Liwonde National Park, Malawi


(Notes from a journey to Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia, Sep/Oct 2015.)

We started our tour of Malawi at Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi, located on the eastern side of the Shire (she-ré) River. The land here is low and flat. Most of the forest trees had lost their leaves during the dry season. Our guide said that the park turns green again within three days after the first rains, but the rains come nearly a month later in recent years than they used to. Yet the Shire River remains broad, as it steadily carries the waters of Lake Malawi, in the north, toward the Zambezi River, much farther south. On a quiet afternoon boat safari we spotted innumerable hippos, Nile crocodiles, elephants, yellow baboons, and several species of antelope, as well as many species of large birds. The only sounds about us were the grunts of male hippos, warning each other off of their territories. There’s only one lion in Liwonde, but it hasn’t been seen in over a year and no one knows if it's still alive. But Liwonde holds elephants aplenty, so many that the damage they can cause to their environment—felling swathes of trees and overgrazing—was readily apparent. A few years ago an epic operation was undertaken to remove 300 elephants from the park and relocate them to another park in southern Malawi.

Bushman’s Baobabs safari lodge, where we stayed, is basic but very comfortable. Our canvas tent was erected beneath a heavyset thatch roof and abutted an en suite open-air bathroom with modern plumbing. From an observation tower nearby, we enjoyed vistas of a wide open grassland dotted with mixed groups of grazers; in the wet season, the river would come quite close to the tower.

A highlight of our time in Malawi was meeting D, a white Malawian bush pilot whose family had come from England three generations ago. D spoke English almost like an Englishman, as well as fluent Chichewa and some Swahili; his strong Malawian identity and his quiet, calm, and unassuming manner, so similar to that of local blacks, surprised me. We spoke with him at length about Malawian history, race relations, and wildlife conservation. Based on D’s attitudes and the interactions I observed among the people around me, I sensed that race relations in Malawi may be different from those in Mozambique, where a much heavier aftertaste of white dominance seems to linger in the interpersonal relations between whites and blacks. Though his family had farmed for three generations, D works as a bush pilot, sometimes as a volunteer, for conservation projects, including anything from finding and tagging rhinos to monitor their numbers, to counting fishing boats on the lake, to herding elephants away from villages and back toward the bush. He was very concerned about Malawi’s rising population, not only because it threatened wildlife, but also because Malawian civic and social infrastructure, and job opportunities were not keeping pace. He looked back with some nostalgia to the days when Dr. Banda, Malawi’s first president, had presided. Most foreigners hear of Dr. Banda only as an anti-democratic dictator, but D (along with many other Malawians) remembers many positive aspects to Dr. Banda’s thirty-year rule. “He really did a fantastic job of steadying the country. Making sure that we fed ourselves. We had a net export. They were good times. They were also strict times. There were rules; times had changed. As a white person, you certainly couldn’t behave as maybe your father had behaved. And if you misbehaved, you had twenty-four hours to leave,” he told us. “Yes, it was [Dr. Banda’s] extended farm, maybe, and his extended household. But no one died of starvation. We had medicine in our hospitals. We had food on our table.” This certainly was a different perspective than what I’d read in books. But during our brief time in Malawi, I didn’t have an opportunity to hear the viewpoint of Dr. Banda’s detractors. [—Usha Alexander, October 2015.]

Our tent at Bushman's Baobabs lodge

Our tent in morning light

Baobabs at our lodge

Lodge from the wildlife observation tower

Dusk near our tent

Elephants passing near our lodge

View from the wildlife observation tower

The lodge from Shire River

Baobab sunrise

View from the wildlife observation tower

 

View from the wildlife observation tower

Baobab sunset

       
River Boat Safari, Shire River

Our boat

Fishermen

Homes across the river

Fishermen

Keeping watch

Crocs on the bank (more)

Waterway (more)

Keeping watch

Elephants grazing

Elephant

Yellow-billed stork

Swimming hippos

Fisherman

Grey Heron

African Sacred Ibis

Fisherman

Landscape with hippos

Landscape with hippos

Landscape with hippos

Impalas and waterbucks

Elephants and hippos

Elephants and hippos

Grazing elephants

Grazing elephants

Fishermen

An elephant herd

An elephant herd

Fishermen

Fishermen

Fishermen

Liwonde village market

Liwonde village market

       
Jeep Safari, Liwonde National Park

Park entrance

Our jeep

Road inside the park

Elephants

Elephants live in matriarchal family units

About 700K elephants exist in Africa

Elephants eat up to 450 kgs of vegetation a day

Large ears facilitate heat loss

Acacia trees

Baboon

Park landscape

Watchful waterbucks

Waterbucks

Waterbuck (1, 2)

Waterbucks

Waterbucks

Buffaloes

Keeping watch

Not the most friendly look

Keeping watch (more)

Baobab trees (more)

Park landscape

Park landscape

African Fish Eagle

Park landscape

[Yellow] Fever Tree

Park landscape

Park landscape

Impalas

Impala

Watchful waterbuck

Park landscape

Park landscape

Park landscape

Park landscape

Park landscape

Glossy Starling

[Yellow] Fever tree

Acacia tree

Landing strip for small planes

 



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