A modern-day Noah’s ark
African Parks’ ambitious relocation programme aims to safeguard elephants in Malawi and protect local communities and their crops
The crack of highpowered rifles will echo over the savannah of Malawi’s Liwonde National Park over the next few weeks, as vets in helicopters fire darts to tranquillise hundreds of elephants in preparation for their relocation by truck to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve near Lake Malawi. This massive operation seeks to safeguard not just herds of elephants, but also the lives and crops of villagers who are threatened by their predations.
The modern-day Noah’s Ark launched this month by the conservation organisation African Parks (see main story) will see 250 elephants transferred by mid-August from Liwonde, where a growing population of 800 animals has been degrading wildlife habitats and rampaging through villages.
Their new home will be a wildlife sanctuary at Nkhotakota, where fewer than 100 elephants remain from herds of more than 1,500 that have been decimated by poaching.
A further 250 elephants will be relocated in next year’s dry season (July and August) to Nkhotakota from Liwonde and another wildlife reserve at Majete. At the same time 1,400 other types of animal, including waterbuck, sable, zebra, buffalo and kudu, are being transferred to Nkhotakota from overstocked reserves.
The shape of things to come is evident in the Majete Wildlife Reserve, a remarkable conservation success since African Parks assumed management in 2003 and transformed a park depleted by poaching into a sanctuary for the Big Five. In addition to reintroducing key species, the initiative involved antipoaching measures and collaboration with local communities.
Andrew Parker, operations director at African Parks, believes its strategy offers the best hope for preserving Malawi’s abundance of wildlife while minimising conflict with agrarian communities: “After decades of systematic poaching we are pushing back against the tide, which is good news for wildlife, farmers and tourism.”
After supervising the first phase of the elephant relocation this week, he said: “We have assembled probably the world’s best team of experts for this operation, and it has gone extremely well. So far so good.”