Instead of Thuma Forest reserve we went to Kasungu National Park. This is a 2000km2 area in the western side of Malawi, bordering Zambia. From Lilongwe it takes about 2 hours to reach Kasungu town and from there it is still over 30km on the dirt road to first reach the park entrance gate and then further 20 km to get to the Lifupa lodge-campsite where we stayed. So 2 hours on a road very less travelled. We know it is the low season for tourism at present but the space and quietness compared to India is remarkable. In addition to us, there were only two baboon researchers in the park – besides the park staff, anti-poaching scouts etc. of course. The baboons that they study are those that were released from the Lilongwe wildlife center in January. They are now living in the wild and the researchers study their behaviour and interactions, observing them daily for 10 months past the release.
Poaching is a huge problem in Malawi. For example, in the last 35 years the elephant population in Kasungu National Park has dropped from 2000 to about 50. The poor salary of the anti-poaching officers and lack of proper equipment to handle the difficult working conditions in the field have been listed as primary reasons why some anti-poaching scouts might become corrupted to sell out information to the poachers about the patrolling schedules etc.
Malawi News on the 21st March 2015 writes about situation of rhino horn and ivory trafficking in Malawi and the task that the anti-poaching scouts have: “---High on the list of their miserable conditions of work is that for their arduous task of stemming the tide of a trade said to be perpetrated by a sophisticated, sometimes ruthless, syndicate feeding a global market where a tusk has a raw value of USD 21 000, they are paid a paltry K46 000 (USD 107) per month for a salary. “We hear there is a lot of money in the trade these days and it’s tempting”, admitted one field officer in Liwonde National Park.- - -“Poachers have become cleverer, more sophisticated and more dangerous, adding to what is already a very difficult job. That means officers need to go an extra mile but that cannot happen under current conditions of work” [Philip Namagonya] ---In its 2014 report, The Kenya-based David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust estimates a single dead elephant’s tusk to have a raw value of USD 21 000. By comparison, it says the estimated tourism value of a single living elephant is USD 1.6million over tis lifetime to travel companies, airlines and local economies because of tourists who are willing to pay to see and photograph elephants. “That makes a living elephant, in financial terms, as valuable as 76 dead elephants”, reads the report in part. ---“
Last week in Kasungu one female elephant was shot by poachers through her ear to her shoulder. She is lame and a vet from South Africa will be coming with a portable x-ray next week to help to assess the situation better. We saw this elephant as well as it is now being monitored by the park scouts and by the Kasungu elephant foundation and Amanda, the vet from LWC was there to observe the condition. The elephant is able to walk and is eating ok but is not able to keep up with her herd. To think that if poaching continues like this, there won’t be any wild elephants in Africa in just ten years.
The Lifupa lodge campsite in Kasungu is next to a lake that during the dry season is the best place to observe animals when they come there for water. During the wet season as it is now (though it has not rained for days and days again – the corn fields would need some more rain for sure) and vegetation is dense and water can be found elsewhere as well, animals are more difficult to see. During our evening drive into the bush we saw a herd of elephants near a little village and school where many of the staff children study, between some buildings that are used for accommodating school groups. These African elephants seem much more docile than their Asian cousins – coming so close to humans without the attempt to charge or damage anything, just grazing and minding their own business as long as the humans also do so.
In the morning we saw hippos playing in the lake and then a herd of 13 elephants came from the bush to graze on the lakeshore and we watched when most of them swam across the lake while some stayed back and went behind the campsite kitchen/bathroom buildings to just rest there in the shade. This was really something amazing to watch as they came so close without being bothered by us watching. They did not try to charge and also did not go away so we had good time to watch and wonder. There was one young one who was coming behind her mother – mother had already crossed the lake in the first group when the little one ran cry-trumpeting behind – mother turned and went back to the water to call the little one to swim across. The line of elephants diving across the lake, one behind another, tips of the trunks above the water for air. The one big male who just stayed behind, enjoying the swimming. There will be still other parks to visit but we got the feeling that elephant sighting does not easily get better than this. And to think that people shoot these wonderful animals? That people who buy ivory really don’t care? And also it seems that because these elephants come near to humans much more bravely than the Asian elephants, they are also easier target for the poachers. Seeing their behaviour and how they were used to the human presence, made it also easier to understand all the stories in books like the ‘Elephant Whisperer’ and ‘Love, Life and Elephants’ of people having close relationships with wild African elephants.
What amazing, wonderful creatures these are!
Olen Ilona, kolkytjarisat eläinlääkäri ja kahden ponitytön äiti. Tulin Intiaan yli kymmenen vuotta sitten vapaaehtoistyöhön ja jäin sille/tälle tielle. Blogissa kerron elämästämme ja eläimistämme Intiassa.