Kasungu National Park, on the Zambian border in central western Malawi, used to be home to thriving elephant, buffalo and lion populations, not to mention numerous other species in abundance.

But, sadly, that was back in the 1980s. Today, there are few elephants in Kasungu, rhinos and lions have been wiped out, and most antelope species have declined dramatically. 

So, how did one of Africa’s finest parks end up in such peril?

To put this in perspective, it is important to note that Malawi is rated the poorest country in the world and one of the most densely populated. From a socioeconomic and land-use perspective, protected areas in Malawi have been under increasing pressure for many years.

For the most part, slash and burn agriculture to support basic livelihoods has resulted in a dramatic depletion of natural resources, which has affected wildlife in protected areas, too.

To supplement primarily maize-based diets, hunting for bushmeat became a necessity for those communities living alongside national parks.  But, this fast became unsustainable when commercial interests took over and demand far outweighed supply. Wildlife populations subsequently plummeted in many protected areas.

And then, with the growing demand in the last three decades for wildlife products from “high-value” species such as elephants and rhinos, commercial poaching has taken its toll in Malawi.

In the 1980s Kasungu National Park was home to more than 1,200 elephants, part of a larger meta-population across the Luangwa Valley totalling close to 100,000 elephants. 

Today Kasungu has fewer than 50 elephants, and the Luangwa Valley fewer than 20,000. 

One of the biggest challenges for wildlife protection efforts in Malawi is poor governance.  While somewhat understandable in a country with very limited resources to combat corruption at a macro-level, it remains the elephant in the room in stamping out wildlife crime.  This has had a huge impact on this small country’s ability to deal with the scourge of poaching and trafficking and has left many parks in peril, including Kasungu. 

And being the poorest country in the world has also presented enormous challenges for Malawi in appropriately resourcing wildlife conservation.  Since independence, the country has basically survived on aid and, with priority issues such as poverty, health and education taking centre stage for aid agencies, the Department of National Parks Wildlife (DNPW) has struggled to find the financial support necessary to sustain wildlife conservation and protected area management interventions. 

But there is hope.

Despite this picture of doom and gloom, Malawi has done just about enough to ensure that its protected areas remain somewhat intact, which presents real hope to restore parks such as Kasungu to their former glory.

Following a successful long-term conservation programme in Liwonde National Park, which has now attracted private-sector investment, IFAW was approached last year by the Malawi Government to help them transform Kasungu. 

As part of a larger, landscape-level programme aimed at reconnecting Kasungu to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia, IFAW has set up operations in Kasungu with the primary goal of securing the park and thus re-establishing wildlife populations.

IFAW’s on-the-ground law enforcement expert, Mike Labuschagne, and his team works closely with the DNPW to enhance government capacity to prevent poaching. The video above provides a first-hand account from Mike as to how IFAW is going about its business in Kasungu.   

IFAW commends the Malawian government for not giving up on Kasungu and for taking action at a national level to draw attention to wildlife crime in the country. In fact, thanks to the DNPW and local NGOs, wildlife crime in Malawi has been elevated to the top of the political agenda, and the international community is rallying to help the world’s poorest country.

IFAW is proud to be helping the world’s poorest country protect its natural heritage.

–JB

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Article source: IFAW

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