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 over the past few months, written in their own words.
Typically, October is Malawi’s hottest and driest month of the year. We await the wide sense of ease, contentment and relief that comes after the first storm – the vegetation feels thick and heavy and a plethora of buzzing insects come back to life. Not to mention the smell of petrichor – rain settling on dusty ground that has been baking in the sun for months. Throughout the months of October and November, lion lounge lazily under sporadic spots of shade, elephant’s utilise their impressively large ears to keep cool, warthogs wallow in the few remaining pools of muddy water. As for safari-goers – a dip in the pool in between walks, drives and boat safaris has offered a retreat from the sweltering October and November heat. It’s safe to say we’re very much ready for the rains – as is the wildlife!
A promising sign from the bush that the rains are on their way is that we have started seeing the first impala lamb! By far one of the most common antelope species in the park, the impala is a guaranteed sighting while on safari with us. Because impalas are both grazers (when grasses are plentiful in the wet season) and browsers (when fertile floodplains have baked and cracked in the dry season), this species tends to occur in high densities in areas that afford a varied diet of graze and browse within a convenient distance of water. This ability to both graze and browse enables this antelope to lead a sedentary existence – which is why we always have plenty around Mvuu!
Whilst on the topic of young – we have also welcomed new litters of both lion and cheetah cubs. At least one new cub has been sighted from the southern pride, with indications there may be more – it’s too early to provide a detailed overview of pride dynamics yet, but as sub-adults from last year’s litter mature over the next few years, the story of Liwonde’s lions will be fascinating to document. One of the most thrilling sightings this month at Mvuu – luckily captured on video by guests! – was the southern pride attempting to take down a male buffalo. It was an epic standoff between the dominant male of the southern pride, accompanied by four females hunting with him, and a male buffalo who, part of a herd, was having a drink from one of the river’s tributaries on the Mwalasi floodplain. After an unsuccessful attempt at pouncing on the back of the old bull, the small herd of buffalo retreated into the Mopane, creating an impenetrable wall to ward off the pride – it was a failed hunt.
Lions eat a variety of food, and will scavenge a meal sooner than hunt for one. However, their size and gregarious habits are specifically adapted to predation on the larger ungulates. Whilst both lion and lioness can successfully hunt smaller prey, cooperative hunts (when prides get larger) are used to bring down larger prey. Lions that hunt cooperatively have a fairly high success rate and they feed communally on large kills – it’s likely we will start to see more of this behaviour as the Liwonde prides continue to establish themselves! A final lion highlight this past month was when a sub-adult from the southern pride decided to take advantage of the small amount of shade provided by Chifundo’s vehicle, offering an incredible close-up encounter for guests!
In 2017, cheetahs made a return to southern Malawi for the first time in decades (they had last been recorded in Liwonde nearly a century ago). We are excited to announce that the most recent birth of three new cubs represents the third generation of cheetahs born in Liwonde – a tribute to the success of large predator conservation in the park. Special thanks to African Parks, IFAW and the Government of Malawi’s Department for National Parks and wildlife for making this happen! Not to mention the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, who play an integral role in monitoring this high risk species in Liwonde.
To add to the extraordinary sightings this month – we’ve had numerous interactions with Liwonde’s growing black rhino population – we feel extremely privileged to offer one of the few wild places to encounter these magnificent creatures in the wild!
Back in November 1987 we recorded 425 species in 17 days throughout Malawi, many of which were ticked off in Liwonde at Mvuu! The journey continues and throughout the seasons we welcome birders from all over the globe. This month we highlight the African Darter – the African Darter use their webbed feet to dive underwater into the Shire before stabbing fish with its bill. Gliding through the water slower than cormorants, they travel through the water with just their neck showing – they move stealthily, barely producing a ripple.
From above we can capture the intricacies of game paths woven through the cathedral mopane, the way in which small tributaries of the Shire bring life and colour to otherwise dry and sun-baked floodplains, hundreds of shades of emerald green borassus thickets. We’ve produced a small collection of postcards using these stunning prints – now available for purchase in our Mvuu shop.
Earlier this year Symon Chibaka – a knowledgeable guide at Mvuu having graduated from our Children in the Wilderness Programme and now director of the NGO in Malawi – put forward a proposal to Zuwa Energy based in Lilongwe. At the beginning of November, Symon’s successful proposal came into fruition – photos below document the presentation of the donation of 20 household solar units made by Zuwa Energy to Nanthomba School located on the outskirts of the park. Research done by NGO Watts of Love, whom we have hosted a number of times at Mvuu, have long-recognised the social, economic and environmental benefits of solar power in countries like Malawi. Solar lights replace dangerous kerosene lamps and represent opportunity in some of the poorest households across the globe. Against the backdrop of a country-wide fuel shortage, the use of solar may allow reinvestment of funds into livestock and cash crops, education or business infinitives. All in all, solar energy provision holds much promise for the future of many rural livelihoods, and its great to see both international NGOs and Malawi-based companies working towards providing solar products to Malawi’s rural populations – to those in which the beneficial impact of will be felt most.
Recognising the historical connections between Malawi and Scotland, the Scotland-Malawi partnership exists to foster a partnership between the two nations to facilitate and coordinate multi-sectoral projects. Their work permeates through many aspects of Scottish civil society – having a wide range of members from Scottish universities, colleges, over 200 primary and secondary schools and dozens of hospitals, businesses, charities and NGOs.
Malawi takes great pride in its thriving wilderness and the role our protected areas play in providing carbon sinks, preserving ecological diversity and instilling in visitors a love and respect for the natural world and Malawi’s heritage. As part of their 2022 Malawi trip, we were so excited to welcome George Watson’s College back to Mvuu Camp. This year, their work focused on collecting and distributing items that are difficult to source locally in Malawi, being conscious not to undermine local enterprise. An impressive 43 suitcases were brought out and distributed to schools and hospitals. We’re pleased that group had a very exciting safari and saw plenty of game – we look forward to hosting your next trip! Read more about their work here.
That’s it for this month’s stories from the wild – we end this letter just as the seasonal rains have arrived, and we look forward to sharing with you the fresh life it brings to the bush!
Yendani Bwino (Go Well) and we look forward to welcoming you this upcoming green season,
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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