On a recent trip to assess the wildlife corridor connectivity within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, Peace Parks Foundation’s Senior Project Manager in Mozambique, Antony Alexander, takes time to explain some of the threats that the Lebombo ironwood forests in the area face due to illegal logging.

To get a better idea of the scope of the logging, Antony and a small team take to the skies with Hannes van Wyk, Peace Parks’ Chief Pilot and Aviation Manager, behind the joystick.

Why protect the ironwood tree?

The Lebombo ironwood, scientifically known as the Androstachys johnsonii, derives its name from the Lebombo mountain range in which it is largely found, and due to its hard and high-density wood, well…that’s where the ‘iron’ comes in.

In areas like Limpopo National Park, the hot, dry climate makes the perfect growing conditions for the ironwood, and as can be seen from above, the species tends to grow in large, thick, pure stands, which can cover quite an extensive area. Due to the density of these forests, little to no vegetation grows underneath, and as a result, when the trees are removed, large gaping scars are left on the red earth. When loggers leave remnants of the tree behind, it dries up and becomes a major risk should fire sweep through the region.

An Attractive Target

Because of the hardness and termite resistance of its wood, the tree has been susceptible to heavy exploitation in the form of logging. The wood is a popular choice for flooring, structural support and carvings, amongst other things which people living in the landscape depend on for their only means of income.

Peace Parks Foundation and its partners have assisted the surrounding communities with more eco-friendly ways of cooking using the fuel-efficient cookstove to prevent further deforestation. Peace Parks also provides the local people with employment opportunities in the park, either as wildlife guardians or as part of the park management team. As more and more tourists are drawn to the area, new opportunities will also be unlocked.

The long-term goal for Peace Parks and its partners is to assist communities living in these areas with interventions that will enable them to become custodians of their environment and protect their natural heritage, such as these beautiful ironwood forests.