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Saving Lengwe National Park

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By Steve Chirombo:

UPBEAT—Kumchedwa (2nd from left)

For years, community members around Lengwe National Park in Chikwawa District were enemies of the habitat to different animal species where tourists go to appreciate nature and contribute revenue to the country’s purse in the process.

The park still faces several problems despite interventions by the government and its development partners.

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Cases of vandalism, poaching, wanton cutting down of trees, charcoal production, logging and farming are still common.

The facility is almost deserted, its fence vandalised and there is no proper protection to wildlife.

A visit to the park recently established that some people cultivate about 20 metres from the front fence. Such a scenario paints a picture that the issue of land is thorny.

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The situation even poses threats to people in the event that animals such as buffaloes break loose.

Entering the park, we were greeted by a cool breeze. The soil was wet due to rains that had been pouring the last three days.

The vegetation was green. Monkeys hopped about but the roads in the park needed upgrading.

Surprisingly, we did not see any tourists or visitors at Nyala Lodge.

However, through the community-based Shire River Basin Management (SRBM) Project undertaken in 2014, there has been a reduction in incidences of people bringing down the fence of the park.

The project was designed to improve land and water management for the ecosystem and livelihood benefits in the targeted areas.

By the end of the first phase on January 31 2019, it was clear that the project had improved life both in and outside the park.

Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa, says the department will continue to engage surrounding communities to co-manage the park.

“SRBM has already supported us with four maize mills, 700 goats for a pass-on programme and bee-keeping to people near Lengwe as an economic empowerment drive,” Kumchedwa explains.

Kumchedwa dispels allegations that his officers connive with encroachers, saying the department has control measures and encourages game rangers to be professional when executing their duties.

He says Malawi is one of the countries making significant strides in promoting wildlife in the world.

“As I am talking now, Malawi is among the best must-visit countries in terms of wildlife. In fact, Malawi also received global recognition of the Elephant Marsh in accordance with the Ramsar Convention,” Kumchedwa says.

The programme led to the drilling of boreholes and construction of rangers’ camp besides other community e conomi c empowerment initiatives.

SRBM Project Coordinator, Sydney Kamtukule, says the programme also bought two vehicles, four motorcycles and led to the grading of roads in the park, complete with sign posts.

“We also constructed a modern conference hall which will help the park to generate revenue from organisations that will be using it for meetings,” Kamtukule says.

Chairperson for Nabomba Community-based Organisation (CBO), Peter Simon acknowledges that the programme has economically empowered people around the park and asks for its sustenance.

“Money realised from maize mills is used in development projects in our respective areas, besides maintenance of the maize mill.

“So far, our CBO has over 30 goats and, through the pass-on initiative, we are taking part in upgrading our living standards. The objective is to divert community members’ attention from encroachment of the protected area,” Simon says.

Paramount Chief Lundu says the situation at Lengwe National Park was heart-breaking because surrounding communities were rendering a deaf ear to calls to protect animals and own the facility.

Lundu notes that, at the current rate of poaching, future generations may not see some animal species like buffaloes.

“It is pathetic that, despite being given incentives to take care of the facility, people are still causing damage to the park. Besides, I also blame some game rangers who connive with poachers and people who make charcoal. No wonder, the population of animals in the park is still dwindling,” Lundu says.

He said he would personally love to see Lengwe National Park transformed like Majete Wildlife Reserve which is now home to the ‘big five’.

Statistics from Shire Valley Division for Parks and Wildlife show that, the number of animals is gradually increasing inside Lengwe National Park.

At present, there are 904 buffaloes, 2,073 impalas and other animals like monkeys.

Shire Valley Division Manager for Parks and Wildlife, Alick Makanjira, says Lengwe National Park is recovering and thriving.

“The park now has an electric fence on one side, 10 water points for animals and a modern game rangers’ camp near Jassi Village to ensure safety of wildlife there,” Makanjira says. —Mana

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