Venia Mbewe from Senior Chief Lukwa in Kasungu and her family rely on farming for their day-to-day survival.
But, every year, elephants from the nearby Kasungu National Park come out through a damaged section of the fence surrounding the park to damage their crops and property.
“This year, an elephant also came out and destroyed our house. We are now sleeping in a barn as we cannot afford to refurbish the house,” Mbewe explains.
She is among hundreds, if not thousands, of Malawians who have fallen victim to the human-wildlife conflict in areas close to Malawi’s second largest national park.
The population of elephants in the park increased from 40 in 2014 to 121 in 2020.
“Unfortunately, when the elephants come, they just don’t stop at raiding our crops and eating the harvest; they also demolish houses to access the produce. We are sleeping in a tobacco barn after the elephants destroyed our house, apart from eating the little we harvested from our plots,” Mbewe laments.
The increase in the population of elephants and other wild animals in the park has led to the rise in human-wildlife conflict, a situation that has caused loss of life and injury to people as well as destruction and loss of property in communities surrounding the park.
Lukwa candidly agrees that rehabilitating the park’s fence is an important way of preserving lives and property.
“Apart from the rise in cases human-wildlife conflict, the damage to the fence of the park previously saw a rise in cases of wildlife crime,” Lukwa said.
Three years ago, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), began to re-furbish the fence on the park’s eastern stretch.
Refurbishment of the fence is one of the activities being implemented under a five-year project Ifaw has been implementing with the aim of increasing or stabilising elephant populations in the Malawi- Zambia landscape through a decrease in poaching-related mortalities.
Ifaw and its partners are working with the governments of Malawi and Zambia to address the scourge of wildlife poaching and trafficking.
Three years down the line, the project is now bearing fruits as populations of elephants and other wild animals are increasing.
For example, Kasungu National Park has registered more than a 100 percent increase in its elephant population between 2014 and 2020.
“We expect that, once the refurbishment is finished, the fence will address most of the challenges we have been facing as a result of our conflict with wildlife, especially elephants,” Mbewe says.
Lukwa further says rehabilitation of the fence will ensure that Malawi deals away with wildlife crime.
“Apart from that, we are glad that it is our people, the locals, who are providing labour at a fee. They are earning something for their livelihoods,” the chief says.
Apart from Kasungu National Park, the trans-boundary project is also being implemented in two national parks in Zambia, Luambe and Lukusuzi.
A representative of Chief Mwasemphangwe of Zambia, James Nkhata, says the Ifaw project in Lukusuzi National Park is helping in reviving wildlife populations in the protected area.
“The communities have known the benefits of protecting wildlife. There is now coordination between Malawi and Zambia in wildlife conservation. Now Kasungu National Park in Malawi and Lukusuzi National Park are working together,” Nkhata says.
Speaking on initiatives to combat wildlife crime on the Malawi-Zambia transfrontier landscape, Director of National Parks and Wildlife in Zambia, Chuma Simukonda, says tremendous progress has been registered.
“The project has brought a lot of things that have changed the landscape. One of those is the establishment of an intelligence system that provides information to management so that our efforts in combating wildlife crime are focused,” he says.
He also commendes the project for its support to wildlife scouts.
“When Ifaw came on board, it started supporting community scouts through the construction of housing units, a development that has motivated them. The project has also eased mobility challenges by providing a vehicle which is used for investigating wildlife crimes,” he says.
Director of National Parks and Wildlife in Malawi, Brighton Kumchedwa, says working together to protect wildlife has strengthened relations between Malawi and Zambia.
“We have been conducting joint operations and this has helped us to jointly fight wildlife crimes.
“At Kasungu National Park, for example, we have seen a reduction of poaching cases apart from a reduction in human-elephant after the status of the perimeter fence got improved and rangers got trained. The project has also improved livelihoods through the tailoring workshop with provides uniforms for rangers,” Kumchedwa says.
Chief of Party for the project, Patricio Ndadzera, says since its inception, law enforcers had seized about 2.5 tonnes of ivory.
“This is largely due to the training and capacity-building for law enforcement agencies to ensure poaching and wildlife crimes are stopped. In total, 1,710 law enforcement cadres have been trained in Malawi and Zambia,” he says.
Ndadzera adds that the project seeks to finish the rehabilitation of the fence this year, a plan that has excited Mbewe and other community members surrounding Kasungu National Park.
The five-year project began in 2017 and ends in 2022 with the intention to combat wildlife crime in Malawi and Zambia through strengthened, coordinated, collaborative and innovative approaches.
I f aw works with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife through its ‘Combating Wildlife Crime in The Malawi-Zambia Transboundary Landscape’ project that focuses on anti-poaching and anti-trafficking initiatives.
Eric Msikiti is a Senior Reporter/News Producer at Times Group. Though relatively young, Eric boasts years of experience in Malawi’s media industry.