Malawi’s wildlife reserves find their feet

Blantyre, In the late 90s, Majete Wildlife Reserve in the lower Shire valley, south west of Malawi was losing its niche as a prolific home of wildlife game. Poor law enforcement, encroachment through deforestation and poaching left most species of wildlife animals like elephants on the precipice of extinction.

But 2003 was the turning point when the reserve started reclaiming its lost glory. The lifeline came when Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) awarded African Parks the mandate to manage Majete Wildlife Reserve.

The agreement between the department and the Johannesburg-based non-profit making organization marked the first privatization of a wildlife reserve in Malawi.

Director of Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa said from the time African Parks started managing Majete, it has restored the reserve in terms of wildlife availability and development of infrastructure.

The reserve is now fully restocked with what is called the big five game namely; lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo. It also has facilities like good roads, fences, lodges and campsites.

African Parks has proved its capacity to run reserves and parks. When it took over management of Majete, the reserve was empty, but now it has different animals such as the big five, Kumchedwa said.

African Parks’ efficient management of Majete saw the organization being granted the concessions to manage Liwonde National Park and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve on 22 July, 2015.

The organization demonstrated its ability to restore biodiversity in wildlife reserves. It showed that it can protect and promote sustainable use of natural resources for the socio-economic development of local communities, Kumchedwa said adding that government is satisfied with the fruits from its Private Public Partnership (PPP) agreement with African Parks.

Country Director for African Parks Patricio Ndadzela said the partnership has made Majete reserve an epicenter for social economic development.

The reserve is creating employment opportunities and is helping in the establishment of community enterprise initiatives, Ndadzela said.

Over the course of 11 years, Majete Wildlife Reserve has been restocked with more than 2,500 animals with the reintroduction of other animals like hippos, hyena, zebras and warthogs.

Currently, the reserve’s animal population is estimated around 5,000 and is widely regarded as the country’s premier wildlife sanctuary.

Infrastructure development has also been part of improving the reserve.

The erection of a perimeter fence, construction of roads, waterholes, and scout camps are some of these developments. A complete overhaul of law enforcement and scientific monitoring functions has helped in sprucing up the transformation of the reserve.

African Parks is intensifying efforts in enhancing Malawi’s ecology and tourism for generating foreign exchange revenue.

One way is to restock most of the reserves under its management with wildlife animals through translocation.

Last year, the organization moved 261 elephants and other animal species from Liwonde National Park to Nkhotakota Game Reserve.

And work is in progress to relocate 280 elephants from Liwonde to Nkhota-kota Reserve and Nyika National Park.

As the restocking of the different Parks and Game Reserves with animals continues, African Parks has also brought four cheetahs from South Africa to Malawi, 20 years after the extinction of the specie in the country.

This is a huge boost to the country’s tourism sector and we are hopeful that Malawi will be a centre of attraction with these Cheetahs, Ndadzela said.

The reintroduction of cheetahs in Malawi will also help to boost the population of these animals in Africa.

According to Ndadzela, recent studies show that Africa has only 7,100 cheetahs after losing 91 percent of their historical range.

British High Commissioner to Malawi Holly Tett was part of the team that witnessed the translocation of elephants from Liwonde to Nkhota-kota recently.

In an interview, Tett said Malawi is making strides in the promotion of tourism saying the recent passing of the new Wildlife and National Parks Amendment Act is a clear indication that progress is being made.

She said the legal framework is key in promoting tourism and complementing efforts by organizations like African Parks in protecting flora and fauna.

African Parks, a conservation organization founded in 2000, takes on the direct, long-term management responsibility of national parks and protected areas in partnership with governments to save wildlife, restore landscapes and ensure sustainable livelihoods for local communities.

It currently manages 10 parks in seven countries, totaling approximately six million hectares of protected areas.

The organization adopts a business approach to environmental conservation with support from donor funding and its aim is to make each park sustainable in the long-term, thereby contributing to the economic development and poverty alleviation of a country.

Source: Malawi News Agency � MANA