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 have taken a look at the achievements, successes and future plans for Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve. In this third and final article, we are looking into the successes within Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.
At 1,794 km2, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is Malawi’s oldest and largest reserve – a dense canopy woodland intersected by three major rivers leading to Lake Malawi. However, by 2014, years of ivory poaching had reduced the elephant population to a mere 100 animals, and what was once a sanctuary for wildlife had been diminished to an empty forest. To help realise a new vision to transform Nkhotakota into a sanctuary for wildlife and an asset for the people of Malawi, the Malawian Government invited African Parks in 2015 to sign a long-term agreement to manage the reserve and assist the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).
Since then, the reserve has initiated a number of historic reintroductions. Over 2016 and 2017, in one of the world’s largest wildlife restoration initiatives, 500 elephant and 2,000 other animals were introduced to Nkhotakota. And, in 2022, over 800 animals of nine species were introduced, in a landmark move to revive the reserve’s wildlife populations. These two significant wildlife reintroductions rekindled hope, not only for tourism, but for the very integrity of the reserve as an important wildlife habitat.
A total of 813 animals were successfully released into the reserve from Liwonde: in a first for African Parks, 15 hippo were translocated (sadly, three died in the process), together with 20 eland, 26 kudu, 29 zebra, 217 impala, 75 warthog, 107 sable, 99 buffalo and 230 waterbuck. Two leopard cubs were sighted in October for the first time. Ten elephant were collared, bringing the total to 26 tracked on the EarthRanger system. A bird survey updated the reserve’s listing to 324 species. A specialist from Malawi University of Science & Technology conducted fieldwork with students on entomology, ichthyology, botany and water quality of the Bua River system, yielding noteworthy data for park management.
A total of 169 community meetings were held focusing on upholding the law, proper use of resources and harvesting. The Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve Association held its AGM, where key issues raised included the need to close the unfenced portion north of the reserve, elephant straying into community lands, and tsetse fly infestations affecting livestock. Scholarships were given to 206 students and eight volunteer teachers received support. Over 9,000 community members were engaged in enterprise initiatives, including 525 beekeepers and four groups trained in dried mango processing. Communities and schools planted over 84,000 fruit and indigenous tree seedlings. The Sasani community health clinic was handed over to the Nkhotakota District Council, providing 15 villages, and over 1,910 households, with essential health care services. A classroom block for 160 students was built, six boreholes drilled, over 50 km of community roads graded, the Nkhotakota District Hospital sewer system rehabilitated, and a fishpond built in Mpamantha area to improve nutrition. Mushrooms, bamboo, palm fronds, thatch grass and medicinal herbs were sustainably harvested from the reserve, benefitting 5,399 people. A total of US$172,998 was spent on community development and US$32,957 generated from community enterprise projects. Nkhotakota’s community and conservation law enforcement programmes were aired on television by the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, promoting environmental awareness.
A 32-bed tented youth hostel, two chalets at Livezi Bush Camp, senior staff housing and two duplexes at Likoa ranger camp were constructed. A new Caterpillar 140 motor grader ensured that more than 110 km of roads could be graded, including a new 34 km management road connecting Chipala and Kaludwe ranger bases, to reduce ranger deployment time and ease mobility north of the reserve. Other construction included major renovations and fence enclosure of the Nkhotakota townhouses; erection of 35 km of ‘Kenya’ (elephant-proof) fencing to further alleviate human-elephant conflict; and repair work on the south-western boundary of the reserve.
Nkhotakota received 2,619 visitors – 2,052 local, 379 international and 188 resident. Gross revenue generated from entry fees and other tourism associated activities amounted to US$15,375, representing a 100% increase from 2021’s revenue.
Find out more about African Parks and the work they do on their website here. To read more about their success in Liwonde National Park last year, click here and for Majete Wildlife Reserve, click here.
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