LIWONDE NATIONAL PARK, MALAWI —
Poaching and wildlife trafficking have endangered some of Africa’s most iconic species and the loss of the animals has cost African countries critical tourism revenue.
But at least one national park is getting a second chance. Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi has just welcomed some new inhabitants – four cheetahs relocated there from South Africa courtesy of the nonprofit African Parks group.
Park rangers lured the first cheetah out into its new home with a fresh carcass. It's the first cheetah Malawi has had in the wild in two decades.
The cheetah is the fastest land animal in the world, but even that couldn’t protect the species in Malawi. Poachers killed off the cheetahs' prey and ultimately the cheetahs themselves.
“They were last seen in Malawi about 20 years ago," said Craig Reid of the Liwonde National Park. "Specifically in Liwonde area, they have been absent for over a 100 years. So, as part of the rehabilitation of the park, we feel it is very important to bring back the cheetah to Malawi and Liwonde specifically.”
A total of four cheetahs – two males and two females – were airlifted to Liwonde from South Africa in May.
Before being released into the park, the cheetahs spent their first three weeks in an enclosure to allow them to become acclimated to their new surroundings.
Liwonde National Park has a population of 12,000 large mammals. These include bush buck, water buffalo and antelope.
The cheetah is the first large predator to be reintroduced to the park.
“We have a very healthy animal base and now that the protection measures are in place as we have got a very good law enforcement in the park," Reid said. "The numbers of animals are increasing very rapidly and, as a result to that, there are more than enough animals to provide for some carnivorous animals such as the cheetah”.
Officials are holding meetings with communities surrounding the park.
“Those people are likely to face danger," said David Nongoma of African Parks. "And our message to the community is to say that...they refrain from entering the park and stop doing what they used to be doing because these animals are definitely very dangerous. They can kill a human being.”
Park officials say they also plan to reintroduce leopards and lions to restore the park’s lost glory.