It’s now over 5 years since African Parks took over the management of Malawi’s iconic Liwonde National Park. With animal translocations, community projects and committed wildlife protection, the reserve has come on leaps and bounds! Despite some restrictions, the African Parks team have been as busy as ever.

Conservation success as wildlife thrive
Into its fifth year under the management of African Parks Liwonde National Park has seen excellent growth in the populations of its predators over the past year. Since their introduction to the park in 2018, Liwonde’s lions are in excellent condition and are frequently seen and heard by tourists. Eight lions currently parade through the park. With the exciting news of mating events taking place, cubs are expected in the coming months.

African Parks reintroduced cheetah to Liwonde back in 2017 and, over the past year, the first Malawi-born cub successfully raised a litter of her own! The thriving population has allowed African Parks to expand their range across Malawi’s other parks. The first inter park translocation was run successfully in 2020, with a male and female both finding new homes in Majete Wildlife Reserve. This superb achievement demonstrates the value of having multiple parks in one country.

A cackle of hyenas was introduced into Liwonde from a private farm in Kasungu last year. A total of 6 hyenas made the 360km journey and are now settling in well as they quarantine before their release in to the open.

Liwonde also witnessed the first ever breeding event of vultures, who are now a common sight as direct result of the restoration of the predators. The illusive black rhino population also continues to grow with four rhino calves born in 2020. Back in 2019, African Park successfully translocated 17 black rhino from South Africa to Liwonde National Park.

Finally, the Park’s bi-annual aerial survey took place recently and the results were extremely positive with the count coming to at least 17,000 animals. This shows growth of over 30% in just 4 years, from the 13,000 counted in 2016. This excellent result is a testament to the tireless and incredible work being performed by the African Parks since they assumed management of Liwonde in 2015.

Exciting plans for 2021 include the introduction of wild dog to Liwonde. Though rare sitings have been made in Malawi’s Kasungu National Park, this will be new species to Liwonde. African Parks will also introduce leopard to the Park, considered locally extinct in Liwonde with no sightings in over 25 years.

Great achievements with projects in surrounding communities
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every citizen of earth over the past year. Malawi is no different with many children losing important education due to school closures, and the fragile economy that relies heavily on tourism halted due to a lack of international visitors. African Parks have therefore been focusing their efforts on supporting the communities around Liwonde National Park (which they manage) through a variety of projects.
African Parks partnered with Americares in 2020 and helped to rehabilitate two health centres. The team supplied important Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and facilities for community sanitisation to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The very successful Happy Readers literacy project was hampered by school closures due to the pandemic. Despite this, African Parks paid for one teacher’s salary to support the training of teachers implementation of the project in a total of 6 schools. Additional books and reading materials were ordered and the teachers and schools are well prepared for implementation in the 2021 academic year. Additionally, a school block was built for a community on the eastern boundary of Liwonde and a further school development was achieved on the boundary of Mangochi Forest alongside Malawi Community Hubs.

To stimulate the potential for beekeeping and honey making, the Honey with Heart Project was launched supporting farmers with 300 hives, of which 92% are occupied. A further 280 hives have been introduced to the HwH project from previous projects. 625 bee farmers are now part of the project with a massive 2.24 tonnes of honey produced and sold in 2020! The huge success has led to a new processing depot and honey house being established at Park HQ to handle the growing volumes!

Other projects include The Spicy Farmers Chilli Project. This aims to grow 30 hectares of chillies on a section of the park boundary as a deterrent to elephant breakouts, whilst supporting a community impacted by previous human-elephant conflict. African Parks also assisted with an irrigation project,building and supplying a borehole and solar pump so that 448 irrigation farmers can have access to water for the dry season. The ‘Pass on a Goat’ project now supports 548 livestock farmers. A new partnership with GiveDirectly resulted in 1672 beneficiaries receiving a total of $667,026. Finally, six community guides based at the main park entrance sold guiding services to tourists to the value of $2,841.

So much has been achieved supporting communities in the past year despite the struggles arisen from COVID-19. African Parks plan to continue to grow their projects in 2021 and build on their successes of 2020.