New project breathes new life into Kasungu National Park in Malawi
By The Daily Times
Kasungu National Park, located in the central region of Malawi and on the border with Zambia, was once a popular tourist destination.
However, 20 years later, one can feel how outrageous poaching has transformed the country’s second largest park, spanning 2,100 square kilometers, from an exciting tourist vacation hotspot to a desolate place of entertainment.
Once teeming with abundant animal species, including elephants, today it is the epitome of a ghost forest. Animal densities have fallen low.
The Lifupa Lodge, which was built in the middle of the park to accommodate tourists, looks spooky and deserted.
Dozens of wildlife that came to the lodge’s man-made dam to quench thirst have declined dramatically. You can stay at the lodge all day without seeing a wild animal.
The once beautifully built bungalows at the resort have become abandoned property.
The lodge, which is run by Parks and Wildlife, a government department, has no electricity despite a three-phase electric wire running through it.
In the 21 kilometers that Times Crew traveled between the park entrance and the lodge, we did not see any animals except birds. This despite assurances from some park authorities that there are around 100 elephants.
One of the lodge workers, Jacob Charles, admitted the drop in guest numbers due to poaching.
“Five years ago this place was full because people wanted to see animals, especially elephants. Now there are very few guests coming. Poaching has affected the business, ”he said.
After walking more than 100 kilometers to visit the park for the first time, Ellen Sanga was frustrated and bitter that she did not see the animals, except the birds, as she had planned.
“It’s frustrating. I used to hear that this place is nice but look at the structures. I expected to see zebras, elephants but I can’t see them,” she says.
Patricio Ndadzela, party leader of the Malawi-Zambia Landscape Project, a joint project of the two countries to tackle wildlife crime, said Kasungu National Park was home to 1,500 elephants 20 years ago, but that 2015, the population had fallen to 40.
And for a country that claims to turn tourism into a money-spinning industry so that it contributes significantly to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the state of Kasungu National Park makes this narrative a joke and a joke. wacky dream.
No wonder, according to the World Data Atlas in 2019, the real contribution of travel and tourism to Malawi’s GDP increased from $ 0.2 billion in 2000 to $ 0.6 billion in 2019, with an average annual rate of 6.3%.
Along the border of Malawi and Zambia, which are home to three stunning national parks in southern Africa, namely Kasungu, Lukusuzi and Luambe, poaching is particularly severe.
This is a complicated problem because after hunting elephants in Malawi or Zambia, poachers easily cross the border to either country where the respective government officials no longer have the power to stop them.
Malawi-Zambia Landscape Officer Lakalongela Ng’ambi seemed confident about the progress made so far in the fight against poaching.
She said the elephant and other animal population is improving due to the strategies that have been deployed to combat the vice.
“We have a corridor that allows animals to migrate from Zambia to Kasungu. If the animals find him hostile, they return to Zambia. Poachers also use the same corridor because it is a hotspot, ”Ng’ambi said.
It is obvious that as long as they are mining ivory for sale, these poachers do not appreciate that elephants are considered a key species in the African landscape.
However, there seems to be life at the end of the tunnel for Kasungu National Park because in 2017, Ifaw (International Fund for Animal Welfare) with financial assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched a campaign to fight wildlife crime (CWC). ) project to protect elephant populations along the border landscape between Malawi and Zambia.
Forest rangers in Malawi and Zambia have also been equipped with relevant crime-fighting skills.
Joseph Chauluka is a rangers instructor at the park and is convinced they will win the fight.
“We have rangers in the contour camps and rapid response teams. We are working with our Zambian counterparts in this anti-poaching project, ”he said.
Ndadzela points out that although the initiative targets elephant species, the enforcement capacity developed through this activity will benefit many other species targeted in the landscape and taken in the illegal trade.
The project has several objectives, including reducing elephant poaching rates to levels that will allow the sustainability of the population, achieving a decrease of at least 25% in elephant poaching, strengthening the capacity of law enforcement officials. laws to identify and prosecute and disrupt illegal trafficking routes. operating across Malawi and Zambia.
“The current poaching trend is downward. We used to have a lot of shots (from poachers) in a month, but now we don’t get shots anymore, ”he said.
Ifaw statistics show that in 2021 at least 1,926 people were arrested thanks to the initiative and 2,762.48 kilograms of ivory seized. At least 365 convictions were obtained, which represents a rate of 76.5%.
Ndadzela said plans are underway to transfer around 200 elephants from Liwonde National Park to Kasungu to boost tourism in the region.
Elephants will add to a variety of animals in the park such as kudu, sable, antelopes and zebras.
Then maybe life in Kasungu National Park will return to normal.
The post project for a new life in Kasungu National Park first appeared on The Times Group Malawi.