he Government of Malawi and African Parks announced the signing of the agreement to expand their management of Liwonde National Park to include Mangochi Forest Reserve, a 320 km2 adjoining forest and water catchment area.
African Parks has managed Liwonde, which covers 548 km2, in partnership with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) since August 2015. In just two and a half years they have achieved several transformative milestones in the revitalization of the park and its wildlife, making it an ecologically functioning area and a valuable source of socio-economic growth for local communities. Mangochi Forest Reserve is the fifteenth park in Africa and the fourth park in Malawi to be brought under the management of African Parks. Ecologically-linked to Liwonde, Mangochi Forest Reserve is critical to the long-term conservation of the entire landscape and expands African Parks’ management by 60% in this area.
Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi is one of the densely-populated nation’s most important protected wildernesses. Spanning 548 km2, its fertile floodplains and mopane woodlands are a sanctuary for exceptional bird diversity, large populations of emblematic mammals and a nationally-significant elephant population. However, for many years the park’s wildlife experienced tremendous pressure arising from human-wildlife conflict and rampant poaching, resulting in the decline of many species and the eradication of large predators. Physically adjoining Liwonde, Mangochi Forest Reserve is historically an important dispersal area for elephants and other species, but experienced similar declines in its mammal populations. In spite of this, its biodiversity, intact forest, size and connectivity to Liwonde and northern Mozambique are extremely valuable for conservation in the country. Currently the reserve is still home to a small population of elephant, a breeding population of leopard and uniquely occurring bird and butterfly species, and, given adequate protection, is a crucial ecological extension of Liwonde.
Extraordinary measures have been taken to restore Liwonde since African Parks assumed management in partnership with the DNPW in 2015. These include the construction of a reliable perimeter fence, the complete overhaul of law enforcement and extensive community engagement to secure the park, making significant progress in reducing human-wildlife conflict and poaching to revitalize habitat and wildlife populations. Several key species reintroductions have also taken place, most recently returning cheetah and subsequently lion to the park after a long period of absence to restore the natural system and encourage growth in wildlife tourism. One of history’s largest elephant translocations was successfully completed in August 2017, where more than 500 elephants were moved from Liwonde and Majete Wildlife Reserve to repopulate Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve and to reduce conflict and habitat pressure in Liwonde. The agreement for Mangochi represents further progress, extending the total area under effective protection by 320 km2 beyond Liwonde and contributing to an enduring conservation legacy for the entire 860 km2 landscape.
The long-term vision for the Liwonde and Mangochi complex is to establish comprehensive protection of the full area, further develop tourism infrastructure, and increase revenue generation and associated employment to ensure that these places persist long in to the future. To achieve this vision, the full spectrum of African Parks’ operations in Liwonde, including law enforcement, conservation and habitat management, community engagement and socio-economic development will be extended to Mangochi Forest Reserve.
The Malawian Government has made visionary commitments to the protection of its natural heritage, and just last year strengthened its National Parks and Wildlife Act to enhance penalties for wildlife crime. This commitment manifests in the broadening of its partnership with African Parks, bringing more area of land under effective protection as Mangochi becomes the fourth park in Malawi and fifteenth park in Africa to join African Parks’ management portfolio.