of the restriction - the requirement being below average tree height, rather than below the maximum tree height. There is no detail given in the ESIA as to the calculation of average tree height, which indicates an average tree height of 18-20m - when this is actually the maximum tree height. 

Nearly all other tourism developments along the river are situated in similar open wooded habitat and have been limited to two or three floors. This development appears to be pushing four or five floors. 

 A riverside view of the proposed Mosi-oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort.

Secondly, developments along the riverine section of the National Park area are required to leave a 50m non-developed buffer strip along the river frontage to protect trees and shield development from the river. The development as currently proposed (and shown in the NAPSA promotional video) appears to extend right up to the river, with no fringing trees remaining.

As with other hotel developments along the river, they will have to protect the site from the night-time wanderings of hippo, which come out of the river to graze (and will be attracted by the managed lawns). This will involve developing and managing a barrier of some form along the river frontage, leading to further development of this supposedly protected strip.

The project descriptions also include mention of a boathouse, slipway and jetty, and pump house on the site. These do not appear to be shown in the promotional video or any of the ESIA development site plans.

The site of this development adjoins the UNESCO World Heritage Site along the Maramba River. The 2007-2012 Joint Integrated Management Plan, submitted by Zambia and Zimbabwe to UNESCO as part of the requirements of the World Heritage listing, detailed a 500m buffer zone surrounding the site. There is no mention of this restriction in the ESIA.

Unsuitable Development

During the Legacy debacle, the Zambia Environmental Agency resolved in 2007 that a the proposed development was not acceptable within the National Park.

The Legacy proposal was also ultimately rejected as the site is a designated wildlife corridor, being used by local elephant herds to access the river for drinking water, an essential part of mitigating for elephants and minimising potential human-elephant conflict. Increasing habitat fragmentation through fenced developments in the surrounding area have channelled elephant movements into this last narrow remaining zone, and they are often seen crossing the main road by tourists on their way to and from the Falls. The area is one a their favoured winter feeding grounds, the elephants particularly attracted to the winterthorn (Faidherbia albida) seed pods.

Elephants crossing the main road to the Falls near the Maramba River.

Increased Pressures

This development, along with others which have displaced elephants from their traditional feeding and home ranges, all increase the potential of fatal people-wildlife conflicts occurring in the area. These animals have less and less wild space to roam, and with other pressures such as drought are more likely to be drawn to agricultural land or urban gardens. Recent residential developments in Dambwa South, adjoining the Livingstone Sewage works, have added to these pressures, causing regular conflict between residents and elephants.

In December 2019 Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford reported on conservation efforts to track elephant movements with GPS radio collars (Sky News, 4 December 2019). The report highlighted the impact of climate change and drought in driving human-elephant conflict pressures. Whilst this may be true for longer term patterns, in the case of the Livingstone area it is human development pressures which are directly driving elephants into conflict with people. The development of a new hotel complex and golf course on this site will significantly increase these pressures.

Fatal Encounters

People-wildlife conflict, especially fatal encounters with elephants, have resulted in large numbers of deaths in recent years on both sides of the river, including the tragic death of a respected guide, Chiinga Siavwapa, on this very site in September 2019 (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 15 September 2019). A total of five people were killed in the Livingstone region in 2019 as a result of conflict with elephants (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 30 July 2020). 

A nearby hotel development, Maramba River Lodge (opened in 1995), suffered the tragic death of two tourists in an elephant attack in November 2017 (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 12 November 2017).

Elephants brought into conflict with humans are ultimately shot as problem animals.

At a public consultation held in Livingstone in September 2019, resident Claire Whitehead, said the project should be prevented.

“Let’s take action on this and make submissions. Do we want to lose this last elephant corridor in the area? Do we want to lose our elephants? Do we want yet more fenced developments inside the national park, on the border of the World Heritage Site? What effect will it have on the already stressed elephants? How many more lives will be lost?" (Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 28 September 2019).

Official Launch (3rd July 2020)

President Edgar Lungu performed an unveiling and ground-breaking ceremony at the site on 3rd July 2020.

President Edgar Lungu unveils a plaque during the ground breaking ceremony of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Livingstone Resort on Friday, July 3,2020 [Photo: State House Press Office - Zambia Facebook Page]

A NAPSA promotional video, released on the same day, shows visualisations of the development - including hotel blocks up to five storeys high and a swimming pool and open boma area fringing the river - and details the hotel as boasting "200 luxurious rooms, of which 20 are stand alone villas, a four-star standard fully equipped conference facility seating up to 500 people." 

Watch the NAPSA Promotional video for the development [Facebook, NAPSA page, 3 July 2020 - external link, opens in a new window].

Latest News - Work Begins

Development of the site has already started, with access roads developed, heavy machinery on site and land cleared of trees. Residents report that the elephants now walk up Sichango road (the tar road to the Boat Club and Waterfront) - potentially bringing them into conflict along this busy 'people corridor' - used by vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. 

On 7th August a local charity, the Conservation and Tourism Society (CATS), launched patrols to mitigate human wildlife (elephant) conflict among the people living near and around the National Park with a 24-hour elephant response team.

There are reports that National Park rangers are being deployed on a nightly basis to warn the elephants away from the site, often having to resort to firing gun shots to scare them away. Residents are reportedly using fire-crackers to deter elephants from their properties.

Sign the Online Petition to Limit the Impacts of this Development

An online petition against the development of the site has been started by Nina Siavwapa, Chiinga's widow. Chiinga was a passionate conservationist and campaigned for the protection of the elephant corridor. Whilst the development of the hotel has already started, it is not too late to influence this development. 

Save the Elephant Corridor in Livingstone, stop the development of the Radisson Hotel!


Sky News, 4 December 2019 - Elephants fitted with tracking collars as drought leads them to kill humans in Zambia - 4 December 2019

Staden, 2018 - Livingstone Bi-Weekly Newsletter, 7 November 2018. Available online (external link, opens in a new window).

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 12 November 2017 - Elephant tramples two tourists to death in Livingstone, Zambia

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 15 September 2019 - Elephant kills Renowned Livingstone tour guide 

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 28 September 2019 - Livingstone residents to oppose the construction of a Golf course, Hotels in the Mosi-O-Tunya National Park -

Victoria Falls Bits and Blogs, 30 July 2020 - Elephant kills man

Further Information

Download the full Environmental and Social Impact Assessment here.

2007-2012 Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya Joint Integrated Management Plan) [pdf, opens in a new window]

Zambia/Zimbabwe Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya 2016 State of Conservation Report to UNESCO (including 2016-2021 Joint Integrated Management Plan) [pdf download]

Zambia/Zimbabwe Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya 2017-8 State of Conservation Report to UNESCO [pdf download]

NAPSA Promotional video for the development [Facebook, NAPSA page, 3 July 2020]

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