Communities around Liwonde National Park in Machinga and Balaka have pleaded with government to expedite the privatisation of the park to spare them and their property from harm.
Speaking to Weekend Nation in separate interviews last week, the people appealed to government to hasten the process of commercialising the park which, they said, had now turned into a menace to their lives instead of being their treasure.
The people claimed that over the years there had been a population boom for elephants which has resulted in the animals invading human space.
“We are pleading with government to treat this as a matter of urgency. We thought this was our wealth but it has now become a death trap. These elephants are killing and injuring people and damaging our property,” lamented Senior Chief Liwonde last week.
Late last year, stray elephants killed 10 people around Ntaja area after they left the park in search of food in villages.
Such conflicts are becoming more common as human populations increase and diversify while resources shrink.
Senior Chief Liwonde’s appeal was also echoed in separate interviews by other leaders such as Chief Sitola, GVHs Chikuluma, Malama and Mangamba and ward councillor for Mbonekera Ward in Machinga Central Constituency, Simplex Mmora.
Said GVH Chikuluma: “If the privatisation will take longer, then government should cull the elephant population by relocating some of them to other parks because it appears there are just too many against too little food in the park, hence they abandon it to look for food outside.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture Kondwani Nankhumwa has assured the communities that the process to privatise the park was almost complete and government is expected to hand over the park to a concessionaire by June.
“We are aware of the challenges people there have been facing. But the good news is that the park is undergoing Public Private Partnership and after a bidding process government has identified African Parks to manage it. We are formalising the contract. Soon we will be signing an agreement then officially hand over the park to them by June,” he said.
African Parks is also managing Majete Game Reserve, which is one of the country’s highly regarded game reserves.
However, Nankhumwa partially blamed the villagers for creating the problems by deliberately cutting the wire fence to poach in the park.
According to assistant parks and wildlife officer for Liwonde National Park, Finlay Zumba, villagers recently removed the wire fence at an area of about 15 kilometres, a development that contributes to elephants raiding their villages. n