Kasungu National Park, located in the western central region of Malawi near the Zambian border, is steadily regaining its lost glory, thanks to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded US $8 million to Ifaw, with Ifaw contributing a cost sharing amount of $800,000, to implement the Combating Wildlife Crime (CWC) in the Malawi-Zambia Transboundary Landscape Project (about K6.5 billion) in activities and projects designed to revive the park through animal restocking, law enforcement, community engagement and provision of incentives to rangers to motivate them to give maximum security and protection to the wildlife.
“People come to Africa to see our wild animals. They love our lakes, they love our mountains. But they have got these lakes and mountains in Europe. They don’t have our animals. So, the reason why they come to Africa is to see our animals,” says the Ifaw Director of Law Enforcement in Southern Africa, Michael Labuschagne.
Kasungu National Park, located about 160 kilometres from Lilongwe, had hitherto been a paradise for thriving populations of elephants, leopards, zebras, jackals and hippos until recently when Malawi started registering a dramatic increase in poaching and illicit trade of wildlife products.
It used to attract dozens of birdwatchers and nature lovers alike with its array of flora and fauna.
The best game viewing is at the end of the dry season from August to November, when the animals cluster around the watering holes. For overnight stays, the park has an affordable and eco-friendly Lifupa Conservation Lodge.
Tourism is Malawi’s third foreign exchange earner after tobacco and tea. It contributes significantly both to the level of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and to the country’s economic growth.
Tourism is also considered a catalyst for economic and social development because it tends to have a large trickle-down effect in terms of poverty alleviation, boosting employment creation and small business entrepreneurship.
Statistics show that domestic tourism in 2016 accounted for over 70 percent of all tourism activities in Malawi. In addition, over 75 percent of room occupancy in all tourist accommodation units and visits to national parks and wildlife reserves were by local residents.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) states that tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world contributing 10.4 percent towards global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In Malawi, domestic travel spending only generated 72.7 percent of direct travel and tourism GDP in 2017 and was expected to grow by 4.1 percent in 2018.
According to the Domestic Tourism Marketing Strategy of 2018-2023, domestic tourism plays a key role in socio-economic development of the country through, among other things, the creation of various economic opportunities in rural areas.
The strategy says as the country’s major attractions and facilities are located in rural areas, increased local travel has great potential to improve community livelihoods through job creation and utilisation of local products and services.
Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Ken Ndala, said recently that the tourism sector injected K100 billion in Malawi’s economy in 2017 and created 235,000 jobs for locals.
The K100 billion realised from tourism was 10 percent of the national budget, which Ndala described as impressive.
“In 2018, the contribution of travel and tourism to GDP (percent of GDP) for Malawi was 7.7 percent. Though Malawi contribution of travel and tourism to GDP (percent of GDP) fluctuated substantially in recent years, it tended to increase through 1999 – 2018 period ending at 7.7 percent in 2018,” he said.
The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) III recognises tourism as one of the priority sectors for stimulating the country’s economic growth.
However, the industry continues to face challenges such as poaching and wildlife crimes that impede its growth.
Malawi has recently registered a dramatic increase in poaching and wildlife crimes and experts have attributed the problem to widespread poverty among communities surrounding wildlife, forest and game reserves.
Other problems include underfunding of wildlife conservation efforts, lack of law enforcement and political instability in the concerned countries and a rising demand for exotic animal products overseas.
Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), Brighton Kumchedwa, says while in the past much of the poaching in Africa had been opportunistic, wildlife crime has become a serious criminal activity involving transnational networks of well-resourced and organised groups.
Ultimately, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade have led to detrimental environmental, economic and social consequences as it threatens the future existence of species and impacts the ecological integrity of whole ecosystems, especially as big mammals are essential for the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem functions.
“Poaching and other wildlife crimes deprive communities of their natural capital and cultural heritage and undermine sustainable economic development. Wildlife crime is also a challenge that threatens national security, undermines government authority, breeds corruption and restricts the potential for sustainable investment, constraining a country’s social and economic development,” he explains.
Kumchedwa adds that in Malawi, poaching has reduced wildlife populations and changes in animal behaviour diminish the chance to observe wildlife.
“Animals become shy and harder to find and approach,” he says.
But as Labuschagne emphasises, the infrastructural and environmental outlook of the Kasungu National Park will soon wear a new face.
He says Ifaw in partnership with DNPW are set to create capacity and motivation for the rangers in an effort to enhance the security and protection of the animals and natural resources in the park.
Labuschagne discloses that Ifaw will soon translocate at least another 300 animals to Kasungu National Park.
“We have translocated zebra and waterbuck from Kuti Wildlife Reserve to Kasungu National Park. The most important thing about this translocation was to create capacity within the rangers of Kasungu National Park. They are the people that have to protect these animals.
“So, if we don’t create capacity; if they don’t see these animals; if they don’t work with them, then they will not be motivated to work as long as they need to work to make a success of protecting these animals,” explains Labuschagne.
He admits that poaching has been a big problem. However, many animals like the leopard, zebra and jackal have returned to the park through the initiative.
Under the partnership, Ifaw and DNPW are expected to construct a barbed wire fence around the park to address poaching.