Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi

A full-grown elephant roaming along the Shire River in Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi

photography by: David Davies/ Wikimedia Commons

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For over a century, the allure of an up-close view of the Big Five throughout their natural habitat of the African Savanna has seen millions of tourists flock to Eastern and Southern Africa for game drives. In the case of Malawi, the resulting decades of poaching and human encroachment led to the destruction of most of the wildlife sanctuaries, almost rendering the country devoid of game drive destinations. However, recent conservation efforts have revived the 700km² strip of rolling granite hills and Miombo woodlands, making it a Big Five destination for intrepid wildlife enthusiasts. Home to Malawi’s highest concentration of megafauna, the Majete Animal Reserve offers a plethora of soul-soothing landscapes for safaris, boat rides, and other forms of adventure.

A Brief History of the Park

In the early 1900s, herds of grazers and carnivores roamed freely across the Southern part of modern-day Malawi. With no laws governing the coexistence of wildlife and local communities, animals were frequently hunted for food and trophies. Recognising the need to create a sanctuary for the animals, the British colonial government declared Majete a national park in 1955. Unfortunately, after Malawi gained its independence in 1964, the reserve became a wildlife sanctuary in name only as the absence of a proper administration and a well-equipped anti-poaching task force left it at the mercy of poachers and loggers.

 

A 15-year-long civil war in neighbouring Mozambique exacerbated the problem as armed fighters escaping the battle sought refuge within the confines of the park, turning their weapons on the animals and overpowering what was left of the park rangers. By the end of the war in 1992, Majete’s wildlife population was severely depleted. The locals also invaded the park, cutting trees for charcoal and hunting the last of the animals.

 

The park got a new lease of life in 2003 when African Parks, a non-profit organization, partnered with the government to repopulate it. They created a shared responsibility program where the locals would do their part in protecting the park in exchange for a share of its revenue. Under the new management, the Big Five (namely the Black Rhino, elephants, lions, leopards and African buffaloes) as well as smaller animals such as antelopes, cheetahs and wild dogs were shipped from over 5000km away in South Africa to their new home in the park.

 

The program has resulted in the development of over 300km of 4×4 navigable roads, the building of a five-star resort and other accommodation facilities and the installation of an electric fence. A large team of armed rangers and hospitality staff, sourced from the local communities, is now in charge of the park. By the end of 2022, Majete had a booming population of over 12,000 animals with herds of kudus, nyalas, elephants, buffaloes, zebras, reedbucks, waterbucks, sables, impalas and giraffes roaming its scrubland, while prides of lions, cheetahs, leopards and wild dogs are once again free to satisfy their natural hunting predispositions.


Notable Places to Explore across the Majete Animal Reserve

Whoever wishes to visit Majete can easily access the reserve by car from neighbouring Mozambique or Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city, located merely 44km away. Despite its proximity to the country’s commercial capital, the park offers a distinctly quiet and serene closeness to nature. The scenic drive through the Shire Valley towards the park offers views of the rolling hills with endless green canopies extending to the horizon. For an aerial view, travel to Majete is also possible through chartered flights to the park’s airstrip.

 

The diverse ecosystems in Majete, created by the two strikingly different rivers that merge within the park, are its real attraction as they allow different species of plants and animals to thrive all year round. The floodplains of the gently-flowing Mkulumadzi River irrigate vast fields of grasslands and reed-covered marshes, which are a haven for the grazers and can even be explored by hikers willing to wade through the shallow waters. In contrast, the mighty Shire River roars through a deep river valley, with vast sections of its banks shielded from view by thick forests of ancient mahogany trees, ilala palms as well as thick layers of chestnut vines. The Mkulumadzi pours into the Shire at a vast confluence, where dozens of hippos and Nile crocodiles battle the currents as they waddle on and off the banks.

 

Away from the riparian forests, Majete is dotted with mighty baobabs and thorn bushes that give way to patches of grassland. During the rainy season (November to March), it is difficult to spot animals, except for baboons and the conspicuous giant herbivores, as the lush vegetation offers an ample food source alongside convenient hiding spots. However, when the rains subside between April and October, grazers cluster around the remaining patches of vegetation, around waterholes and on the river banks. This in turn attracts lions, cheetahs and leopards, for whom their coveted prey is in plain sight, just waiting to be devoured.