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Saturday 28 May 2022

Arrivals up 93% as tourists troop back

 ZIMBABWE’S tourist arrivals rose by 93% during the first quarter of this year, as international holidaymakers trooped back to the country’s resorts in response to relaxed pandemic curbs worldwide, Tourism minister Mangaliso Ndlovu told businessdigest this week.

He said arrivals increased to 126 955 during the period, from 65 882 during the same period in 2021.

Business travel has also increased in the past few months, and more conferences have been held, driving hotel occupancy levels.  Ndlovu said domestic tourism also rebounded during the period, pushing hotel occupancy rate to over 30% from about 14% previously.

The steep rise marked the first real growth of the industry, which crashed by 90% in 2020, the sharpest such plunge in 40 years.

Operators said at the time this was one of the darkest patches in the country’s tourism industry, which was triggered by governments’ decisions to ground airlines and restrict international travel to stem contagion as the Covid-19 scourge tore through the world, toppling hospitality empires and leaving millions out of employment.

“There have been many positive developments in the tourism sector starting at the beginning of the year and the performance of the sector continues to be positive,” the minister told businessdigest.

“As of the first quarter of the year, international tourist arrivals have risen by 93% to 126 955 from 65 882 in the same period in 2021. There have been positive performances in all areas including domestic tourism and accommodation facility utilisation. For example, the average hotel utilisation has risen by 20 percentage points from 14% in 2021 to 34% this year. Based on this positive performance in the first quarter the tourism sector is expected to fare much better in 2022 compared to 2021,” he said.

He said Zimbabwe must improve its tourism products in order to compete with regional peers and global players.

“Although many initiatives have been implemented in order to improve the destination image and competitiveness, the country needs to improve in terms of tourism product offering and support services. Due to Covid-19, the sector lost a critical mass of skilled manpower since the sector was literally shut down. There is a need for support to reskill our workforce to remain competitive. The industry has not been able to refurbish (hotels) due to limited lines of credit and high cost of borrowing. As such, the product is lagging behind when compared to other products within the region,” he added.

Ndlovu said in terms of support services such as feeder roads to and within attractions, the government was implementing the road rehabilitation programme.

He added that there was still a lot of work to be done in this regard.

He said there was a need to continue probing the ease of doing business in the country to make it more efficient and less costly.

Source: Arrivals up 93% as tourists troop back (27/05/22)

Thursday 19 May 2022

Zimbabwe to pull out of CITES?

 Zimbabwe, which is sitting on more than 136 tonnes of ivory and rhino horns worth about  US$600 million, is prepared to operate outside the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) if the organisation continues to make it impossible for the country to fully benefit from its wildlife resource.

In a post-Cabinet briefing in Harare yesterday, Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu said conservation decisions should be scientifically-based and not politically inclined.

"We are clear that we are not going to CITES to beg them. We are going to CITES to present our strong position, a position which we are willing to defend, even if it means being outside CITES

"We are there in CITES to share our success stories for the benefit of those countries who want to also experience the successes in the conservation that we have experienced; not to be lectured on how we conserve our wildlife," he said.

Minister Ndlovu said the trade in ivory was a sticky one and should be cleared. He pointed out that if CITES is not in a position to finance conservation in African countries with excess wildlife populations, then "wildlife should finance itself".

He indicated that in the case of Zimbabwe elephant populations are growing at a rate of between five and eight percent, which is unsustainable, with the next five years being particularly crucial as wildlife populations face fatalities.

"All possibilities of us selling our excess live elephants to those who want to populate their areas have been cut under CITES.

"They have introduced an amendment to the current CITES provisions, which says we can only sell to appropriate and acceptable destinations, literally meaning we can only sell to the African countries most of whom have these elephants in abundance," he said.

Minister Ndlovu said despite growing populations, Zimbabwe will continue defending its wildlife heritage.

"But when we have a chance to generate revenues to support conservation CITES comes and they close that window," he said.

"We are left with limited choices. If this CITES is not decisive on this critical matter, we will be left with no choice than to either go the culling way or may be consider engaging our affairs outside CITES."

His remarks come as Zimbabwe prepares to host the African Elephant Conservation Conference at Hwange National Park next week.

On Monday, Western countries' ambassadors toured the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) ivory stockpile in Harare to get an appreciation of the situation on the ground.

"We thought it is important that we need, mainly as African ministers of environment, to exchange notes on how we can continue on our conservation trajectory; and also how we can tackle other critical issues," said Minister Ndlovu.

The conference, which will see 150 participants, including government ministers from 16 African countries, diplomats and other non-state players,  chiefs and local community representatives attending, is primarily meant to discuss and prepare for the CITES 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19), scheduled for November 2022 in Panama, Central America.

"So, among the key outcomes that we are looking at, really, is a position that we would take to CITES from Africa on how conservation should finance itself. It doesn't make sense that as a country we have a holding capacity of 45 000 elephants, and are currently sitting on close to 90 000 elephants.

"When these elephants are dying due to natural attrition and other reasons we only stockpile, but that stockpile of ivory cannot be ploughed back to support our conservation; even when we have gone through two years of Covid-19 which has significantly reduced the revenues from tourism.

Minister Ndlovu said at the conference they will exchange notes and come up with an African position in favour of conservation, and take their fight to CITES as a united front, as anything short of that was not in support of conservation.

Source: Zimbabwe to pull out of CITES? (18/05/22)

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Prevalence of wild animals worries Vic Falls residents

Leonard Ncube, Victoria Falls Reporter

VICTORIA Falls residents have accused the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) of failing to control wild animals after two people were killed by elephants within a week.

They want ZimParks to erect a perimeter fence on the boundary of game parks and residential areas to keep off animals.

This comes as ZimParks has also reported that 35 people have been killed by animals since the beginning of the year.

Israel Ndaba (36) of Mkhosana was killed by an elephant on Friday near Shalom School, six days after Obert Sigola had been trampled to death by a jumbo in the Zionist Church of Christ yard.

Ndaba’s brother Mr Thokozani Mpofu said the family was devastated by the incident. “It’s something we are still trying to come to terms with as a family as he left behind a wife and two minor children. We are preparing for burial in Ntabazinduna,” he said.

Stakeholders who include Victoria Falls City Council officials, Hwange West legislator Mr Godfrey Dube, residents and other individuals in the tourism sector met at the bereaved family’s house and resolved to implore the wildlife authority to urgently find solutions to the escalating human-wildlife conflict.

Mr Dube said members of the community also want ZimParks to conduct patrols.

“As a community we are grieving the loss of our two members within a week due to elephant attacks. What is disheartening is that this has been happening every year between May and July.

ZimParks as the responsible authority must come up with ways of stopping this conflict as we can’t continue losing lives,” said Mr Dube.

“We have proposed that ZimParks, working hand-in-hand with Victoria Falls City Council must erect a perimeter fence and create game corridors. ZimParks should also conduct daily patrols working with other stakeholders and local companies must also work on modalities for transport for their employees especially those on late night duty.”

Mr Dube said council should apply to Government for rights to have control over wildlife that strays into its jurisdiction to protect residents.

Residents have been appealing to councillors to help drive away the animals and were told to approach ZimParks.

Victoria Falls City Town Clerk Mr Ronnie Dube said engagements with ZimParks are underway.

While residents want animals driven away, Mr Dube said that will be economically suicidal.

“It is sad that elephants are killing people in the city. As such council and ZimParks are engaging to find a lasting solution particularly to seek harmony on the human-wildlife conflict issue. Council cannot chase away animals as they are the backbone of the local economy but there is need to empower our people to be safe,” he said.

Victoria Falls Combined Residents Association chair Mr Kelvin Moyo said residents have engaged ZimParks on numerous occasions before to no avail.

“While we appreciate that we are in a national park and that residents can avoid moving around at night or using torch lights, ear phones or use bushy paths, ZimParks should do more in terms of safeguarding people’s lives.

“It seems there is no clear guideline in terms of who is responsible for animals in the residential areas and we want ZimParks to be swift in reacting to distress calls and do patrols. If people were being attacked outside residential areas, we would say they were poaching but this is happening within houses,” said Mr Moyo.

ZimParks spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo said the wildlife authority is carrying out continuous awareness campaigns to encourage people to co-exist with animals and avoid moving around at night.

“It’s unfortunate that people continue to lose their lives and another life has been lost. We are doing a lot of engagements with stakeholders and awareness campaigns in communities and we are discouraging community members from moving at night because most of these animals move at night. We are also saying to our community, do not provoke these animals, let’s give them space to move freely and do not interfere with their activities,” said Mr Farawo.

He said the long-term solution is to move some of the animals from overpopulated to less populated areas. – @ncubeleon.

Source: Prevalence of wild animals worries Vic Falls residents (17/05/22)

Saturday 14 May 2022

Vic Falls risks being stripped of Unesco World Heritage Status

 A CHINESE-LINKED company has controversial plans to build lodges on an island on the Zambezi River and within spitting distance of the Victoria Falls, putting the globally acclaimed natural wonder at risk of being delisted from the Unesco World Heritage Sites List.

There is ongoing commercialisation of the prestine Cataract Island, situated a few metres away from the waterfalls’ famous Devil’s Cataract. If no remedial action is taken, the Victoria Falls, also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) may lose its status as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of falling water in the world. It spans about 1.7 kilometres with an average depth of 100 metres. The waterfall itself is the major attraction at the World Heritage Site. Upstream, there is a spectacular series of riverine islands formed during geological and geomorphologic processes. Because of the majestic curtain of falling water and the exceptional geological and geomorphologic features with outstanding universal value and beauty, the Victoria Falls was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1989.

The designated site extends over 6 860 hectares. It comprises 3 779 hectares of Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, 2 340 hectares of Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls National Park and 741 hectares of  the riverine strip of Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe. The transboundary tourist attraction is jointly administered by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (Zawa) and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks).

Victoria Dream, a private company linked to Feng Xiwo Feng and Zhou Zhonggou, who are both Chinese nationals, has flighted an advertisement in which it is looking for partners to develop three sites around the World Heritage Site. The company claims ownership of the land through what it calls “strategic long-term lease agreements with stakeholders such as ZimParks.

The Chinese-linked company further claims to have a concession comprising an island in Darwendale Recreational Park in Norton. Zhou is the chief executive whilst Feng is the managing director of Satewave Technologies. Satewave is the company which donated medical equipment to Sally Mugabe Central Hospital in Harare in June last year.

As previously hinted, Feng and Zhou’s Victoria Dreams claims ownership of three sites in Victoria Falls. Most controversial is a riverine island site measuring 13.5 hectares, whose coordinates are Universal Transverse Mercator format 35K 366826 8026026.

“Due to the exclusive site location, rates can be charged from US$2 000 per night ensuring that investment costs can be quickly returned,” reads the advertisement. For the avoidance of doubt, the said Victoria Island is one of the eye-catching islands on the Zambezi River upstream of the world-famous Victoria Falls.

The second Victoria Dreams’ concession is just 6km from the city centre and the company is proposing to establish a jetty site restaurant  while the third site is located 17km from the city centre along the Victoria Falls-Kazungula road. At the third site they propose a hotel and conference centre.

Zambezi Crescent’s involvement Zambezi Crescent, a tourism company which runs the Victoria Falls River Lodge, the first private game lodge to be built in the Zambezi National Park, has also flighted an advertisement commercialising the  sacred Cataract Island. The latter is at the very edge of the majestic waterfalls and has been the only area within the immediate vicinity of the waterfall inaccessible to tourists due to environmrntal conservation concerns.

Over the years, applications by tourism companies to tour Cataract Island have been opposed by residents and other concerned stakeholders. Cataract Island, also known as Boaruka Island, holds very strong cultural significance to the ethnic Tonga community. Boaruka is a BaTonga word meaning “divider of waters”. The Island is a sacrosanct cultural site used for sacred offerings to the ancestral spirits who are believed to occupy the enchanting Mosi-oa-Tunya, the “smoke that thunders”.

Commendably, ZimParks has been rejecting the applications to protect and preserve the  fragile ecology of the island’s  flora and fauna. Now that Zambezi Crescent is currently advertising tours to the sacred Cataract Island, has ZimParks shifted goal posts?   

About Unesco World Heritage Sites

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) is a specialised agency of the United Nations. Zimbabwe is one of Unesco’s 193 member states. Unesco administers the 1972 World Heritage Convention, an international legal instrument merging two separate movements: the preservation of cultural sites and the conservation of nature.

A World Heritage Site is a landmark or area with legal protection by the World Heritage Convention. Unesco is responsible for designating World Heritage Sites. The latter are categorised into two classes: cultural and natural. The listing of a site is prestigious. It promotes tourism and boosts the economy of the host country. Zimbabwe is privileged to have five sites on the Unesco World Heritage List. Victoria Falls (1989) and the joint Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas (1984)  are the two natural sites while Great Zimbabwe National Monument (1986), Khami Ruins National Monument (1986) and Matobo Hills (2003) are the three cultural sites.

In a process known as delisting, Unesco can strip a site of its World Heritage Site status if it considers that it not being  properly managed and protected. The starting point can be placing  the  site on what is known as the Unesco List of World Heritage in Danger. The responsible country is then engaged in view of encouraging it to remedy whatever the situation would be causing danger. If remediation fails, the site is completely delisted from the World Heritage List.

Three sites have been delisted so far. The first World Heritage Site to be undressed was Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in 2007. In 2009, Unesco removed Dresden Elbe Valley in Germany from the list because of an under-construction bridge that would bisect the valley. The third site to be deleted from Unesco’s World Heritage List is the Liverpool Maritime Merchantile City in Liverpool, England.  Unesco removed Liverpool from the prestigious list, citing concerns about over-development which included the construction of  Everton Football Club’s new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock.

The fate of Mosi-oa-Tunya.

Early this year, Unesco sent a monitoring team to assess the status of the Victoria Falls/Mosi-oa-Tunya in view of ongoing and proposed developments which include the Batoka Gorge Hydro – electric Scheme located on the Zambezi River about 54km downstream of the waterfalls.  A decision is yet to be made, but Zimparks is on record as dismissing the delisting possibility as having no foundation or basis in fact. While we await Unesco’s decision, the aforementioned Chinese investors are pouring gasoline on fire.

The  erection of buildings on the  ecologically rich islands upstream of the Victoria Falls, the commercialisation of the pristine Cataract Island by Zambezi Crescent, the Batoka Gorge project and other ongoing and proposed projects are genuine threats to the Falls’ prestigious status. As hinted above, Liverpool was stripped of its status because of the building of a soccer stadium.  Ironically, a Dubai-based billionaire, Shaji Ul Mulk, has reportedly made  proposals to build a cricket stadium in Victoria Falls. The United Arab Emirates national, who met President Emmerson Mnangagwa last month, also intends to “invest in other areas close to the Victoria Falls”.

Development is welcome only if it is ecologically sustainable.  Natural wonders of the world are natural. Prestine islands at Victoria Falls must remain natural. The proposed new lodges and restaurants  will pollute the already threatened  World Heritage Site. The state must jealously protect the falls. After all, every person has a constitutional right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations.

In terms of section 16 of the constitution of Zimbabwe, the government and all institutions have an obligation to preserve and promote Zimbabwe’s heritage. Victoria Falls is both a national and World Heritage Site. It should be preserved at all costs. Commercialisation of the sacred Boaruka Island and the  prestine Victoria Island  must be stopped. Bearing in mind that Zimbabwe is a signatory to the World Heritage Convention, all islands at our Mighty Victoria Falls must be preserved and conserved.

Source: Vic Falls risks being stripped of Unesco World Heritage Status (13/05/22)

Thursday 12 May 2022

Legends of the Falls (Part 2): The Place of the Rainbow

Legends of the Victoria Falls (Part 2): The Place of the Rainbow

By Peter Roberts

The second part in a short series looking at the cultural and natural history of the Victoria Falls, a natural wonder of the world and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The first article looked at the cultural traditions recorded by Livingstone on his visits to the Falls in 1855 and 1860 (available here). Now we look at how, fifty years later, the Victoria Falls were promoted to and perceived by early tourists, and how Livingstone himself now became part of the local legend of the Falls.

Part One available here: 

Legends of the Victoria Falls (Part 1): Spirits of the Falls.

Victoria Falls

Victoria falls viewed from western end, Cataract Island in foreground
 (Photo Credit: Peter Roberts)

Guiding Spirits

In 1902 Mr Francis (Frank) William Sykes was appointed the first Conservator of the Falls, responsible for the Falls Park established on both sides of the river around the immediate area of the Falls for a distance of five miles. Sykes appears to have spent some time trying to understand the local traditions and cultural beliefs surrounding the Falls.

The travel writer and correspondent for the London Morning Post, Mr Edward Frederick Knight, visited the Falls in early 1903, publishing a detailed account of his travels later the same year. Sykes guided Knight around the Falls, spending the first day exploring the north bank and the second day the south side.

Viewing the Falls from the Eastern Cataract Knight recorded his first impressions.

“It is too sublime a spectacle to have anything of horror in it. The sense of danger is strangely absent as one looks from the edge of the abyss at the majestic scene. It is as if one were out of this universe and in some higher one where the forces of Nature are on a gigantic scale, irresistible yet without menace; where there is no death or pain for living things, so that they are able to gaze with a rapture of admiration unmixed with fear at the stupendous and beautiful manifestations of power that cannot hurt them. At the Victoria Falls the traveller feels that he might well be looking on some landscape of Paradise.” (Knight, 1903, p.344)

The next day they explored the Falls from the south bank, and into the 'rainforest' (so named by the German visitor, E Mohr in 1870) opposite the main falls.

At the western end of the Falls Knight recorded a tradition of tying the long grass into a knot as a 'petition to the spirits':

“We followed the canon cliff round its westernmost curve, and I noticed that the tufts of grass growing at the very brink of the abyss had been tied at the top into knots by the natives, so that they had the appearance of so many ninepins. Each of these knotted tufts was a petition to the spirits of the Falls, for the Barotse feel the awful influence of the cataract, and in recognition of and in supplication to the mystic power of the water they fashion these living prayers.” (Knight, 1903, p.349)

Sykes' knowledge of local beliefs perhaps influenced Knight in his descriptions, particularly in relation to the rainbows which follow the observer at close distance during certain conditions in the dense atmosphere of the rainforest, and which Knight likened to 'an attendant ghost,' an echo perhaps of the traditional cultural beliefs associating the rainbow with the guiding spirits of the ancestors and the resulting spiritual significance of the Falls (See: Legends of the Victoria Falls (Part 1): Spirits of the Falls).  

Then we plunged into the Rain Forest itself, and here, though there were some open savannahs of grass and fern, the growth of trees and bush was generally so dense that we could only progress by following the many intersecting hippopotamus tracks, tunnels which these animals had forced through the vegetation, down which we had to crawl, wading through deep mud and rank sodden grass, and crossing many streams of running water made by the falling spray...

It was a forest of eternal driving wind and rain; and yet, despite this, it was no dark, cheerless, stormy scene that surrounded us. We walked through an atmosphere that was bright and luminous and even dazzling to our eyes. For, from the cloudless blue above us, which we could not see, the fierce rays of the sun pierced the spray cloud, filling the air with a diffused watery ever-shifting light. It was as if the sunshine were pouring on us through a veil of thin white silk.

Victoria Falls

Viewed through the rainforest (Photo Credit: Peter Roberts)

"In this light the raindrops on all the leaves sparkled like jewels. As we walked on there was always on the right hand of each of us a bright rainbow following him wheresoever he went like an attendant ghost. When we were in the more open spaces these rainbows retreated to a long distance off and waxed larger, appearing to span leagues of country; but when the forest closed in on us they came nearer and were smaller, in the denser jungle narrowing to arcs of colour not a yard across and so close that it seemed as if one had but to stretch out one's hand to touch them...

And now that we were in the midst of the forest we realised all the unsurpassed luxuriance of this tropical vegetation bathed in sunshine and everlasting rain; the vivid greenness of the great trees, whose branches were linked with the multitudinous tendrils of the lianes and convolvuli; the lushness of the grass and ferns; the wondrous beauty of the various delicate flowers with rainbow-tinted petals, frail-looking but unharmed by the endless storm, marvellous blossoms that one was loth to pick. We plucked a few, hoping to keep them as specimens, but found that they almost immediately faded and withered in one's hand like the flowers of the enchanted garden of the fairy tale. And this might, indeed, have been a garden of fairyland, so unreal and dreamlike it looked in that luminous atmosphere...

And yet ever by our side, advancing when we advanced, stopping when we stopped, were the faithful little attendant rainbows, brightening and waning with the changing density of the water-wind that swirled around us...

And so on we went, drenched, for no waterproofs will keep one dry here, now under the dripping trees, now over the soaked savannahs, and now clambering over the slippery rocks on the cliff edge, until we had traversed the whole length of the Rain Forest and had come to the most terrible spot of all. We were standing at the extremity of that great wedge-shaped promontory of rock called Danger Point...

We might have been gazing at a primordial chaos from which some day, after the passing of aeons, a world would be created. On this wild cape the air was no longer luminous, as in the forest; the sun’s rays did not pierce the dense vapours; the faithful little rainbows were unable to follow us here, and had left us.” (Knight, 1903, p.353-356)

The Place Where the Rain is Born

Fifty years after Livingstone's first visit to the Falls, Sykes authored the first ‘official’ tourism guide on the Falls, published during late August 1905. Sykes introduced his guide with the arrival of Dr Livingstone at the Falls in 1855, and records several local names and their meanings.

“The Native (Sekololo [Makalolo]) name for the Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning ‘the smoke which sounds.’ It is a most appropriate one, as, viewed from any of the surrounding hills, this rising columns of spray, more particularly on a dull day, bear an extraordinary resemblance to the smoke of a distant veldt fire... The native in their songs say ‘how should anyone lose his way with such a land-mark to guide him?’” (Sykes, 1905)

Cataract Island is given its now commonly used English name, with Boruka as “the native name, signifying ‘divider of the waters.’”

On Livingstone Island Sykes wrote:

“Situated on the edge of the chasm almost in the centre of the Falls is the Island named after David Livingstone. ‘Kempongo’ was the old native name, which means ‘Goat Island.’ He himself named it Garden Island. It is a curious coincidence that it should bear a similar name to that other island which occupies almost an identical position at Niagara.” (Sykes, 1905)

Of the Rainforest, first named by the German traveller Edward Mohr who visited in 1870, Sykes notes:

“The name is well chosen, for here it is always dripping. The natives themselves refer to it as 'the place where the rain is born.'” (Sykes, 1905)

Victoria Falls

Cataract Island (Photo Credit: Peter Roberts)

At the end of the guide Sykes listed the regulations which visitors were expected to follow for the protection of the Falls environments, detailing the prohibiting of:

“- Shooting of any and every description within a radius of five miles [8 km] of the Falls on either bank.

- Netting and dynamiting in the river.

- The cutting of initials on or other defacement of the boles of trees.

- Plucking of flowers and ferns, uprooting ferns, orchids or other plants.

- Setting fire to the grass in the park.

- Trespassing of animals.

- Washing of clothes in the river above the Falls.

- Picnic parties are requested to remove all traces of their presence, such as tins, bottles, paper, etc, before leaving.

“The importance of the above will be obvious to all visitors who are lovers of nature, and their loyal observance is confidently relied upon.” (Sykes, 1905)

The regulations protecting the environment of the Falls not only protected the Falls and its immediate surrounds from the actions of indiscriminate visitors, but also limited access to, and the use of, the river and Falls for local Leya people, including access to sacred shrines and sites around the Falls - the prohibition of the washing of clothes in the river apparently directed specifically at the cleansing rituals carried out in the natural pools on the lip of the Falls. 

A New Shrine

A few months previously, in late 1902, Sykes had visited Garden Island with a local elder, Namakabwa, who showed him the tree upon which Livingstone had carved his initials, and which were said to still be faintly visible. Sykes later recorded its rediscovery:

“The Name Tree upon which he cut his initials still remains. Its identity was determined two years ago by the writer... An old white-haired native, by name Namakabwa, who spent most of his time down the gorge catching fish, on being questioned said he well remembered Livingstone, whose native name was ‘Monari,’ coming to the Falls, and described how he (Namakabwa) a day or two after Livingstone’s departure, made his way over to the island and found that a small plot had been cleared of bushes, also that he had made some cutting on a tree. When asked ‘which tree?’ he immediately went to the Name Tree, and put his finger on what had evidently been a cut. The authenticity of the above then is based on the evidence of ‘the oldest inhabitant,’ and may be accepted as genuine. The bark of the tree is so rough and the marks so nearly obliterated that one would have had some doubts on the subject, were the source of information less worthy of belief.

“It is to be recorded with regret that a certain class of tourists, to whom nothing is sacred, had commenced to strip and carry away pieces of the bark from this tree, and so came the necessity for a notice-board and tree-guard, in themselves a witness against the relic hunting vandal who lightly destroys what can never be replaced. Even Livingstone, the discoverer of the Falls, excuses himself for ‘this piece of vanity.’ Would that others were only as sensitive on this point as the great explorer, and delay carving their meaningless initials on the trunks of trees until they can boast such a world-wide fame as was his to excuse the act!” (Sykes, 1905)

The Livingstone Tree

The Livingstone Name Tree (Image from early postcar)

The railway line from the south to the Victoria Falls was completed in April 1904, and soon after, in June, the Victoria Falls Hotel opened its doors to its first guests. Construction of the Victoria Falls Bridge started later the same year, with the official opening held in September 1905.

Tours to Livingstone Island, and a visit to the 'Livingstone Name Tree,' were a key part of a visit to the Falls for early visitors. In January 1906, however, it was reported that there were fears tree was dying.

"The Livingstone correspondent of the Bulawayo Chronicle states that the tree upon which Dr Livingstone carved his initials at the Victoria Falls, is dying, and it is proposed to cut down the trunk and send it to London to be preserved with other relics. It is further proposed to perpetuate the memory of the great explorer by erecting a monument on the spot where the tree now stands.” (News from Barotsiland, 1906)

When the now famous bronze statue of David Livingstone was unveiled overlooking the western view of the Falls in August 1934, news reports recorded Livingstone’s initials were apparently still faintly visible on the tree he had originally carved them into in 1855, although by now serious doubts were being expressed as to the authenticity of the marks and even the identification of the tree itself.


Knight, E. F. (1903) South Africa after the War, A Narrative of Recent Travel. Longmans, Green and Co, London.

Sykes, F. W. (1905) Official Guide to the Victoria Falls. Argus Co., Bulawayo.

News from Barotsiland (1906) No.27, January 1906. p.8.

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Cataract Island Under Threat of Tourism Development

The sacred island sanctuary and protected wildlife refuge of Cataract Island is threatened by the recent launch of tourism tours and activities to the island, endangering not only its fragile ecology but also the wider status of the Falls as a World Heritage Site.

Read more: Fears Grow Over Falls World Heritage Status

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Peter Roberts is an ecologist, conservationist and freelance researcher and writer with a special focus on the Victoria Falls region. He is author of several books on the history of the Falls, including 'Footsteps Through Time - a history of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls' [First published in July 2017, revised third edition April 2021].