Central African Wilderness Safaris, one of Malawi’s long standing tour operators who also run the iconic Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park, have released their latest newsletter providing us with an update of everything that’s been happening recently. We are pleased to share the newsletter below in their own words.
Over the month of July 2022, the Government of Malawi’s Department for National Parks and Wildlife, together with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and African Parks, will be translocating 250 elephants from Liwonde National Park to Kasungu National Park. The month of June has been busy preparing to host guests for this major conservation initiative – re-thatching, re-decking, re-upholstering, menu planning and much more! The team can’t wait to welcome guests for a very exciting high season.
In 2016, shortly after non-profit conservation organization African Parks assumed management of Liwonde National Park through a monumental public-private partnership with the Government of Malawi’s DNPW, African Parks spearheaded the largest and most significant elephant translocation in conservation history. Against a backdrop of rural community living adjacent to the park, 500 elephants were successfully relocated to Malawi’s Nkhotakhota Wildlife Reserve. The above anecdote by Mr. Yamungu Botha powerfully illustrates the complex disconnect between perhaps romantic ideals of wilderness devoid of human presence, and local perceptions of wildlife, where rural livelihoods may seem sidelined. In an area that I have spent many of my childhood and early adult years, unapologetically I have immersed myself in notions of romantic wilderness in ways similar to that of the tourist described by Mr. Botha. As human population increases in sub-Saharan Africa, people may become displaced and rural livelihoods undermined for the establishment of Protected Areas for the preservation of wildlife. It is important to understand why initiatives such as elephant relocations constitute a mammoth step in conservation, where human-assisted migration is crucial in allowing humans and wildlife to co-exist and, better yet, to thrive.
National Parks are heralded by environmentalists, national governments and international institutions as a fruitful form of sustainable development, where objectives of biodiversity preservation and human development interact in conservation landscapes. Hundreds of years ago, African elephants had all the space they needed to roam the continent for food and water. While some elephant populations in sub-Saharan Africa are in decline, there remain pockets of wilderness where elephant populations have far exceeded the carrying capacity of established protected areas – becoming destructive to the ecosystem and causing human-wildlife conflict, which oftentimes works to inflame attitudes towards wildlife amongst rural communities. Such was the case in Liwonde prior to the historic ‘500 elephants’ conservation initiative in 2016. This year, the conservation work of African Parks and the DNPW is continued to ensure the survival of the species as a whole, as well as enhancing rural livelihoods.
Liwonde National Park – peopled today by both international and Malawian nature-enthusiasts, employees of park management and tourist operators – was established as a protected area in 1972 as Malawi’s first National Park to be gazetted post-independence. Anthony-Hall Martin, visionary co-founder of African Parks, was instrumental in proposing this wilderness area, that we cherish so much today, be protected. Conservation in the 21st century is largely a question of the most sustainable form of land use, and fundamental to Hall-Martin’s proposal was the acknowledgement that the land now encompassed in Liwonde National Park is inadequate for agricultural cultivation. Where traditional use of the land for subsistence farming is non-existent, and where the Balaka District’s population is expanding beyond the local resource base’s ability to sustain it, the park cannot provide sustainable livelihoods for all, but its ability to provide financial sustenance for some is exponential – with the added benefit of protecting a significant carbon sink and preserving some of Malawi’s most vibrant biodiversity.
Having undergone field research for my undergraduate dissertation in 2021, broadly exploring the relevance of wildlife conservation, I was concerned that the devastating impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – which precipitated the collapse of Malawi’s tourism industry virtually overnight – would render my research less valid in a context of thousands of job losses. However, I found that rather the effects of the pandemic illuminated the importance of tourism and wildlife conservation in terms of financial sustenance for Malawian’s living in the Balaka District. Additionally, the importance and urgency of preserving Africa’s remaining biodiversity cannot be overstated in a climate changing world.
To summarise, the herds of elephant that foreign tourists will pay handsomely to come and see are the same elephants that may break out of the park and trample a farmers crops. If that farmer becomes an employee in the tourist lodge that hosts these guests, and thereby earns a viable living, and the fence that the animal has broken is repaired through good park management, then the farmer has a vested interest in their survival, and the park’s protection is justified. We would like to thank all of those involved in preserving Liwonde’s magnificent biodiversity – many of whom incorporate community engagement as the core of sustainable conservation – over the past 50 years. Liwonde National Park is now a story of hope – for wildlife, and for people. We feel privileged to play a part in the continued conservation efforts in this area.
The entire Mvuu team have had their busiest month yet over June, gearing up for a busy few months ahead. Whether front of house or pedalling away in the background, a huge thank you to our entire CAWS family who are working so hard to ensure a second-to-none experience for guests at Mvuu. ‘Emma’s playground’ at the camp has had a makeover, and has become fondly known as ‘the Den.’ Apart from a meeting and information point, the Den is a great spot to enjoy a hot chocolate by its brand new fire pit, which will burn in the chilly early winter mornings and evenings.
Our Camp curio shop is being re-stocked with handcrafted Malawian goods, and soon to introduce a new range of hand-painted watercolour cards reflecting a series of those otherworldly Liwonde landscapes – watch this space! 10% of every purchase from our little Mvuu shop goes towards conservation.
We are still enjoying a particularly full and vibrant Namagogodo lagoon over at the lodge. A large president croc makes for nail-biting viewing as plenty of resident waterbuck seem to tempt fate every day. Suspended over the very fertile lagoon is our brand new lodge walkway and boat jetty – huge thanks to the maintenance team for getting this tricky job done!
We are so excited to introduce Emma and Emily who will be helping us run the show this season!. Emma is a trained bartender and cocktail connoisseur, and is doing a spectacular job training Davie in the art of mixology. We look forward to offering a special selection of Mvuu cocktails this season! Emily considers herself somewhat of a nomad – she’s been on some epic adventures! After having spent some of her young adult years living in Malawi, we’re excited that she is back to witness the remarkable changes that Liwonde has undergone since she last visited!
Wow – what a month for extraordinary wildlife sightings. An elusive pangolin spotted by David, cheetah hunting near camp by Julius and Danger, an African fisheagle eating a slender mongoose by Chifundo and guests and last, but certainly not least, black rhino by lodge manager Fiona!
Around camp, special sightings have included hippos in combat – an epic event captured by eco training intern Mark! And not to forget our resident bushbuck who have introduced some very sweet young, offering special close up encounters for our guests.
To quote some guest feedback this month, “Again, we had a great time. It’s so good for Malawi and Liwonde that the wildlife is flourishing and visitors are coming again!”
Whilst our focus this month is highlighting that there is no sustainable conservation without taking rural livelihoods into account, and paying respect to the decades of research by many different conservationists working with communities that have contributed to the elephant relocations of today, we have a a few other stories we would like to share.
One of the joys of being in this industry are the many people from all different walks of life that we get to connect with. To share stories, laughs, passions and expertise. Without the help and guidance of a Spanish NGO working in the field of public health, a dedicated CAWS team member would not have been able to receive the crucial treatment she needs at the Alinafe Community Hospital in Benga. Connecting doctors in Spain with local medical practitioners on the ground in Malawi, many individuals have worked around the clock to provide the treatment she needs, and we are confident she is in caring hands.
We are very pleased to welcome two new interns who have successfully graduated from Children in the Wilderness. Our partnership with CITW works with 12 schools across Malawi, running eco-clubs that nurture a passion for Malawi’s biodiversity and provide children and young adults with a great foundation to work in Malawi’s growing tourism sector. We are so excited to have Chisomo and Obert on board at Mvuu – if you get the chance, have a chat to them about this wonderful program!
Months in the works, we are so please to announce that our new website is now live! You’ll enjoy an inspirational photo gallery, a short story into our history, the organisations that we support and much more. We would love for you to share it with friends and family!
To learn more about Central African Wilderness Safaris, head over to their webpage here.
Following the lifting of its Covid-related travel restrictions, Malawi has seen a six-fold uplift in interest from international volunteers seeking to support wildlife conservation efforts.
Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT), a non-profit conservation organisation that works to protect Malawi’s wildlife and reserves, has released their Impact Report for 2021-2022. This report showcases the facts and figures from a really successful year for the Trust.
This month the Tongole Wilderness Retreat team is delighted to share the news that more wildlife is being translocated to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve this July.