Central African Wilderness Safaris, one of Malawi’s long standing tour operators who also run the iconic Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park and four other properties in Malawi, have released their latest newsletter. Read on to hear everything they’ve been up to in August, written in their own words.
Given the absolutely phenomenal wildlife sightings over the month of August, we can’t help but reflect on the powerful demonstration that Liwonde offers of both the fragility, as well as the resilience, of our planet. With ecological collapse happening all over the world, and – hard as a pill it is to swallow – amidst the sixth global mass extinction in our current geological epoch, it is especially exciting, refreshing and encouraging to have witnessed such a variety of thriving biodiversity in Liwonde this past month. How wonderful, too, that our enthusiastic and knowledgeable team of safari guides are able to share their passion for Malawi’s thriving wildlife, and the stories of where we have come from to get to this point, with guests from all over the world.
My first visit to Liwonde National Park was on the 6th July 1976. There was a heavy ‘chiperone,’ and it was a very misty morning, even in Liwonde. It was magical. I particularly remember a magnificent Kudu bull emerging from the bush. I continued along the road and just before the Namadingo drift, I saw what, at first site, I thought were big dogs! They turned out to be two young lions – the first lions I saw in Malawi.
On a subsequent visit in 1987, I was leaving the park at 6pm, and at the gate I was joined by friends from Zomba, who had told me that a leopard had just crossed the road in front of them. About 70 metres from the gate the road descends to cross a tributary of the river, and as the front of the car dripped down, there in the lights was a lion right in the middle of the road. I then heard the calls of another lion passing close by in the thicket – and out emerged a second male on the road behind me.
On another occasion, I was on my way back to Zomba from Lake Chiuta following project inspection. Having my boss with me on the road, I thought it a good idea to spend an hour in the park – we drove to the plain overlooked by Chinguni hill. As we were returning to the park entrance, we came across a man standing at the foot of the road leading up to the Chinguni headquarters. My heart sank as I feared he wanted to ask if if we could assist in taking his wife to the hospital or some such. I stopped and said to him, “what can we do for you?” He responded, “do you want to see a lion?” When I cautiously answered in the affirmative, he said, “follow me,” and set off up the drive. I called to him, “don’t you want to get in the car?” He simply ignored me. After about 70 metres he stopped and pointed. I looked but could see nothing. I said to him, rather sarcastically, “where is your lion?” He said, “there.” I had been looking too far – a healthy male lion was stood about 20 metres away!
In 1995 there were about 80 lions in Liwonde National Park, in 8 prides. The pride at Chinguni near the main gate was 16 strong. By that time the South African project, headed by representatives from SANPARKS and the Frankfurt Zoological Society, had erected a wire fence around much of the park. When the project ended it was about 6 months before the next anti-poaching unit received funds and training to get off the ground. During that short period, the majority of lion in Liwonde were poached out. In many traditional health and wellbeing practices, lions are noted for their ‘medicinal’ value. Perhaps also financially driven, during Malawi’s transition from a one party to a democratic state, body parts of lions were in particular sought after, most notably for the power of speaking conferred by the lion’s voice box. It is important to note that there is no scientific evidence that lion, or any wildlife for that matter, have medicinal value.
It was not only Liwonde’s big cats that suffered declines in numbers. The sable population of about 800, for which Liwonde was famous for, was decimated. By 1995, only about 80 remained. It was well before the stories told above, however, that visionary Anthony Hall-Martin saw the value in preserving what is today’s Liwonde National Park. The land now encompassed in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park has long been acknowledged as inadequate for agriculture cultivation (Hall-Martin 1969). “The black cotton soil speaks for itself,” I was told in a discussion with John Wilson, who has worked as a private consultant coordinating community projects across the country since the 1980s. In his initial proposal, Hall-Martin (1969) wrote that “the creation of the park would not significantly interfere with any existing settled form of land use,” but rather would allow “the utilisation of an area apparently unsuitable for any other form of sustained yield land use.”
Today, Liwonde National Parks hosts one of the highest densities of mammals of any park in Malawi – including over 7,000 waterbuck, 500 elephants and a growing population of lion, cheetah and wild dog. 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, and the habitat it provides for an array of biodiversity cannot be overstated. Moreover, where deforestation in Malawi occurs at the alarming rate of 330km2 a year, what is not protected will be lost. Beyond prime habitat for biodiversity, Liwonde National Park is one of Malawi’s significant carbon sinks. Whilst it has been a triumphant achievement to witness the effective public-private partnership between African Parks and the Government of Malawi’s Department for National Parks and Wildlife in place today, as a tourist operator based in Liwonde since 1993, it is encouraging and rewarding for us at Mvuu – team and guests alike – to have witnessed first hand the transformation from what was once described as a park in a state of ‘terminal decline,’ to today’s thriving wilderness.
And so, lending salience to the story of Liwonde and where we have come from, this month’s wildlife sightings have been stellar. On two different occasions, we have enjoyed, on several occasions, clear views of black rhino. Guests have enjoyed encounters with lion – both on foot whilst on a walking safari with David, and plenty more on game drives. The Mvuu pride, as we have affectionally come to know them, reside in the North of the park and are nurturing four cubs at the moment. In the South, two females are nurturing two and three cubs respectively. We have enjoyed the dominant male around Lodge tent 8 on his own, lion chasing cheetah off a kill, playful and inquisitive cubs and lion right in our campsite – it certainly has been a month for big cats! Liwonde’s cheetah population is thriving, and regular sightings of cheetah on a kill have been enjoyed – both by vehicle and boat!
In the last week of August, we welcomed two new cubs – the second litter of the Northern pride!
Particularly exciting antelope seen this month, apart from our famous Liwonde kudu and waterbuck, have been roan antelope, eland, sable, large herds of buffalo and small dazzles of zebra. On the birding front, we have spotted the Southern black Tit and the Pels fishing owl – including a juvenile. However, the winning sighting this month has to got to Julius’ sightings of an extraordinary 7 porcupine – much to the excitement of his guests!
It is with a very heavy heart that we share the news that in August 2022, our beloved Elizabeth, following a short but aggressive battle with cancer, passed on. Elizabeth is remembered for her cheery, enthusiastic and energetic persona around camp. As head of housekeeping and a strong member of the team since the early days, Elizabeth took on the role as Mvuu’s gogo (grandmother). We will miss her deeply, and her legacy lives on through her daughter Maggie, who remains with us as a valuable member of the Mvuu team.
We take our health for granted – and certainly our access to healthcare, for those of us who have it. Rainbow for Africa is an Italian medical development NGO striving to establish sustainable, high-quality and accessible medical care to marginalised populations within Africa and beyond. Between August and September, Rainbow for Africa will accompany Africale and SafariADV’s legendary ‘Cape to Cairo’ trip in the form of a mobile medical clinic, hosting doctors and volunteers in various communities across the continent. In each country, they will visit and support organisations that focus on issues that range from quality of life improvement to wildlife conservation. During their 6-day stopover in Malawi, we are beyond pleased to host this group at Chelinda Camp on the Nyika plateau, where they have very kindly offered to conduct free medical checks on staff members there. Made possible by generous donations and the trip organisers, any donations to this cause would be much appreciated – find out more here.
With a goal toggle back to conservation, Prints for Wildlife fundraise for African wildlife through selling selling wildlife prints. 100% of the proceeds are donated to African Parks, who now manage 22 parks in 12 different countries across the continent. If you’re interesting in purchasing a print, or simply having a browse – check out their 2022 online gallery.
We are also delighted to share that Jonas Strahberger, who has been at Mvuu as an eco training intern for the past six months and took on the role as our resident photographer, qualified as an open call winner. His image below, titled ‘Elephant Kiss,’ was taken on the banks of the Shire River.
Just as Liwonde’s wildlife has been restored to what it once was, species once threatened by the loss of their habitat given a chance to replenish, the entire team at Mvuu are so grateful and relieved in equal measure to once again open our doors and welcome a growing number of travellers from all over the world back to our piece of paradise on the banks of the Shire River. To quote…
“It was excellent to be back after a four year hiatus. Liwonde National Park and Mvuu Camp in particular were, as always, a real highlight of our trip. Despite all the upheavals of recent years, you wouldn’t have known that anything was any different from the warmth of welcome afforded at camp from all the staff there. The safari guides were outstanding as ever, on land and on water, exceptionally knowledgeable, but also brilliantly able to gauge their (mostly young!) audience and engage them in learning more about Malawi’s wildlife and environments. Absolutely first class. Meanwhile in camp, we were superbly looked after by every single staff member, from front of house to chalets and those guarding the campsite, and an especial shout out to your marvellous chefs who prepared and served an exceptional dinner under the stars which we all enjoyed so much – a real treat.”
Yendani bwino (go well), and we look forward to welcoming you soon.
The Central African Wilderness Safaris Team
Find out more about Central African Wilderness Safaris on their dedicated page here. You can also find out more about their properties using these links: Mvuu Lodge, Mvuu Camp, Heuglin’s Lodge, Chelinda Lodge & Chelinda Camp.
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