For years, communities around Lengwe National Park in Chikwawa were enemies of the habitat to different animal species where tourists go to appreciate nature and contribute revenue to the country’s purse in the process.
The park still struggles to date despite several interventions by government and its development partners.
Cases of vandalism, poaching, wanton cutting down of trees, charcoal production, illegal logging and farming are still common.
The facility is almost deserted, its fence vandalised and there is no proper protection to the wildlife.
A visit to the park recently established that some people cultivate about 20 metres away from the front fence. Such a scenario paints a picture that the issue of land is thorny.
The situation even poses a threat to people in the event that animals like buffaloes break loose.
That day, a cool breeze greeted us on entering the park. The soil was wet due to rains that had been pouring in the last three days.
The vegetation was green. Monkeys jumped up and down but the roads in the park needed upgrading.
Surprisingly, there were neither visitors nor tourists on the day at Nyala Lodge.
However, through community based Shire River Basin Management (SRBM) project executed in 2014, there has been a reduction in incidences of damaging the park.
The project was designed to improve land and water management for the ecosystem and livelihood benefits in the targeted areas.
By the end of the first phase on January 31, 2019, it was clear that the project had helped to improve life both in and outside the park.
Director in the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa says the department will continue to engage surrounding communities to co-manage and own the park.
“Shire River Basin Management has already supported us with four maize mills, 700 goats for a pass-on programme and bee-keeping to people near Lengwe as an economic empowerment drive,” Kumchedwa explains.
Kumchedwa dispels allegations that his officers connive with encroachers saying the department has control measures and encourages game rangers to be professional when executing their duties.
He says Malawi is one of the countries making significant strides in promoting wildlife in the world.
“As I am talking now, Malawi is among the best must-visit countries in terms of wildlife. In fact, Malawi also received global recognition of the Elephant Marsh in accordance with the Ramsar Convention,” Kumchedwa says.
The programme led to the drilling of boreholes and construction of the rangers’ camp besides other community economic empowerment initiatives.
SRBM project coordinator Sydney Kamtukule says the programme also bought two vehicles, four motorcycles and graded the roads in the park complete with signposts.
“We also constructed a modern conference hall which will help the park to generate revenue from various organisations which will be using it for meetings,” Kamtukule says.
Chairperson for Nabomba Community Based Organization (CBO) Peter Simon acknowledges that the programme has economically empowered people around the park and asks for its sustenance.
“Money realised from the maize mills is utilised in various development projects in our respective areas, besides maintenance of the maize mill.
“So far, our CBO has over 30 goats and, through the pass-on initiative, we are taking part in upgrading our living standards. The objective is to divert communities from encroachment of the protected area,” Simon says.
Paramount Chief Lundu says the situation at Lengwe National Park was heartbreaking because surrounding communities were rendering a deaf ear to calls to protect animals and own the facility.
Lundu notes that at the current rate of poaching, the future generations may not see some animal species like buffaloes.
“It is pathetic that despite being given incentives to take care of the facility, people are still causing damage to the park.
“Besides, I also blame some game rangers who connive with poachers and people who make charcoal to trespass in the park. No wonder the population of animals in the park is still dwindling,” Lundu says.
He said he would personally love to see Lengwe transformed like Majete Game Reserve which is now home to the big five.
Statistics from Shire Valley Division for Parks and Wildlife show that, currently, the number of animals is gradually increasing inside Lengwe National Park.
At present, there are 904 buffaloes, 2 073 impalas and many other animals like monkeys.
Shire Valley Division Manager for Parks and Wildlife, Alick Makanjira says Lengwe is now recovering and thriving.
“The park now has an electric fence on one side, 10 water points for animals and a modern game rangers’ camp near Jassi Village to ensure safety of the park,” Makanjira says. n