African Parks thrives to enhance positive community engagement to advance positive co-existence around Liwonde National Park boundaries

* Ever since 2015, thousands of community members have benefited directly from Liwonde Park

* In the form of environmental education, scholarships, healthcare infrastructure and supporting them in income-generating activities

* Interprise initiatives include Spicy Farmers, which produced over 70 tonnes of chilies in 2021

* Honey for Heart’ project has nearly doubled its honey harvest since its inception in 2018

* Liwonde also supports vegetable and livestock farmers which are thriving under the irrigation assistance

Analysis by Duncan Mlanjira

Ever since private investor, African Parks took over management of Liwonde National Park in 2015, the protected ecological habitat’s wildlife security has been well-maintained; animal-human conflict has been mitigated while wildlife population has increased — thereby experiencing an increase in tourism revenue.

Advertisement

The increase in tourism revenue helps African Parks maintain its investment of Liwonde — as well as Mangochi Forest Reserve — in which the private investor took cognizance that its long-term future depended on local communities valuing the Park’s existence while receiving real and tangible benefits.

Thus African Parks committed itself that the tourism revenue it realised should support in more investment while at the same directly benefit the communities. In 2021 alone, US$75,765 was spent on scholarship for university and secondary school students — which aims at “building a constituency for nature conservation”.

Lack of proper structures to see to it that the sorrounding communities should value the Park’s existence, led to massive poaching of its wildlife, targeting its elephants’ ivory tasks; game meat as well wanton cutting down of trees for charcoal burning.

These challenges took a huge toll on the Park’s landscape that led to human-wildlife conflict as the animals strayed from their habitat to feed on the communities’ agricultural fields.

It also led to high levels of conflict between the law enforcement game rangers and the community members, who didn’t take it kindly to being stopped from the serious poaching for the ivory, game meat and charcoal burning.

In partnering with Malawi’s Department of National Parks &‬ Wildlife to take over management of Liwonde National Park, African Parks took the bull by its horns and went on to ecologically rehabilitate it “for people and wildlife and to realise its full tourism potential”.

After massive investment, Liwonde has regained its high status and is “now recognised as the most sought-after wildlife viewing destination in the country” as attested by African Parks on Tuesday at the announcement of the translocation of 250 elephants and 485 other animals from Liwonde to Kasungu national parks.

This translocation is an indication that wildlife is being successfully repopulated and according to Sam Kamoto — African Parks country representative — “this relatively small, yet biodiverse-rich national park has set a benchmark for ambitious restoration initiatives which, in just a few short years, have helped to re-establish key species and restore healthy ecosystem processes”.

The highlights are that nearly 50,000 snares have been removed from the park since 2015 in which not a single elephant or rhino has been lost to poaching since 2017. Security was enhanced through the establishment of Liwonde Training Centre that has produced over 200 highly-trained rangers — deployed across Liwonde, Mangochi, Majete and Nkhotakota reserves.

This year’s elephant translocation is the second largest after 520 done between 2016 and 2017 to reduce habitat degradation and human-elephant conflict while at the same time repopulating Nkhokakota Wildlife Reserve.

Cheetahs and lions were also reintroduced in 2017 and 2018 while 12 rhinos were translocated from South Africa in 2019 with wild dogs being introduced in 2021 after the species’ 60-year absence in the landscape.

Having seeing the fruits of investment, the Malawi Government extended African Parks’ mandate by incorporating the contiguous Mangochi Forest Reserve’s 385 square-km critical water catchment area.

“Since 2015, Liwonde has become a hub of technological innovation for conservation, and a state-of-the-art ranger training centre for Southern Africa,” says African Parks’ brochure, adding that the Park also “delivers a range of benefits for local communities, ensuring that — along with its ecological recovery, people’s lives are being transformed as a result of the security and economic opportunities the Park provides.”

Kamoto disclosed that, the community members for both Liwonde and Kasungu have been well engaged on the elephant translocation process — that shall also involve translocation of 80 buffaloes; 120 impala; 25 sable antelopes; 80 warthogs and 100 waterbucks — to take place from June 27-July.

Ever since 2015, thousands of community members have benefited directly from the park in the form of environmental education, scholarships, healthcare infrastructure and supporting them in income-generating activities.

Beekeeping

African Parks introduced enterprise initiatives such as Spicy Farmers, which produced over 70 tonnes of chilies in 2021 as well as beekeeping, Honey for Heart’ project — which has nearly doubled its honey harvest since its inception in 2018.

Liwonde also supports vegetable and livestock farmers which are thriving under the irrigation assistance provided by the park to improve crop growth as well as a ‘Goat Pass-On’ project — which addresses protein needs for the community members that relied on poaching for game meat in the past.

The markets for agricultural products produced — chilli, honey and others produced through irrigation — are identified by African Parks itself in order to deliver long-lasting and scalable impacts for the locals.

The tourism industry accounts to about 2% of Malawi gross national product (GDP) — thus African ‭Parks ‭heavily investing all the protected natural environment in order to attract more tourists.

African Parks is ‭a non-profit ‭conservation ‭organisation ‭that ‭took ‬the ‬complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in ‬partnership with governments and local communities.

Advertisement

It manages 19 national parks and ‬protected areas in 11 countries covering over 14.8 million hectares in Malawi; Angola; Benin; Central African ‬Republic; Chad; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Republic of Congo; Mozambique; Rwanda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In his remarks at the translocation press briefing at Sunbird Mount Soche in Blantyre, Kamoto said they are “excited to be at the forefront of rehabilitating Malawi’s national parks, where wildlife numbers ‬are growing and people are benefitting”.

“This particular translocation with IFAW and the Department is just ‬
‭another example of how multi-sector collaboration contributes to the ecological restoration of Malawi’s ‬extraordinary wild landscapes, and to the long-term conservation of elephants.”‬
‭ ‬
‭The initiative — to cost US$1.5 million (about K15 billion) — is being made possible by “the generous support of the Elephant Cooperation, ‬
‭with a leadership gift and the generous support of various philanthropic funders”.

A specialized translocation firm from South Africa has brought in the equipment and vehicles to transport elephant families of five or six members in one go and with ease.

In collaboration with surrounding communities poaching and illegal wildlife trade has drastically reduced — thus able to repopulate the animals that has enabled the stakeholders to translocate this large population of animals in one go.

Founded in 2000, African Parks’ goal is to manage 30 parks by 2030, saying “because of the geographic spread and representation of different ecosystems, this will be the largest and most ecologically diverse portfolio of parks under management by one organisation across Africa”.

Advertisement