Written by: Simon OChen
It had been a busy morning with animal sightings in the misty Thuma Forest Reserve, a stretch of pristine African bush, untouched by tourism and managed by the Wildlife Action Group Malawi (WAG).
The forest almost went under just over a year ago until Lynn Clifford turned it around, adding more highly trained professional scouts, doubling patrols, finding snares, noting animal sightings, setting up camera traps and sustaining bamboo cutting. The group has also caught poachers with more than a few elephant kills under their belt and is responsible for bringing the surrounding community together to work alongside the conservation group.
“Villagers must buy a ticket for logging bamboo,” she explained. “It costs them 10 Kwacha per ticket for five pieces of bamboo. They usually sell each piece for 50 Kwacha so they make a fair profit while sustaining the forest. In the past year we’ve seen a decline in poachers and an increase in animal population. We’ve received funding from private donors to erect an electric fence which has reduced the number of human-elephant conflicts which the local villagers are much appreciative of.”
Banked by the Lilongwe and Lithunda rivers, Thuma Forest Reserve lies 80km outside of Salima at an altitude of 1 500 meters and connects to Dendza Forest Reserve. The reserve is home to bush buck, common duiker, kudu, bush pigs, hyena, warthogs and elephants.
“Volunteers can come and stay anywhere from a few days to six months,” Lynn explains. “They’ll go out on patrol with the scouts, meet local community members and set up camera traps.”
And that’s how I found myself that morning sitting atop Lakeview Point with the other scouts seeing nothing but a misty fog. I could barely see anything past the first line of trees. Two warthogs scurried down the hillside just as the mist began to lift; the forever-stretching green valley coming into view. Daniel, the head scout, pointed across the valley, turning to me “elephants”, he grinned.
I followed his direction but all I could see were boulders. I scoured the opposite valley and the boulders began to move and then the trunks became visible. We could see two elephant calves being herded by the cows. A large elephant bull – ever protective – keeping a watchful eye.
Contact WAG-Malawi at www.wag-malawi.org for volunteer opportunities.
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