Monday, 26 June 2017

Malawi – If you see a crocodile…

June 18-20

...don’t forget to take a photo before you scream!

Hello everyone!

Liwonde: quite the way to introduce my parents to the animals of the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’.



I’ve had visitors in each country I’ve lived in since leaving British shores in late 2009. Some have been friends, some have been strangers. There has always been one constant though: my parents. Brave souls, coming to visit me in some far-flung places.

Eating in a local restaurant in Siheung-si, Korea

On a boat ride along Astana's Ishim river

'White water' rafting in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
They had been to South Africa but hadn’t had many of the truly African experiences, particularly going on safari. After an introduction to Lilongwe life and a stop at Lake Malawi, we drove to a national park just beyond the lake’s southern tip: Liwonde National Park. The last 15km or so of this drive is very much off-road.

The national park straddles the Shire (SHEE-ray) river, which is the only outlet from the lake. The main accommodation is across the river, which you (not your car) are transported across by boat. This allowed my mum and dad to see one of the ‘Big Five’ in the flesh for the first time. The biggest of them, actually…

The elephant was initially well-camouflaged by the tall grass

An African elephant has ears which resemble
the continent on which it lives
Many of the activities in Liwonde focus on the river. Wildlife is abundant on the banks of the river. There are over 2000 hippos in the park, with the vast majority of them keeping wet and cool in the water.

Hippos spend most of their day in the river

Well, most of them…

This hippo was almost 100 metres inland

A hippo, visible from my chalet
This section of the Shire is quite shallow, allowing the three-ton tanks to run through the river. As you’d imagine, they make quite a splash…

Considering their size, hippos move
surprisingly fast

Another common sight – though well camouflaged – is the fearsome crocodile, who certainly doesn’t make a hippo-style din when slinking into the Shire. The way they move – and don’t move – is incredibly menacing.

Many crocodiles along the Shire are in excess of 4 metres long

What makes Liwonde a particularly special park in Malawi is the variety of birds. Over 380 have been recorded within the 548km2 park area. Along the river, we spotted fish eagles and starlings, whilst inland we saw two of my favourites: the green bee-eater and the lilac-breasted roller. Their vivid colours are beautiful.

Fish eagles, perfectly still on a branch

There is a bee-eater somewhere in this picture,
 I promise!
When leaving on our final morning boat ride, we eyed a kingfisher with a fish almost equal to it in size in its beak. It was killing it in a brutal fashion, hitting the poor chambo against the dock. The fact that it was still pureeing the same fish when we returned two hours later showed the bird’s indefatigable work ethic.

The kingfisher has to smash its prey to the point
at which it can swallow it

Often, birds such as egrets were to be found on the back of the larger mammals. Arguably our most memorable experience in Liwonde was seeing a herd of elephants up close from our little, wooden boat. The harmony of the two species, along with the mountainous background, painted a beautiful picture.

Birds often look like they're pecking the elephants - they're
removing bugs from their hides

There were about eight elephants all together at this point
Wildlife isn’t restricted to the river in Liwonde. The eastern side of the Shire, where the majority of the park lies, contains many different species of antelope, as well as warthogs and more elephants. I also saw my first wild porcupine on our evening drive; they are a lot bigger than I thought!

A kudu's age can be learnt from the
length of its horns - this one is quite old

This warthog buckled its knees in order to eat
The park owners have decided there are actually too many elephants for the size of the park to sustain, as they risk permanently damaging the environment. Currently there is a much-publicised move happening as hundreds of elephants are relocated to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, further north in the country. Described as one of history’s largest elephant translocations, African Parks successfully transferred 261 elephants to Nkhotakota, helping to repopulate a park devastated by poaching (numbers have fallen from 1,500 to fewer than 100 in recent times). A similar number are being prepared to move. One frightening fact I learnt was that one drop of the tranquilliser used, M-99, landing in your eye would cause you to die. In three minutes.

An elephant on its hind legs, desperately
stretching for the leaves above

A younger elephant hiding behind a tree
What was amazing about Liwonde was to see the smaller animals freely roaming the open grassland. This is due to a lack of predators in the park, with only the hyena or a crocodile being a threat to the impala, kudu and others. This dynamic will change in the near future, however. Cheetahs were introduced into the park last month (we didn’t see them), and there are plans for lions to be introduced into Liwonde in December. The current inhabitants will have to adapt quickly to avoid becoming the easiest prey for these cats.

Herds of impala roam free in Liwonde

Some of the more dangerous animals in Liwonde are currently contained within a fenced ‘sanctuary’. We didn’t see the black rhinos but I did see my first African buffalo. Their legs seem too spindly for their bulky bodies, though I wouldn’t dare say that to their face.

An African buffalo is said to have poor eyesight
and hearing, but a tremendous sense of smell

As ever, the scenery was stunning. I’ve developed a love for baobab trees and African sunsets, both of which were impressive during our time here.

Baobabs with a diameter of 5 metres are
thought to be about 1,000 years old

Sunset over the open grassland of Liwonde
All three of us thoroughly loved our time in Liwonde National Park.  It’s great to see the wonder in faces of people who have never been on safari before, yet every adventure is different. From our first sights of elephants on the boat across to Mvuu, to having a brief staring contest with an elephant on the way out of the park, and everything in between, it was a magical experience which I’m glad I could share with my parents. It was a unique experience for them, and with lions, rhinos, leopards and rhinos for them to see, I’m sure they’ll be on safari again very soon!

Love you all


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