250 Elephants on the move

Elephants in Liwonde National Park, Malawi © Marcus Westberg and African Parks

The Department of National Parks and Wildlife says it will be translocating 500 wild animals from Liwonde National Park to Kasungu National Park.

The exercise will take place from June 27 to end of July, 2022 and will cost $1.5 million (K1.5 billion) in movements and infrastructure.

Brighton Kumchedwa, Director of  the Department of National Parks and Wildlife disclosed it will be translocating 250 elephants, 80 Buffalos, 120 Impalas, 25 sable antelopes, 80 warthogs and 45 water bugs.

Kumchedwa said this year's translocation process is unique because they are taking the animals into a protected area managed by government and other stakeholders.

​ Buffalos at Liwonde National Park, Malawi Malawi © Frank Peterson and African Parks [Click and drag to move] ​
Buffalos at Liwonde National Park, Malawi © Frank Peterson and African Parks

The Director explained that the elephant population in Liwonde National Park exceeded the park's carrying capacity resulting in frequent breakouts.

Statistics indicate the carrying capacity is 300 but the numbers have gone up to over 600 elephants.

"This is creating conflict between the animals and community. There is also destruction of habitats."

Kumchedwa emphasized the exercise is part of a national conservation initiative to maintain healthy habitats in Malawi’s national parks and that this is in no way trying to deny tourism opportunity to the Park but ensure posterity of the community in the surrounding areas

He went on to explain Kasungu National Park, the receiving park is suitable because it is vast and can take even up to 2000 elephants at once.

Kumchedwa: Kasungu has enough food and water

"There is enough food, water and there will be no competition. Kasungu National Park was also a sanctuary, it had 1,500 individual elephants but poaching reduced the numbers. We want to build a viable elephant population in Kasungu National Park."

He said the park is prepared to mitigate human elephant conflict with some measures taken being the construction of  a 40 km boundary fence as well as ground and aerial force for eventualities.

"These animals will be monitored with collars for easy reaction when such breakouts happen. The community in the areas has been made aware of the incoming elephants and so far we have not had any objection."

Kumchedwa explained there is possibility the elephants might stray into Zambia as the park is on an international border but was quick to emphasize this is not going to be a problem as they have a working relationship with their Zambian counterpart.

Kumchedwa addressing journalists

Nowa Nasongole, Deputy Director for tourism said Malawi has to be a model for wildlife conservation.

He said the tourism business is essential to the development of Malawi as it brings in foreign currency and accounts fro 25 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

African Parks Country representative Sam Kamoto said the Malawi government has played a huge role in the translocation of the animals and management of wildlife.

"We are trying to solve a problem of overpopulation. Liwonde's carrying capacity is 300 but the numbers are well over 600. So we want to bring the numbers down to manageable levels.

Patricio Ndadzera, Chief of party for International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said Kasungu National Park elephant numbers dwindled to around 40-50 and is now hovering at 120 with no fears of poaching.

IFAW chief

"All activities to do with anti-poaching have been dealt with including cross boarder coordination, community engagement, providing capacity to the Judiciary to understand, interpret the law and mete out sentences.

He disclosed they have on record 761 people being arrested and 3 tons of ivory confiscated adding they will continue to upscale the border fence at Kasungu National Park from 40 Kilometres to 90 Kilometres as well as ranger capacity building.

"We believe with empowering the department they can sustain the gains that have been made for the past five years."

IFAW chief

In 2016 and 2017, African Parks undertook one of the largest elephant translocations in history relocating 520 elephants, of which 366 were moved from Liwonde, to alleviate habitat pressure, reduce human wildlife conflict and repopulate Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, also managed by African Parks.

Cheetahs and lions were reintroduced to Liwonde in 2017 and 2018 respectively, followed by a black rhino translocation in 2019 and wild dogs in 2021.