Boundary dispute disrupts Kasungu National Park fence project

* For a long time, communities in the area have been cultivating in the land gazetted to the national park

* We don’t intend to see people fighting with elephants on daily basis because of the absence of the fence

* But our efforts to solve this problem are being halted by community resistance

By Wanangwa Tembo, MANA

Misunderstandings between the Department of National Parks & Wildlife and communities in Traditional Authority (TA) Chulu in Kasungu over Kasungu National Park boundary, have halted construction works of a perimeter wire on its eastern side.

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The fence was being constructed to protect surrounding communities from marauding elephants which destroy crops in the area but speaking on behalf of other traditional chiefs — at a meeting hosted by the Department of Parks on Friday involving different stakeholders — group village heads (GVH) Kapatuka claimed that park authorities want to create a new boundary which would make 2,000 households lose their land.

“We are not against the construction of the fence as it will help protect our houses and crop fields from elephants,” he said. “What we want is the fence to pass through the designated boundary.”

However, manager for Kasungu National Park, Ndaona Kumanga refuted the claims of new boundary demarcations, saying for a long time, communities in the area have been cultivating in the land gazetted to the national park.

“We don’t intend to see people fighting with elephants on daily basis because of the absence of the fence but our efforts to solve this problem are being halted by community resistance.

“We are not creating new boundaries — we want the fence to pass through the gazetted boundaries. We are equally surprised that people claim to have leased the land meant to be inside the park,” Kumanga said.

The concerned chiefs

Department of National Parks & Wildlife Director, Bright Kumchedwa (right) following the deliberations

Meanwhile, Surveyor General, Masida Mbano said his team will move in to verify the authenticity of the lease documents that communities claim to have while District Commissioner for Kasungu, James Kanyangalazi said he has always worked to resolve the issue but communities have not been cooperative as the officials get threatened each time they rush to help in areas attacked by elephants.

Kanyangalazi asked the chiefs to treat the matter with urgency and invite authorities to visit the area. However, the chiefs have requested for a week more before they communicate the date.

Since 2019, at least 2,783 reports of elephant-strays from Kasungu National Park were reported and 697 were recorded in 2023 to have affected 17 GVH areas.

The problem has been heightened by cultivation of crops along the park boundary and inadequate perimeter fencing covering about 90kms, leaving a stretch of at least 40kms open.

Member of Parliament for Kasungu North West, Baudeni Mtonga said the destruction of crops has resulted in many households facing acute food shortage and hopes for a lasting solution to enable a completion of the project.

Some of the stakeholders at the meeting, which was supported by International Fund for Animal Welfare, included Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Local Government, Unity & Culture, the Surveyor General, Ministry of Lands and the police.

Established in 1970, Kasungu National Park is the second-largest in Malawi at 2,316 square kilometres with an elevation of approximately 1,000m above sea level on average.

In 2022, Kasungu benefitted from a translocation of some 263 elephants and 431 additional animals after poaching reduced the number of some species of animals.

Popular wildlife include the elephants and a variety of antelope, plus small herds of buffalo, zebra, kudus, impala, hartebeest while predators include leopards, hyenas, servals and jackals.

There are a number of hippos in the lake at Lifupa and birdwatching is also excellent.

The vegetation consists mainly of Miombo woodland with grassy river channels (dambos) and a number of rivers flow through the park, notably Dwangwa and Lingadzi and its tributary, Lifupa which creates an important spot for hippo surveyal in the park at the Lifupa Lodge.—Additional reporting by Maravi Express

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