Counting out the animals

Messenger Newspapers: Counting out the animals Counting out the animals

What’s Malawian music like? The international Lake of Stars weekend festival has just happened at Salima near the famous Lake Malawi. Thousands of people partied into the early morning, with performers on two stages virtually all the time throughout the weekend.

But we didn’t go. Instead we went to the hot south of the country to take part in the annual game count at Lengwe National Park organised by the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi Blantyre branch.

It involves sitting on your own in a rush hide somewhere in the middle of the park for three hours – twice a day.

The count has been taking place for 42 years, largely to track the population of a special antelope, the nyala, which only lives in this area of sub-Saharan Africa. The branch believes it’s good that the population seems to have stabilised. But beneath that is an undercurrent – of poaching, fires and deforestation all of which are badly affecting all of Malawi’s national parks and wider rural areas, doing long-term and unsustainable damage to the environment – and therefore affecting the lives of rural communities.

Not many would choose to holiday in Malawi to see the wildlife. They have very few animals and none of the big cats that people really want to see.

One of the current issues at Lengwe is an EU plan to fence the park – to prevent wild buffalo potentially passing on foot and mouth to local cattle herds (though there is no evidence that the few buffalo have foot and mouth). The big problem – for the national parks staff, for the people who run the lodge in the park on a concession, for the local villagers and for the non-governmental organisation which is supporting the village in creating alternative income strategies – is that the proposed fence is the wrong type of fence in the wrong place!

It cuts off a corner of the park and also has gaps – so poachers would still have easy access in and out of the park. We are all hoping that representations made locally will have an effect on the decision-making in Brussels and that Lengwe gets the fence it really needs – to prevent buffalos getting out and poachers getting in. Though we missed the Lake of Stars, we met one of Malawi’s leading musicians, Ken Horrocks who, with his band, had a number one hit here. Their music is brilliant – a fusion between Malawian, reggae and blues. He is over for half-term as he’s now teaching at a school in Canterbury. Lucky Canterbury. As Malawians follow the Premier League, they also listen more to international ‘pop’ music than local musicians. It’s hard for them to get play time on the local commercial radio stations – according to the newspapers, it’s those who pay most who get most airtime.

Latest news in the papers: · Two secondary school boys charged with killing another boy and trying to sell his ‘private parts’ to a businessman · 200 illegal clinics, set up by ‘quacks’ to sell treatment, have been shut down by a government office in the last four years · A man has just been released from prison after being 17 years on remand for murder. This seems to be the longest case but long periods of remand are not unusual as the courts system is strapped for cash. · A reported increase in fires in rural areas, particularly in forest reserves · The Flames, the national Malawian football team, have each been given a substantial £400 bonus by the president for beating the Democratic Republic of Congo in their World Cup qualifier. That makes their total bonus £800 each. The total gate receipt was £4m Malawian Kwacha – around £16,000. And the president has also waived tax on donated equipment (largely football boots) which has been held in a duty warehouse, so the team now has access to goods given by sponsors.

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