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Elephant Marsh
Region: South Malawi
Attraction Type: Landscape / Scenic


Elephant Marsh

Elephant Marsh is part of the flood plain of the River Shire. Because the marsh is difficult to define, its area is variously quoted as being from 400 square kilometres (150 square miles) to 1200 square kilometres (450 square miles). The uncertainty arises from the fact that its area varies from season to season and year to year. At its northern margins it is best classified as semi-permanent marshland. To the south it becomes a small lake and islands of salt are home to palms while the marsh supports a floating mat of vegetation (sudd) which grows so thick in places that boats are unable to penetrate it. In particularly wet seasons, when rainfall figures are high, the whole area may be under water, threatening the villages like Chiromo and Makhanga which mark its southern limit.

It is here that the River Ruo joins the Shire. The Ruo forms the border between Mozambique and Malawi and twice in the 1950s and again in 2001, the Ruo overflowed into the marsh and caused serious flooding problems. In fact, so great was the volume of the Ruo that its waters actually started to flow upstream in the Shire’s channel.

The name Elephant Marsh was given to these swamplands by David Livingstone who reported 800 elephant in a single sighting. Half a century later most of the great herds had been hunted to destruction and today the largest surviving mammals are crocodiles and hippos.

Navigating the marsh’s network of channels, this wilderness is reminiscent of Lake Chilwa. Anyone interested in birdlife will be in for a treat. Fish eagles, storks, kingfishers, herons and countless other species will be seen even on a short visit. The best time for viewing is the early morning as at this time of day one will avoid the worst of the heat and humidity.

Boat trips on Elephant Marsh are offered by Nyala Lodge in nearby Lengwe National Park.