Inside the grass-thatched reception area of the sprawling Liwonde National Park in Machinga, two of Malawi’s well-known personalities and the CEO for African Parks (AP) chatted for two hours about the heat-wave and wildlife. Probably, no politics.
Minitser Kutsaira (left) and Kumchedwa at Liwonde National Park overseeing the release of 17 black rhinos into the park. Pic by MacDonald Chiwayula, MBC Online.
Attired in combat uniform complete with boots was the Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mines, Bintony Kutsaira. The former Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa, who wore light outfits to run away from the scorching heat in this part of Malawi, and Peter Fearnhead, AP’s CEO.
It was not by accident that the Minister, ex-CJ and the AP Chief were here.
They were patiently and anxiously waiting to receive a priceless gift from South Africa—17 black rhinos, commonly called Chipembere in vernacular, being trans-located to LNP, one of Malawi’s prime touristic draw-card.
Msosa is a board member of Liwonde and Nkhotakota national parks, two of the four parks which are under the aegis of the AP —a no profit conservation organisation founded in 2000 which rehabilitates and manages 16 national parks in 10 African countries, in partnership with governments and local communities.
AP’s President is Britain’s Prince Harry, the Duchess of Sussex.
END OF EPIC JOURNEY
But after a two-hour wait, a posse of trucks roared into the park, escorted by a police vehicle. The sight was simply something out of Malawi and straight from the best wildlife movies shot by world-famed National Geographic.
There were broad smiles all around as the excited Kutsaira, Msosa, Fearnhead, journalists and Malawi Government officials, welcomed the endangered species into the park, at exactly 10.56 am.
It was the end of an epic journey which started in South Africa’s Kwazulu Natal.
The 17 black rhinos-weighing 3 thousand kilograms each, a total of 51 tones, had been flown from South Africa to Malawi, using the cargo plane Boeing 747, a rare feat for the pilots.
Offloading the hook-lipped black rhinos (Diceros bicornis), partly sedated and in containers, took three hours at KIA—and the journey by road to Liwonde some six hours.
The translocation was one of the best kept secrets in Malawi, given the type of cargo being transported—rhinos, which were at the brink of extinction in Malawi, and after being targeted by poachers for their horns which have a lucrative market in Asian countries where the horns are used for folk remedies.
Fearnhead hailed the $372,000 (K273 million) translocation of the rhinos as “one of the largest international black rhino translocations to date.”
The Chipembere’s were captured in KwaZulu-Natal and quarantined for six weeks before being flown from King Shaka airport in Durban to Lilongwe, with every precaution taken to ensure their wellbeing throughout the process.
They were released into LNP on November 12 and AP says the rhinos are “settling in well” in the 548 square kilometers park, which was proclaimed a national park in 1973 and now boasts of dense populations of hippo, crocodiles and elephants. Zebras and cheetahs are part of the animals here.
MINISTER"S WARNING SHOTS TO POACHERS
And Kutsaira, who was over the moon to touch a rhino for the first time in his life, quickly pulled the trigger and fired warning shots to would be poachers: “I assure all stakeholders that we will jealously guard these black rhinos.”
“Let me sound this strong warning to poachers. Once found trespassing, the law will take its course. The coming in of soldiers who are making their drills nearby has strengthened security around here and internally they have an electric fence plus well equipped rangers who are continuously patrolling the park.”
The rangers at LNP are being trained by British soldiers to respond to the threat of poaching.
The Minister says the 17 rhinos are a panacea for tourism growth.
“On behalf of His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, I would like to express Government’s gratitude to the Republic of South Africa for this timely gift of 17 black rhinos. For sure this partnership will be cultivated further for the good of the tourism industry in the country.”
Thanks to WWF South Africa, African Parks, Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife who footed the bill to successfully move the 17 black rhinos from South Africa to Liwonde National Park in Malawi.
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT RHIONS?
Based on a custodianship agreement signed between the Governments of Malawi and South Africa, the aim, said Fernhead, “is to boost Malawi’s black rhino populations and aid regional efforts to conserve the critically endangered species.”
This is the first cross-border translocation undertaken by WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP), and the 13th undertaken by BRREP since its inception in 2003.
AP is also moving two of Liwonde’s black rhinos to Majete Wildlife Reserve, and another rhino from Majete to Liwonde, to further enhance genetic diversity. The two parks are among four protected areas in the country that are managed by the conservation group African Parks in partnership with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).
African Parks’ efforts together with the DNPW and local communities to secure and restore Majete and Liwonde since 2003 and 2015 respectively, have transformed these landscapes, resulting in the dramatic reduction of poaching and numerous reintroductions of key species.
“As wildlife populations have grown, so too has tourism, bringing much needed revenue for their continued conservation and surrounding communities,” Fearnhead said.
Good law enforcement coupled with community initiatives has been central to ensuring adequate security while achieving strong support for Liwonde and Majete. Extensive measures to protect the rhinos include aerial surveillance, daily ranger patrols and the integration of the most advanced technology to enable their live-time tracking.
Each animal has been fitted with a new GPS sensor device from Smart Parks, allowing teams to accurately monitor their activity and location on a constant basis.
The AP Chief says: “With only around 5,500 black rhinos remaining across their range in the wild, translocations to well-protected areas are essential in giving populations a chance for growth and survival, and allowing future generations of people to benefit from their natural heritage.”
Director of the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Brighton Kumchedwa, says: “This international collaboration has provided an important opportunity for us to contribute to improving the prospects of rhinos in Africa. As the Malawi Government we are honoured to be part of this Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.
“We’re extremely proud of the progress achieved with partners like African Parks for the conservation of threatened species in Malawi. By restoring our natural heritage, in concert with economic development, we’re providing a sustainable future for both wildlife and people in our country.”
Meanwhile, everybody will be waiting for the big news: That one day when the rhinos will mate and deliver babies.
In 2017, AP completed one of the world’s elephant translocations when it moved some 520 jumbos from LNP and Majete game reserve to Nkhotakota, with Malawi distinguishing itself at as the leader in African elephant conservation and park restoration.