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People & wildlife coexist in Lake Malawi National Park
Thursday, October 24, 2002

People And Wildlife Coexist in Lake Malawi National Park

Malawi Insider (Blantyre)

October 24, 2002

Posted to the web October 24, 2002

Hobbs Gama

Blantyre, Malawi

The establishment of a national park or a game reserve in an area is often a bone of contention between government officials and local people. While government officials preach of the historical, scientific and economic importance of such an establishment, local communities cry foul because they become victims of such development through eviction, loss of land, wealth and even traditional positions. The experience of Chembe, an enclave village in southern Malawi, is totally different and worth emulating.

More than 19 years ago people from Chembe, then Malawi largest fishing village, were indiscriminately netting thousands and thousands of fish at Cape Maclear, Mangochi in southern Malawi. They did not know then that their actions posed a great threat to the world most prized and rare species of fish that are only found in Lake Malawi.

Alarmed with the rate of overfishing, which was likely to result in the extinction of the rare, bright coloured and rock living cichlids, locally known as mbuna, brought up a challenge to the government.

In 1980 the government declared some 90 sqaure kilometers of land encompassing Cape Maclear Peninsula with a water portion extending 100 metres as protected area in what become to be known as Lake Malawi National Park.

The establishment of the park was not in itself a guarantee that the fauna and the flora in the protected area were at peace from human interference. The biggest problem was how to protect the fauna from over 20,000 people living in seven enclave villages in the park.

This problem was unique to Lake Malawi national Park because usually people within the boundaries of a designated area moved out to be protected. But in this case government officials decided not to evict the people as it was felt evicting them then by allowing them to live within the park would create more problems.

The greatest challenge to the park was to find a way for the inhabitants of the enclave villages to co-exists with wild animals.

The people in the park, the majority of whom have been depending on fishing as the only way of earning their livelihood since time immemorial, were in frequent conflict with wildlife officials.

It was only when government with the help of non- governmental organizations, organized vigorous civic education that the trend began to change. Organizations such as the Small Enterprises Development of Malawi (SEDOM) and the World Bank educated people on how best they could sustain the natural resources in the area while diversifying into other areas of economic livelihood.

Group Village Headman Chembe of Cape Maclear says little people began to take heed of the environmental awareness campaigns. The traditional leader says at present almost everybody in the village is fully aware of the economic importance of natural resources especially the mbuna fish.

As alternatives to fishing people are now involved in other income generating activities like the rearing of rock rabbits, guinea fowls, vegetables growing and hunting. These activities are done both on individuals level and in groups known as Village Natural Resource Management Committees.

The Villagers are also allowed to fish outside the 100-metre zone of the protected areas.

The most interesting thing, now 19 years after the establishment of the park, is that anyone who dares to poach animals or fish in the protected zone are arrested by voluntary local scouts and prosecuted by traditional leaders if they commit minor offences.

The local leaders refer those who commit serious offences to either the police or parks officials.

George Banda, the parkfs environmental education officer says the success of the project is a model that human beings and wildlife can co-exist with each other.

Copyright © 2003 Malawi Insider. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). Click here to contact the copyright holder directly for corrections -- or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material.


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