I remember very well when Beauty arrived, I was studying and working on my dissertation at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. It is now 4 years later and with much gratitude I can say that not only was I involved with raising this animal and watching Beauty grow up, but I have been able to personally release this animal back into the wild. This is one of the many success stories of Lilongwe Wildlife Centre which I would like to share.
Beauty was rescued from being a pet by two young girls living in Lilongwe. The girls realised that their neighbour was doing something illegal by keeping a young duiker in the back of his garden. This alone was amazing to hear; young girls growing up and understanding that these activities should not take place. But in addition, these girls cared enough to decide to take action. They were worried about this animal and offered to bring it to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre for proper care. The neighbour surrendered the duiker and the young ladies brought him to the centre and named him Beauty, since they thought this animal was so beautiful. Although I quickly realised that this duiker was a male, we kept his name and consequently have confused many people throughout the years which has been quite amusing.
Beauty was hand-reared with the support of myself and many other volunteers. I remember spending many hours with him making sure he would not get stressed by people and habituating him to a certain extent. Bottle feeding was not always easy and this was one of the main reasons why he needed to be habituated. He was cute, but also acclimatized to people which was a concern.
It was decided that Beauty was not suitable for release due to his behaviour and he was kept at LWC. After being weaned he was given a big natural enclosure to provide him with time to de-humanize. Unfortunately, Duikers are often victims and sold for bushmeat in Malawi and when they are not wary enough they can easily get poached in non-protected areas where people can get too close. If Beauty could be dehumanized enough by living in a spacious natural environment then his release would be reconsidered.
In the beginning of 2017 LWC unfortunately had to deal with heavy rainfall which resulted in an extremely high river flow and the waters bursting their banks. That morning I had to leave the centre for a quick appointment and the streets themselves had turned into rivers which I was forced to drive through. In the back of my mind I was worrying about some of the enclosures at the centre, including the antelope’s where Beauty was held. Water was pouring from everywhere.
When I came back I had to partially swim my way through to get to the right side of the centre to check on all the animals. The situation became critical when the water level of the antelope enclosure reached a point where there was only a small strip of dry space left for them. There was no time to waste and I started cutting the fence open in order to let the animals out. Beauty was one of the animals rescued and released onto LWC’s grounds.
All the duikers found their way onto the sanctuary’s grounds and have been doing well ever since. Beauty, however, managed to go exactly back to where he was raised: the quarantine area. Although this friendly duiker was not causing any harm and we all enjoyed seeing him wandering around, it was important for him to find a more suitable home. With the support of African Parks, a new home was found in Liwonde National Park, a well-protected secured area in the South of Malawi. After Beauty was caught, which was not the easiest thing to do, we managed to drive him all the way to Liwonde National Park to start his new life.
It is great to be able to release animals that are more humanized in parks where we know they are safe. Not only does this provide us with more opportunities for releases, we can give animals another chance. Each animal has its own character and if rehabilitation work needs to be done there is always a risk that some animals get more habituated than others. Beauty is one of them, but has found his way in Liwonde National Park. He is often spotted and is keeping a healthy body condition. Maybe someday he will retreat further into the park, but for now it is great to see that after 4 years he still made it back to the wild.