NATIONAL PARKS AND WILDLIFE RESERVES
Malawi is home to ten national parks and wilderness parks. Most species of big game are now restricted to these areas due to an increase in poaching over the last decade. However, Malawi is still home to 170 species of mammals, including the “big five,” and over 650 species of bird – many of which cannot be seen in other parts of Southern Africa.
Nyika National Park
This is the oldest and largest national park in Malawi, covering approximately 3,200km2. Situated in the north of the country, the park covers the whole of the Nyika Plateau, a unique upland with most parts lying about 2000 meters above sea level. ‘Nyika’ means ‘where the water comes from’ as the plateau is an important water catchment area in Malawi. The park consists of rolling grassy hills, forested valleys and sheer escarpments which are home to over 400 species of bird and the highest leopard population in Central Africa. Visitors can also expect to see many species of antelope, zebras, elephants and lions, making the plateau perfect for game drives and horseback safaris. Accommodation includes Lukwe EcoCamp and Chelinda Lodge. Initiatives by the Trans-Frontier Conservation Area, Peace Parks Foundation and the Norwegian Government contribute significantly to the development and protection of the area.
Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve
Located along the Zambian border, Vwaza is a 1000km2 reserve consisting of forest and grassland, thin woodland and marsh plain. The government camp here closed down in 2007 and so tourist infrastructure is still under-developed, however there is a high concentration of game. Lake Kazuni is filled with hippo and the surrounding land is home to herds of elephant and buffalo. Birdlife in the reserve is also outstanding, with approximately 300 recorded species. Accommodation comes in the form of MEOF Safari Lodge & Camp, a budget lodge located near Vwaza that was established by a German charity with the intention to provide a sustainable income for the local community.
Kasungu National park
Kasungu stretches along the Zambian border and is Malawi’s second largest national park covering approximately 2000km. It is located in the central region and rises about 1000 meters above sea level. The landscape consists of miombo woodland and grassy river channels known as dambos. The Dwanga and Lingadzi rivers flow through the park and are the main water sources supporting this ecosystem. There is also a lake where a hippo population is established. Antelope, zebra, leopard, buffalo, jackal and serval are all present, however the elephant population has been reduced to an estimated 300 due to serious poaching over the last 5 years. Hyena and wild dog can be heard roaming the park, particularly at night. The park also contains many important Iron Age archaeological sites. Although closed during the month of March due to heavy rains making tracks inaccessible, regular vehicles can tour the park during the rest of the year. Accommodation includes the beautiful Lifupa Conservation lodge.
Nkhotakota Game Reserve
Said to be Malawi’s oldest reserve, Nkhotakota is located in the central region and covers approximately 1800 km2. Nestled beneath the Chipata Mountain, the reserve consists of a vast network of rivers weaving their way through wooded hills and dense miombo forests. It stretches from the Great Rift Valley in the west to within a few kilometres of Lake Malawi in the East. Nkhotakota is one of Malawi’s most important bird areas, with more than 280 different species. Buffalo, warthog, sable, kudu and impala are all present, however decades of poaching and timber harvesting depleted many key mammal species and degraded their natural habitat. The communities surrounding Nkhotakota are also among the poorest in Malawi. However, since 2015, the reserve has been under the management of African Parks who are working to protect and further develop the reserve as well as promoting sustainable livelihoods. On August 2nd 2017 African Parks completed one of the largest elephant translocations in history with a total of 520 elephants successfully moved to the reserve from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve. A perimeter fence is under construction as well as stringent law enforcement to ensure the long-term survival of the park’s wildlife. Additionally, new accommodation of international standards has opened in Nkhotakota including the Bua River Lodge and Tongole Wilderness Lodge.
Liwonde National Park
Located in the south of Malawi with the Shire River on its border, Liwonde National Park is filled with ancient baobob trees and borassus palms. It’s fertile floodplains, dense woodlands and lagoons sustain over 400 species of bird as well as zebra, antelope, warthog, crocodile, and hippo. Liwonde also harbours Malawi’s largest remaining populations of elephant and the critically endangered black rhino. Around 900,000 people live around Liwonde and depend on it’s natural resources for survival. Prior to African Parks assuming management in 2015, high levels of poaching, unsustainable deforestation and illegal fishing were degrading the ecosystem. Since 2015, African Parks have greatly impacted the parks conservation, with fish poaching being largely eliminated and approximately 16,500 snare wires removed. The construction of a new 117km electrical perimeter fence has decreased human-wildlife conflict, with zero human deaths since July 2016. In addition, cheetah have been successfully reintroduced, helping to restore the park’s past wilderness. Tourists can stay at Hippo View Lodge or Liwonde Safari Camp.
Mwabvi Game Reserve
Located in the southern tip of Malawi, Mwabvi one the country’s smallest wildlife reserves covering only 135km2. Consisting of woodland surrounding the Mwabvi river, the reserve is remote and only accessible on foot or with 4×4 vehicles. Once regarded as ‘empty’ of game, new roads have opened up and game drives or treks arranged by local reserve authorities have yielded sightings of buffalo, sable, kudu, impala and other antelope as well as a variety of birdlife. As part of a long-term agreement with the Malawian Government, Project African Wilderness (PAW) are working to protect and restore the reserve and improve local community livelihoods through developing ecotourism. Various forms of accommodation are established for tourists wishing to visit this lesser-known wilderness.
Majete Game Reserve
Located in south-western Malawi, just south of Blantyre, Majete is an incredible conservation success story. Only 13 years ago, the reserve was an empty forest with almost no wildlife besides a few remaining antelope. During the 1970’s rhino had been poached out, followed by elephants in the 1990’s. Predators and most of their prey had disappeared and charcoal production meant that even the trees were being illegally deforested. From 2000-2003 the reserve had almost no tourists and only 12 scouts were employed to patrol what was left of the park. However, in 2003 African Parks entered into a 25-year agreement with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) to manage and restore Majete. Key species were reintroduced, such as black rhinos in 2003, elephants in 2006 and lions in 2012, alongside many other species. This lead to Majete being Malawi’s only Big Five destination with a population of more than 12,200 animals. Majete is surrounded by 85 villages and tens of thousands of local people have benefitted from the Parks resurgence. 140 people are now employed full time within the park, with a growing ranger force patrolling the park daily. This change in law enforcement had led to not one rhino or elephant being poached since 2003. Tourism has risen dramatically with over 8000 visitors to the park in 2016 generating more than US$400,000 in revenue. There are various lodges and a community campsite available to stay in.
Lengwe National Park
Lengwe is the most southern of all of Malawi’s parks and comprises 900km2 of dense woodland. A paradise for birdwatchers, the park is home to over 300 species, alongside baboons, leopard, hyena and large herds of nyala. Much of the surrounding area consists of sugar cane plantations, however a heritage centre at the entrance to the park named ‘Tisunge!’, meaning ‘let us preserve’ in Chichewa, aims to preserve the Lower Shire Culture. Various artefacts are on display in the centre’s museum. Man-made pools assist with game viewing and visitors can stay at Nyala Lodge.
Lake Malawi Marine Park
Lake Malawi is Africa’s third largest lake and ninth largest in the world. The marine park is located at the southern end of the lake and is a world heritage site as well as the world’s first freshwater national park. The park includes a land area around the bay of Cape Maclear and islands up to 100 metres off shore. The area has deep clear waters, a mountain backdrop and is particularly unique due to its population of cichlids. These tropical fish or mbuna as they are known locally, are nearly all endemic to the lake and the reason for the area’s national park designation. There are over 350 different species and they display a significant example of biological evolution due to the isolation of the lake from other water bodies. The park is also home to baboons and a high concentration of fish eagles. The water is a great for sports such as scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking and sailing. Accommodation includes Thumbi View Lodge, The Funky Cichlid and Cape Maclear Eco Lodge and Scuba Shack.
Kuti Wilderness Reserve
Kuti is Malawi’s smallest reserve, covering just 2000 hectares. Established in the 1990’s, it has a diverse habitat ranging from brachystegia and miombo woodland through to grasslands, wetlands, and marshes. Although not home to any dangerous predators, Kuti sustains a variety of native animals including large mammals such as zebra, kudu and giraffe. Primates include yellow baboons and vervet monkeys with nocturnal creatures such as bush babies, bats and serval cats also residing within the reserve. Kuti is a key wildlife refuge as well as having great importance for the local community, with projects encouraging sustainable lifestyles and changing local perceptions of wildlife. Tourists can stay in a variety of accommodation with many activities on offer such as bike safaris and a beautiful lakeside spot to watch the sunset.