The re-introduction of a lion population will once again give it Big Five-status – a boast no other park in Malawi can make. The arrival of three lions – transported from South Africa by African Parks, in a project funded by Robin Pope Safaris – will complete Majete’s collection of the Big Five, the animal quintet by which all safari areas are today judged. The other four members are the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the leopard and the rhinoceros; all have been re-introduced or reinvigorated in Majete, with leopards the most recent to return, in October 2011 and January 2012.
Located in southern Malawi’s Lower Shire Valley, the beautiful 70,000-hectare Majete was granted protected status in 1955, but suffered from extensive poaching in the ‘80s & ‘90s, losing huge percentages of its mammals. In 2003, however, the philanthropic African Parks Network agreed with the Malawi government to take charge of the park, which combines granite-topped hills, river valleys and lush forest. In an inspirational project, African Parks set about restoring, restocking and rehabilitating Majete to its former glory.
Over the past nine years, at a cost of about £1.5 million, Majete has thus been re-fenced; had its law-enforcement teams re-trained and re-equipped; seen its infrastructure vastly improved; and been re-stocked with over 2,500 animals. In short, African Parks has turned the reserve into a model of sustainable development and biodiversity. Tourism is now slowly beginning in earnest, and Majete is that most cherishable of things: an outstanding African conservation success story.
Robin Pope Safaris, a Zambia and Malawi safari specialist operator, has worked with African Parks on several occasions, and that co-operation has continued with Majete. In 2011, Robin Pope Safaris opened Mkulumadzi, one of only two lodges in the reserve, and easily the more upmarket option. A blend of luxury and isolation, the property features eight chalets set beside the Shire River, under cover of mango trees. Using top-quality guides, Mkulumadzi offers game drives, bush walks and safari boat trips, plus educational visits to local villages.
Restoring Majete to its former beauty and stature hasn’t merely been an exercise in attracting tourists. The true, stated aim is to benefit the people of Malawi and, in particular, Majete’s local communities. Poachers have, literally, turned gamekeepers. Tourism will be strictly controlled, to enable a better visitor experience and also to better serve the wildlife.
Comments Ton de Rooy, Managing Director of Robin Pope Safaris: “We feel privileged and proud to have been so involved in this exciting, long-term project. We see it as vital for long-term environmental gain – for local people and wildlife alike.”
Comments Chris McIntyre, Managing Director of Malawi-specialist tour operator Expert Africa: “The re-introduction of lion, to add to Majete’s growing population of leopard, is a massive coup for Malawian tourism. Visitors can now combine top-notch beaches and watersports (at Lake Malawi) with a big-five safari, all within Malawi. It’s great to see the rejuvenation of such a lovely reserve, and equally good to see the very long-term and sustainable approach that is being taken towards both tourism and conservation.”