By Alix Morris
Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi. A helicopter whirs above the savanna as the pilot “herds” a family of zebras towards a nearby funnel-shaped structure created by the park staff. As the zebras rush into the tunnel, a reserve manager quickly closes a sliding plastic curtain behind them. The animals continue to push forward as additional sliding curtains close one by one behind them, edging them towards a loading ramp. The zebras climb up the ramp and pack into a large transport container hitched to a truck, completing the first stage of an epic, 500 kilometer journey to their new home.
A Park in Crisis
Not long ago, Malawi’s Majete Wildlife Reserve was once devoid of, well, wildlife. Poaching, logging, and charcoal burning were rampant, destroying the region’s iconic animals and their habitat. By the mid-1980s, elephants had been poached to extinction, along with zebras, rhinos, hartebeest, and many other species. Only a few hippos and crocodiles remained.
But in 2003, everything changed. African Parks, a non-profit organization, launched a partnership with the Malawian government and local communities to return Majete to what it once was – a wildlife haven. Their idea was to “re-stock” the park with 14 species of animals that had once lived there.
It was a pioneering effort. But no one knew if it would work.
Earthwatch on the Scene
Since 2013, Earthwatch volunteers have joined Dr. Alison Leslie of Stellenbosch University and the Majete Wildlife Research Programme to support critical research efforts on the ground through the expedition Animals of Malawi in the Majete Wildlife Reserve. The research team is investigating the ecology of many of the reintroduced species, such as diet, behavior, home range, and territory establishment, all of which will contribute to a wildlife management plan for the reserve.
A Conservation Success Story
Today, 13 years after the initial conservation efforts, 2,500 elephants, buffalos, waterbuck, nyala, hartebeest, zebras – even critically endangered black rhinos – have been reintroduced in the reserve. And many species are doing so well that, to prevent destruction of vegetation in the park, some of the animals are currently being re-located to other protected reserves in Malawi where populations are struggling.
And so begins a massive translocation effort – a human-assisted wildlife migration from Majete in southern Malawi to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in the northern part of the country (a journey of approximately 500 kilometers). The massive effort began this month and will continue into 2017.
“Majete’s success story is a shining example of conservation in practice, incorporating a combination of scientific research, management, law enforcement, and community participation.” – Dr. Alison Leslie
In 2003, African Parks and their partners had a dream for Majete Wildlife Reserve, and 13 years later, that dream has come true, said Alison.
Find out more about this Earthwatch research expedition in Malawi on our website and discover how you can be a part of this pioneering conservation effort.