Malawi is blessed with a rich diversity of flora and fauna and has no less than nine National Parks or Wildlife Reserves. Whilst it may not have quite the sheer numbers of large mammals (particularly predators) as some of its better known neighbours, it makes up for this in other ways. Malawi provides intensive and exclusive wildlife viewing in unspoilt areas of genuine wilderness.
In recent years the Parks and Reserves have undergone something of a transformation, with private concessionaires helping to improve conservation and the quality of viewing.
In the South is the country's longest established - Liwonde National Park, with excellent accommodation and the country’s best game viewing. Emerging rapidly is Majete Wildlife Reserve, subject to a re-stocking programme and due to become a ‘Big 5’ destination. A new lodge has been built and another is underway. Majete’s neighbours in the Lower Shire Valley, Lengwe National Park and Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, also now have privately run accommodation, and growing amimal numbers.
In Central Malawi, The once great Kasungu National Park is sadly now rather forgotten and neglected, but the nearby rugged wilderness of the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is just opening up and promises much, having remained largely untouched for years. Two new lodges will open there in 2010.
In the North, the Nyika National Park is one of Malawi’s jewels and offers unique wildlife viewing on it’s rolling grassland plateau. High quality accommodation is re-opening there in 2010. Nyika is complemented by neighbouring Vwasa Marsh Wildlife Reserve, a lowland area offering bush-game. A new private concession was granted in 2009 in Vwaza, though development has yet to begin.
Big cats are only occasionally seen. Lions do occur in but are rarely seen, though the recent opening up of Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve and planned species re-introduction into Majete will change that. There have been no sightings of cheetahs for a number of years. The leopard is found across almost the entire country, with great concentrations at Nyika, but as with anywhere, its elusive lifestyle makes sighting difficult. Of the smaller cats, civet is the most widespread though genet, serval and wild cat may also be seen. Hyena are the most common of the other major predators and can be spotted in all the protected land areas. Jackal also have populations in Malawi but are less frequently seen.
Black rhino have been successfully re-introduced and can be seen in Liwonde and Majete. There are good elephant populations in all the protected areas except the low lying Lengwe and Mwabvi. Hippos are numerous in Malawi and are commonly seen the Shire River, where they number in the thousands. (Crocodiles are also common in the Shire.)
Buffalo and zebra are common sightings in all areas. Of the antelopes, bushbuck, grey duiker, kudu, grysbok, klipspringer and reedbuck are found in most of the protected areas. Roan and eland can also be seen, particularly in Nyika, whilst Liwonde and Kasungu are the most likely places to spot sable and waterbuck. The rarest species, Livingstone’s suni and the beautiful nyala, have good populations in Lengwe. This is the furthest north of all nyala habitats in southern Africa.
Other mammals in the country include monkeys and baboons, bushpig, warthog and porcupine. There are no giraffe populations, though there are plans for their re-introduction.
Malawi has a fantastic variety of birds with over 650 recorded species spread across the different landscapes. They are primarily woodland or grassland varieties including Livingstone flycatcher, red-winged francolin and the endemic Lillian’s lovebird. However, the lake, rivers and dams also attract waterbirds such as hamerkop, fish eagle, kingfishers, egret and pelican. Raptors, like the African marsh harrier, black-breasted snake eagle and peregrine falcon, give further variety. For further details, see the Birdwatching pages.
The majority of the estimated 700 fish species in Lake Malawi are cichlids, mostly endemic to Malawi. The small brightly coloured mbuna are easily seen in the protected waters of Lake Malawi National Park. The Shire River through Liwonde and Majete also supports good fish populations including sungwa and tiger fish, whilst the Bua in Nkhotakota has mpasa (lake salmon), popular with anglers.
For flower lovers, there is great diversity, including 400 orchid species. These are found at all altitudes around the country. There are also numerous everlasting flowers, proteas, aloes and gladioli with reedbeds and waterlilies in the Lower Shire lagoons.