Malawi is known for many things – a gorgeous swimmable lake, friendly people – but a big selection of wildlife is not one of them. Top of travelers’ safari lists this Central African country has never been. Until now, that is … or until August. That’s when it will become home to four lions, and Malawi once again can be classified as a country that has the Big Five. The country has also recently gotten a new president, the second woman president in Africa, Joyce Banda, who has already started making waves (of a very positive, democratic kind!) in Africa.
Historically, lions were common in Malawi’s south, but by the early 1960s scouts were recording only one cat every 100 patrol days. Serious poaching depleted their numbers, and there have been no reports of lions in the region since the 1980s. Although the occasional lion is seen in Liwonde National Park, further north in the country, it is believed that they come across the border from Mozambique and are not permanent.
The four cats arriving in August are being donated by South African National Parks to the 70,000-hectare Majete Wildlife Reserve in the Lower Shire River Valley. That will complete the Big Five – right now there are elephant, rhino, buffalo and (from very recently) leopard. The non-profit African Parks has been resurrecting Majete since it took over management in 2003. Since then Majete has been fenced and infrastructure developed, and at least 12 different species and more than 2500 animals introduced. The safety provided by the perimeter fence and a law-enforcement program, as well as the abundance of prey, has created an environment where lions can once again thrive.
Last October, two leopards were brought from South Africa, and then in December, two more. As for the lions, African Parks announced in a statement, “Healthy animals at the beginning of their reproductive lives will be selected … and the intricate relocation process will involve weeks of quarantine on both sides of the border. It will also be a costly operation with holding facilities having to be erected and flights chartered to transport the predators to their new home.”
It has taken many people and companies to achieve these translocations, and one of them is Robin Pope Safaris, which owns the recently opened luxury Mkulumadzi Lodge in Majete (as well as other great safari operations in Africa) and contributes to African Parks. Without people and businesses like them, the good works could never happen.