Conservationists in Malawi have begun to translocate zebra and waterbuck to the 240,000²-hectare Kasungu National Park.
The first seven zebra – four mares and three stallions – arrived at Kasungu on 9th July.
In total, 12 zebra and 14 waterbuck are being moved from Kuti Wildlife Reserve .in Salima by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
“The relocation of the wildlife is to be celebrated. It means that Kasungu National Park is finally a safe place for wildlife to roam free without the threat of poaching, and it speaks to our successes in restoring and safeguarding the park,” said Mike Labuschagne, IFAW Director of Law Enforcement.
In 2015, IFAW began efforts to rebuild Kasungu National Park’s infrastructure, train an effective and efficient wildlife ranger force and end rampant poaching of wildlife that saw elephant populations dip to about 50, from a historical high of over 1,000 in the 1970s. Populations of most other wildlife such as antelopes, zebra and other plains game were virtually extinct.
“Five years ago, only six zebra remained alive in the park – down from around 500 individuals. The population of waterbuck, which used to number 300, were poached to local extinction by the 1990s,” said Labuschagne.
“Working with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and with the support of the community, we’ve managed to virtually stamp out poaching altogether in Kasungu, and we are seeing a steady rise in populations of elephant as well as regular sightings of other animals such as wild dog, leopard and even lions.”
Jason Bell, IFAW Vice President for Conservation and Animal Rescue, said the organization’s approach to conservation management focuses on capacity-building, which has greatly contributed to the successes achieved in Kasungu National Park.
“IFAW-trained DNPW rangers conducted the translocation together with a wildlife veterinary team. We are building increased capacity and empowering governments and local people to not only participate in, but also own the future of conservation in their countries. This is the only sustainable option for Africa,” said Bell.
Brighton Kumchedwa, Director of the DNPW, said the translocation is a historic and important step in restoring Kasungu National Park to its former glory as a popular tourist attraction.
“The decision by DNPW and IFAW to reintroduce waterbuck and add to the small existing herd of zebra means we’re confident these animals will be able to thrive safe from danger. Additionally, zebra are a key attraction for tourists and a growing herd will boost Kasungu’s appeal for visitors. In turn, that will provide much-needed economic stimulus to local communities,” said Kumchedwa.
Purchased by IFAW as a part of restoring species diversity in Kasungu National Park, the additional zebra will increase current numbers to 21, considered a founder or breeding herd. All zebra moved will be of adult age.
The introduction of 14 waterbuck will be the first step in re-establishing a herd in the park. All the waterbuck will also be adults.
Mathews Mumba, head of research at DNPW; Mike Labuschagne, IFAW Director Law Enforcement; and Sharon Maisey, IFAW Volunteer, lead the relocation along with four Kasungu National Park Rangers, assisted by wildlife vet, Hezy Anholt.
IFAW works with the DNPW through its Combating Wildlife Crime in the Malawi-Zambia Transboundary Landscape project that focuses on anti-poaching and anti-trafficking initiatives.