A mod­ern-day Noah’s ark

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Cover Story -

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.”

Gavin Bell

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