Malawi | In an era where wilderness is shrinking, conservation areas become ring fenced and human populations expand, the space for wild things dwindles. We stand perched at the edge of a world where the magnificent creatures that have travelled with us through the ages, and form part of humanities fabric of being, are reduced to theme park amusements in zoos and synthetic wilderness parks.
We too readily forget that Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity for the human spirit. This is an era that demands urgent conservation philanthropy, particularly from the private sector in regard to creating or expanding habitat for wild creatures and protecting them for future generations.
African Parks is just such an organisation that is transforming the face of conservation across Africa. Currently operating in 12 African countries and managing over 20 million hectares, its strategy of rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities, is a sustainable conservation model that is showing resounding success.
Majete Wildlife Reserve is one of these reserves. Nestled in the south-western part of Malawi it is an unlikely story of resurgence and restoration.
Visiting Majete Wildlife Reserve has completely shifted my ideas of what is possible in conservation, tourism and sustainable development. It has left me with a spring in my step and a song in my heart... it is a story that brings with it the warm glow of hope and possibility.
From a wasteland, to one of nature conservations most incredible success stories. Majete is one of Africa's wild places that reminds me of the powerful possibilities that still exist for conservation and wildlife preservation on this spectacular continent.
When African Parks took over management of Majete In 2003, it was a lost park that few thought could be recovered. But what started as doom and gloom quickly blossomed into a story of passion and commitment.
Majete is now a haven for wildlife, a guiding star for community upliftment and a shining beacon of hope for many who live on the boundaries of the park.
Due to extensive restocking of the reserve, Majete now has an astonishing variety of wildlife in ever increasing numbers including elephant, black rhino, buffalo, lion, cheetah, African wild dog, hyena, hippo and the regal sable antelope to name a few.
Keeping an eye on the vast reserve of Majete, patrolling borders and keeping track of the location of key species within the reserve takes a passionate and dedicated team. African Parks embraces an ideology of innovation, creating conservation solutions that are locally applicable, cost effective and sustainable in the long term.
Standing in front of a wall of gin-traps, muzzle loaders and snares, Martin Awazi, the head of anti-poaching and law enforcement proudly talks about the day-to-day operations required to protect Majete Wildlife Reserve.
This includes locating and confiscating a poacher's tools of the trade, which are displayed as a monument outside the operations room as a constant reminder of what is at stake.
With over 40 field rangers, a canine anti-poaching command and a core of other dedicated operations personnel and state of the art technology. Martin is able to constantly keep his finger on the pulse of Majete.
Majete's Canine Command whilst still a fairly new initiative, are unparalleled when it comes to detection and apprehension of poachers. While an intimidating presence, the focus is firmly on avoiding physical conflict with an emphasis rather on searching and identifying suspects in the bush.
John Adendorff, Majete Wildlife Reserve Park Manager is adamant that the Majete Rangers are some of the best in the world. With their tracking abilities being second to none and a formidable stable of highly trained dogs Majete now has an anti-poaching team to be reckoned with.
John likens the relationship between the dog handlers and their human counterparts to brothers. Completely in sync, with their relationship growing and strengthening as the dogs mature.
THINK BIG, START SMALL, ACT NOW - WHERE YOUR TOURISM DOLLAR GOES
Internationally, meaningful community involvement is becoming recognised as a crucial approach to the long-term sustainability of national parks and private reserves. Inclusivity is now not just seen as a philanthropic gesture and the feel-good paragraph at the end of an annual report, but rather an integral strategy for park management,
The communities surrounding Majete are incredibly poor. These are people that live from hand to mouth, that cannot plan for the future, nor do they have the luxury of thinking about tomorrow. It’s about day-to-day survival. Keeping this in mind one realises how the equitable sharing of resources and the economic benefits of a national park at local community level ensures the success of all conservation efforts.
African Parks has installed boreholes, built schools, clinics, libraries and creches, has given the community access to the park to harvest grass for thatching. Has given out bursaries and internships and hired hundreds of people to work within the park in various capacities.
In an attempt to promote rural entrepreneurship and alleviate poverty, Majete has initiated a variety of income generating activities outside the park's boundaries, including various agricultural projects, aquaculture, moringa farming, mushrooms, clay pots, community run campsites to name a few.
One of these initiatives is called Honey with Heart.
Meet Stanley Thaundi.... a sweet man with an even sweeter job. With a smile like the rising sun, Stanley processes, bottles and labels the thousands of litres of home-grown organic honey produced by the rural communities surrounding Majete Wildlife Reserve .
This highly successful project has installed 600 hives which generate 3000 litres of honey annually, all of which get sold in the park's camps and lodges.
A LEGACY FOR CONSERVATION
High above the treetops with a 360-degree view, I gaze out at the wild landscape of Majete and revel in the beauty of this magical place.
One tier down, on a sun warmed boulder surrounded by the pale limbs of Star Chestnuts and the honking of trumpeter hornbills lies a memorial to J.Hall Martin, a co-founder of African Parks.
"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble plan once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will still be a living thing".
May we all stive to leave just such a legacy.