African Parks, responsible for the management of 3 of Malawi’s major national parks and wildlife reserves, have released their latest annual report. Over a series of articles, we will take a look at the achievements, successes and future plans for Liwonde National Park, Majete Wildlife Reserve and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. First up is their work in Liwonde National Park and the adjacent Mangochi Forest Reserve.
After decades of poaching and uncontrolled resource harvesting, Liwonde National Park was in dire need of revival. In 2015, recognising the success of Majete Wildlife Reserve under African Parks management, the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) partnered with African Parks to transform Liwonde into a haven for wildlife, and a valuable asset for Malawi and its people. In 2018, the government extended the mandate to incorporate the contiguous 358 km2 Mangochi Forest Reserve, increasing the area under management to 903 km2.
As a result, Liwonde and Mangochi have re-emerged sanctuaries for both people and wildlife. Over the past seven years, cheetah, lion, black rhino and wild dog have been returned to the park. In 2016, 366 elephant were relocated to restock Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve and alleviate pressure on Liwonde’s habitat. But as elephant numbers continued to swell, a second relocation was needed this year, with 263 elephant, along with numerous other species, moved from Liwonde to Kasungu National Park, establishing Liwonde as a reliable source of growing wildlife populations. Recent surveys confirmed that fish stocks are increasing rapidly and, after being extinct in the park just a few years ago, vulture sightings have become common. Thousands of people living around the park are now benefitting from education, enterprise initiatives and health care. Reading programmes are reaching hundreds of learners, building literacy in communities, while income generating activities, like Honey withHeart and Spicy Farmers, contribute to the livelihoods of more people each year. This relatively small, yet richly biodiverse, national park has become a benchmark of what is possible when there is a focus on restoration supported by long-term partnerships.
A biennial game census obtained population estimates of large mammals and crocodiles. A fish survey completed by the Fisheries Department confirmed healthy fish stocks, recorded several new species, and confirmed a noticeable spill over of increasing fish stocks inside the park is benefitting fishermen outside its boundaries. A vulture survey was completed with ten satellite tags fitted – including the 50th vulture to be tagged in Malawi. Sixteen new rhino transmitters were fitted, and two calves notched. In addition to the elephant translocation to Kasungu – which saw the 1000th elephant moved by African Parks and Conservation Solutions – several others took place this year: 179 buffalo, 373 impala, 186 sable, 225 warthog, 378 waterbuck, and 15 hippo (a first for African Parks), were moved to Kasungu, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, Mangochi Forest Reserve and Thuma Forest Reserve. Mangochi also received 46 sable, 67 warthog, 22 kudu, 53 waterbuck, 56 impala and 19 hartebeest. Twenty pangolin – mostly confiscated from poachers, but some found outside the park by community members – were released in Liwonde/Mangochi. In a devastating blow for wild dog conservation efforts in Malawi, the entire pack of 18 wild dog, which included those relocated in 2021, was killed in a poisoning incident.
Ten grievance boxes were installed in Traditional Authorities (TAs) around the park, allowing community members to communicate directly with park management, so that appropriate support can be given to communities. Over 4,670 school children and 290 adults visited Liwonde. Scholarships for 105 secondary and tertiary learners were provided. A girls’ hostel and kitchen were constructed at Malombe Secondary School. The Happy Readers programme was rolled out to a further five schools, and continued to receive keen interest from the Ministry of Education. A Reading Around the Reserve programme was implemented in conjunction with Book Aid International and 22,172books distributed. Over 3.1 tonnes of honey were harvested through Honey with Heart, which has received provisional Malawi Bureau of Standards accreditation for its processing facility. The Spicy Farmers fields did well, despite the effects of cyclones Ana and Gombe. The Goat Pass-On Project continued, providing an additional protein source to communities. Communities were engaged in a sustainable resource use programme in Mangochi to monitor and regulate harvesting of dead and fallen trees for firewood.
The office, workshop and stores at Masuku in Mangochi, including new accommodation for eight rangers and their families was completed. Six boreholes were drilled and basic solar power installed at Mangochi ranger and fence camps. The fence attendant accommodation at Mbweni and Chisopi was completed, along with two bridges in Mangochi. With the construction of the Chisopi fence, to further alleviate pressure from human-wildlife conflict, the entire Liwonde/Mangochi boundary fence was completed. Only 9 kms of ‘Kenya’ elephant-proof fencing were completed, due to delays in receiving fencing materials. The innovative fencing system has proven highly effective in containing elephant and reducing human-elephant conflict in communities around the park.
There was a substantial increase in tourism, with 12,368 domestic, 4,959 international and 5,888 Southern African Development Community visitors, indicating, not only a post Covid-19 recovery, but the surge in the popularity of Liwonde. Total tourism revenue increased by nearly 200%.
Find out more about African Parks and the work they do on their website here. Keep your eyes on our website for our upcoming article detailing all the excellent work they’ve achieved in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve this year.
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