History was made when several cheetah cubs took their first steps in the Liwonde National Park in 2017 and 2018. Not only did this momentous occasion see the first litters of cheetahs born in the wild in Malawi in more than 20 years. this is also a huge conservation success story.
“In just over a year, Liwonde’s cheetah population grew from zero to 16,” says Olivia Sievert, Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) cheetah monitor based in Liwonde. The founder group released in June 2017 consisted of two males and two females from various reserves in South Africa. In February 2018, the cheetah population became another three animals richer following a second introduction.
“All cubs are doing extremely well. which is very impressive as each female is a first-time mother,” says Sievert. She says they were able to determine the fathers of each litter after collaring the males. helping to ensure genetic integrity in the future.
According to Vincent van der Merwe, cheetah metapopulation coordinator at the EWT, the
54 000-hectare Liwonde National Park has a current capacity to accommodate 40 animals. The
park is managed by conservation organisation African Parks in partnership with the Malawian government. This capacity will change with the active and effective management of the park, and with the introduction of more predators.
When African Parks assumed the management of the park with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) in 207 5, very few predators remained, and wildlife was threatened by poaching and conflict. Lions had not been seen for 10 years and the park was inundated with snares – almost
30 000 were removed in the first year of African Parks’ management.
Liwonde park manager Craig Reid says tourism is on the rise. Lions were reintroduced over a series
of translocations in 2018, and the park is the source of the famous 500 Elephant’ translocation. This has all had a positive effect on the communities too. “Employment and service provision opportunities are increasing, stimulating the local economy in an area where few opportunities exist.” says Reid.
The cheetah reintroductions formed part of EWT’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project and African Parks’ predator restoration plan. The aim of the EWT project is to relocate threatened cheetah to ensure genetic and population viability, increasing the amount of safe space for the species. South Africa has a growing wild cheetah population and therefore sights are set on destinations further afield. EWT is capitalising on this by providing wild cheetahs to repopulate areas where cheetah occurred historically. Malawi will play a significant role in the protection and conservation of this endangered carnivore. “We are hoping to establish a metapopulation cluster in Malawi. which will include Majete Wildlife Reserve too.” says van der Merwe. Majete is in the south of Malawi and has been managed by African Parks since 2003.
Written by René de Klerk
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