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Liwonde continues to thrive in African Parks’ 2023 Annual Report

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 will take a look at the achievements, successes and future plans for Liwonde National ParkMajete Wildlife Reserve and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. First up is their work in Liwonde National Park and the adjacent Mangochi Forest Reserve.

After decades of poaching and uncontrolled resource harvesting, Liwonde National Park was in dire need of revival. In 2015, recognising the success of Majete Wildlife Reserve under African Parks management, the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) partnered with African Parks to transform Liwonde into a haven for wildlife, and a valuable asset for Malawi and its people. In 2018, the government extended the mandate to incorporate the contiguous 358 sq km Mangochi Forest Reserve, increasing the area under management to 903 sq km. As a result, Liwonde and Mangochi have re-emerged sanctuaries for both people and wildlife.

Wild Dog Conservation in Lilongwe

After the saddening loss of a pack of wild dogs in Liwonde in 2022, falling victim to poisoning from crude bird-poaching methods, Liwonde’s management took immediate steps to prevent a recurrence of such incidents, including poisoning awareness refresher training for rangers and engagement with communities (where illegal resource harvesting and poaching were discussed), the police and judiciary. General conservation messages were shared to build better community understanding of conservation efforts in the park. Attended by representatives of the police and judiciary, the quarterly Joint Liaison Committee meetings also played a vital role in creating awareness among stakeholders of the work African Parks does and the importance of biodiversity conservation.

With revised awareness campaigns in place, support from government and the communities, as well as funding secured from the German Postcode Lottery, plans to reintroduce another pack of wild dogs were put in place.

Biodiversity Conservation

Monitoring of reintroduced species have continued, with lion and cheetah cubs, as well as several black rhino calves, born during 2023. Two female cheetah from different reserves in South Africa were introduced into Liwonde and a coalition of three males was translocated to South Africa to help maintain genetic diversity. To improve species monitoring, five elephant, three cheetah and a lion were collared and three black rhino were fitted with Ceres satellite tags, their data aiding decisions regarding key species population management.

Community Development

A fish farming project was piloted where two fishponds were constructed and handed over to the communities to manage, benefitting 40 farmers and their families. This helps in diversifying livelihoods and in encouraging communities to adopt alternative and legal sources of protein. The Spicy Farmers project was again negatively impacted by a cyclone in March, but over two tonnes of chillies were harvested by the end of 2023. In partnership with Nando’s, many farmers have started growing the brand’s proprietary cultivar of chilli and this is expected to bring in very good yields from 2024. Honey with Heart has signed contracts to supply several supermarket chains in Malawi, greatly helping to reduce a bottleneck that the park experienced in reselling honey bought from the beekeepers. Over five tonnes of honey was harvested this year. Education continued to be prioritised with 94 schools supported and 100 scholarships awarded. The target number of environmental education visits to the park by school children was exceeded by 62% with 4,865 children and 983 adult visitors. The Environmental Education Centre was rebuilt and will open in 2024 for overnight environmental education.

Tourism

Liwonde visitor numbers surpassed those of 2022 by 10.8% indicating a steady increase, which contributed to an overall increase in the park’s gross revenue collection. A campsite, picnic site, viewing site and game viewing hide were opened during the year. In Mangochi Forest Reserve, a 4×4 track was developed leading to the historic Fort Mangochi. This will hopefully become a major tourist attraction for the area when tourist access to the reserve is formalised.

Park Management & Infrastructure Development

Road maintenance and development continued in 2023, including the construction of drifts and culverts, to enable the use of more roads during the wet season. Three new ranger duplexes were built at Masanje Camp. The new Masuku ranger camp in Mangochi Forest Reserve, delayed in 2022 due to heavy rains, was completed. In March 2023, Cyclone Freddy caused significant damage to infrastructure, including roads and fences, and destroyed Koche Bridge, the main access to Mangochi. Once the waters receded, the bridge was rebuilt to a higher specification. In an effort to further reduce elephant breakouts and prevent crop damage, 30 km of ‘Kenya fence’ was constructed, within and parallel to the main boundary fence, in areas where breakouts had been occurring.

Objectives for 2024

  • Basic Field Ranger training for 12 new rangers
  • Conduct biennial aerial census
  • Expand Chimwala Camp to accommodate more visitors
  • Support community farmers’ first harvest of chilli cultivar for Nando’s
  • Support over 100,000 children with Happy Readers and Reading Around the Reserve projects

Find out more about African Parks and the work they do on their website here. Keep your eyes on our website for our upcoming articles detailing all the excellent work they’ve achieved in Majete and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserves in 2023.

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