Malawi hails IFAW for initiative to protect wildlife at Liwonde National Park

A new initiative aimed at decreasing poaching pressure in Liwonde National Park has been launched with government expressing optimism that the project will also reduce human and wildlife conflict in the area.

The initiative, Chikolongo Community Fish Farm and Model Boundary Fence Project, is also expected to provide an alternative livelihood opportunity that will bring long-lasting economic prospects to the surrounding community.

Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture, Rachel Mazombwe-zulu, speaking over the weekend when she launched the project described the initiative as an excellent approach in ensuring conservation of natural resources and economic empowerment of communities in the area.

A team effort between the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Malawi Government, the Federal Government of Germany, through their mission in Malawi, and the Microloan Foundation, among others, the magnificent initiative distinctively bonds the need for animal welfare with that of humans.

Minister Rachel Zulu speaks to reporters after launching the project.
Minister Rachel Zulu speaks to reporters after launching the project.
The German Ambassador to Malawi Dr Peter Woeste delivering his speech.Photos by LUPA-Lucky Mkandawire.
The German Ambassador to Malawi Dr Peter Woeste delivering his speech.Photos by LUPA-Lucky Mkandawire.
IFAW President Azzedine Downes addressing the gathering.
IFAW President Azzedine Downes addressing the gathering.

For years, the area had been a hot spot of human-wildlife conflict a development that has led to considerable and alarming loss of human life, loss of crops and livelihoods and the unsustainable exploitation of the resources with the Liwonde National Park.

“This project, therefore, has come at a right time when government is emphasizing participatory approach to wildlife conservation,” said the minister.

Zulu stressed that government was committed to implementing new approaches, especially to develop partnerships with stakeholders, to effectively manage wildlife both inside and outside protected areas as previously neighbouring communities to such areas never benefited anything let alone allowed access to harvest certain natural resources on a sustainable basis.

“Due to the exclusion of the communities to participate in conservation, poaching was rampart and as such, conflicts between neighbouring communities and government ensued,” she observed.

The minister also noted that lack of enabling policy and legislation for the participation of local communities in conservation and management of natural resources was also identified as an obstacle to the effective conservation of wildlife resources.

In this vein, government reviewed the country’s Wildlife Policy and the National Parks and Wildlife Act in 2000 and 2004 respectively to provide for the local communities and the private sector involvement in wildlife conservation and management.

“Government recognises the fact that ecological integrity of protected areas cannot be perpetuated without the active collaboration and participation of surrounding local communities.

“Government is, therefore, committed to conserving, managing, and ensuring sustainable utilization and equitable access to wildlife resources and fair sharing of benefits for both present and future Malawians. The focus is on the direct involvement of local communities in the decision making process regarding natural resources and their uses,” she said.

The minister then appealed to community members around the park not to vandalize the model boundary fence warning perpetrators that the law would catch up with them if they do not consider putting an end to the malpractice.

Azzedine Downes, President of IFAW, observed that the launch of the fish farm, which will benefit more than 600 families from Chikolongo village located on the western boundary of park, was a first step in providing an alternative livelihood opportunity to a community which had all along relied heavily on the park for water and food security.

“Liwonde National Park’s crowning glory is the Shire River, which runs through the park, and provides a nursery for bream and catfish which eventually swim upstream to Lake Malawi. Unfortunately poaching is rampant in the Shire River Basin and that has, in turn, reduced stocks of one of Malawi’s key sources of protein and is close to destroying the fishing industry” observed the IFAW President adding that the Fish Farm will give the people of this intensely populated community a reason not to go into the park for their food security.

In his remarks, the German Ambassador to Malawi, Dr Peter Woeste, who indicated the project was a direct response to an appeal for help from the Chikolongo community, said the initiative was a “nice deal” as it would help to keep the animals, particularly elephants, away from the people and the farm fish for people’s alternative livelihood.

“The elders identified a fish farm as something that could improve life for the villagers. We’re hoping the farm will keep the villagers safe and the animals safe, and we’re relying on the support of Chikolongo to make sure the farm is a success,” he said.

This fish farm, whose construction works started in July 2013 with IFAW and the German Embassy providing the financial assistance, is approximately 1km long by 500 meters and consists of several ponds of different sizes, stocked with same fish that are endemic to the Shire River.

The project forms part of the Liwonde National Park Conservation Programme, a partnership between IFAW and the Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).

The project helps safeguard Liwonde National Park and its wildlife by enhancing capacity for park security, providing basic park management resources, mitigating human-wildlife conflict, providing alternative livelihood opportunities for communities around the park and training Malawian leaders as the conservation managers and rangers of the future.

IFAW’s support helps safeguard the park’s elephants and other wildlife affected by human-wildlife conflicts both in the park and along its borders. These conflicts include poaching and habitat encroachment.

Liwonde National Park is one of Malawi’s premier tourism attractions where hundreds of elephants roam freely, along with diverse game such as hippos, grazing mammals, reptiles and more than 600 bird species.

Part of the model boundery fence built at Liwonde National Park
Part of the model boundery fence built at Liwonde National Park

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