After the reintroduction of predators to the Liwonde National Park in Malawi in 2017, a variety of vulture species have returned to this protected area. In fact, 143 vulture sightings have since been recorded, the largest involving 116 white-backed vultures on a single waterbuck carcass.
Before African Parks assumed management of Liwonde in 2015 in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the park was riddled with snares and poaching was rife. After erecting an electric fence, removing snares and restoring order, cheetahs and later lions were returned to their former range.
“While there were carcasses around the park prior to the return of cheetah and lion, it is believed these carcasses were not readily consumed by vultures as they would often dry
in the sun prior to being opened.
With the return of cheetah and lion there has been more food available as their kills have provided easily consumable biomass for vultures,” says Olivia Sievert, Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) cheetah monitor based in Liwonde.
The return of vultures is a positive sign for this 54 000-hectare park. Sievert says the presence of vultures indicates a healthy ecosystem after years of poaching pressure. “We hope Liwonde will act as safe foraging and a future breeding ground for both endangered and critically endangered vulture species.”
Sightings so far have included white-backed, white-headed, lappet-faced, hooded, and a Rüppell’s vulture. The palm-nut vulture has been a long-term resident in the park. The park is a birder’s delight as Pel’s fishing owl, Boehms bee-eaters and Livingstone’s flycatchers are viewed relatively easily.
Liwonde park manager Craig Reid says one of the special sightings was of a young white-backed vulture with a wing tag. “When we checked up on it, it was revealed that the bird had been tagged on a nest in iMfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. This shows the huge value of secure protected areas for young, dispersing vultures,” he says.
Predator numbers are currently estimated at 11 cheetah, nine lions and approximately 25 spotted
hyenas in the park. Liwonde is known for some of the best river-based elephant, crocodile, hippo and wildlife viewing in Africa, with large herds of buffalo and sable antelope found in the park.
Written by René de Klerk
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