Watch: Lions Return to Liwonde

Lions Reintroduced to Liwonde National Park in Malawi

African Parks in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the Dutch Government and the Lion Recovery Fund have translocated the first two wild male lions to Liwonde National Park from Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, reintroducing the species to the park four years after one was last seen in the area. With the UN World Wildlife Day on Saturday 3rd March highlighting the plight of big cats across the world, Malawi’s lion translocation is an extraordinary example of the conservation measures being taken to secure a future for Africa's most iconic cat. 

Blantyre, Malawi: On the 24th February 2018, the conservation non-profit African Parks, in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), and with support from the Dutch Government and the Lion Recovery Fund reintroduced the first of several wild lions to Liwonde National Park, four years after the last lion was seen in the area. Two mature males were released into enclosed bomas in the park after being safely translocated from Majete Wildlife Reserve, where lions were reintroduced in 2012. While the translocation hails the return of this iconic predator to Liwonde, it is also symbolic of Majete’s extraordinary restoration. Majete’s pride was entirely poached out decades ago, but since their reintroduction, the population has grown to the extent that it can assist in repopulating Liwonde, 200 km north-east of Majete. African Parks will further supplement the populations in both parks over the coming months, with the translocation of up to 12 additional lions from South Africa. This is an important milestone for lion conservation in Malawi, where populations of the vulnerable species are being revitalised as part of an effort to restore the country’s parks, rehabilitate wildlife populations and encourage tourism for the benefit of local communities.

African Parks has been working closely with the DNPW since partnering in 2003 when the organization assumed management of Majete Wildlife Reserve. Following their track record of restoring Majete, African Parks signed long-term management agreements with the Malawian Government for both Liwonde National Park and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in 2015. The translocation of lions to Majete and Liwonde parks is a critical contribution to their natural systems and to their value as assets for Malawi. “We are immensely proud of the restoration of our country’s parks, and are committed to ensuring the ongoing protection of these extraordinary national assets.” Said the Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa. “The reintroduction of lions and other emblematic species form a core part of this vision, enabling the rejuvenation of wildlife populations, enhancing tourism and socio-economic development, and contributing to the wellbeing of those living around the parks”. 

After many months of extensive preparations, on Saturday 24th of February, two wild male lions were translocated from Majete and were released into specially built bomas in Liwonde, where they remain in good condition and have been feeding well. They will remain in this enclosure for several weeks to enable the close monitoring of their wellbeing, adjustment, and bonding with two lionesses which will be translocated from South Africa in March, before they are all released into the wider park. African Parks will be supplementing the populations in both Liwonde and Majete with the translocation of up to 12 additional lions over the coming months, to create a founder population so they can breed and their prides can grow. 

The last lion was seen in Liwonde National Park over four years ago, and an even longer period of time has passed since the park was home to a breeding population. Many years of human-wildlife conflict and rampant poaching utilizing wire snares severely reduced the resident predator populations, eventually eradicating them. African Parks assumed management of Liwonde in partnership with the DNPW in 2015, and since then has completely overhauled law enforcement to secure the park. They have constructed a robust perimeter fence enclosing the entire park, established rigorous ranger patrols, and worked extensively with local communities, making significant progress in revitalising habitat and wildlife populations through the reduction of poaching and mitigation of human-wildlife conflict. The lions have each been fitted with tracking collars to facilitate intensive daily monitoring. 

 Majete Wildlife Reserve had similarly experienced severe depletion of its wildlife prior to 2003 which is when African Parks assumed management of the reserve. However, in just 14 years of management and working with the DNPW and local communities, African Parks translocated more than 2,500 animals including lions, rhinos and elephants, to repopulate the reserve, and law enforcement was overhauled to significantly reduce and practically halt poaching in Majete. Majete is now home to more than 12,000 animals including the big five; and the three lions which were reintroduced in 2012 have grown to a small pride of eleven lions, helping to transform the ecosystem and tourism potential of the reserve. A similar restoration process is underway in Liwonde, where the reintroduction of cheetah in May 2017 marked the return of the first apex predators, whose population has since established successfully and produced two litters of cubs.  

“The reintroduction of lions is fundamentally enriching for Liwonde” said African Parks’ Liwonde Park Manager, Craig Reid. “It restores a key species that is critical to the healthy functioning of the natural system, contributes to the establishment of an important local predator population, and will significantly benefit tourism as a mechanism for socio-economic growth”.  The translocation of additional lions to Majete will help with genetic integrity of that small but growing pride, securing their long-term health, and will similarly benefit ecological processes and tourism. “Majete’s lion pride has thrived since the initial reintroduction of three lions in 2012, adding tremendous value to the reserve as an asset for local communities,” said Craig Hay, African Parks’ Park Manager of Majete. “To have two of these lions become part of Liwonde’s restoration is a profound moment for conservation in Malawi”.  

Just over a century ago, more than 200,000 wild lions were living throughout Africa, but in just two decades, Africa’s lion population has decreased by 42%. Today, wild lions are extinct in 26 African countries, and there are only about 20,000 lions left in wilderness areas, prompting the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify lions as "Vulnerable" on the Red List of Threatened Species. Threatened by habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and loss of prey, their numbers are steadily decreasing, and unless urgent actions are taken to ensure their survival, it is likely that lions will become an endangered species. 

“This translocation is a landmark moment for the nation, hailing the return of lions to Liwonde after a four-year absence and is symbolic of the unwavering commitment of the Malawian Government to restore their national parks.” Said African Parks’ Country Director for Malawi Patricio Ndadzela, “Majete and Liwonde are a true testament to this, where the arrival of these big cats forms the start of a robust and secure national population of lions, helping to distinguish both parks as prestigious wildlife destinations and Malawi as an emerging premier wildlife destination”. 

The return of Africa’s biggest cat to Liwonde is a historic moment for lions and Malawi. The restoration of Liwonde would not have been possible without the generous support from the Dutch Government, the Lion Recovery Fund and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the People's Postcode Lottery

Photo assets are available here

About African Parks: African Parks is a non-profit conservation organisation that takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments and local communities. With the largest counter-poaching force and the most amount of area under protection for any one NGO in Africa, African Parks manages 15 national parks and protected areas in nine countries covering 10 million hectares in Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Zambia. For more information visit www.africanparks.orgTwitterInstagram and Facebook 

About Malawian Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW):  African Parks and Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) have been working closely together to rehabilitate habitat and restore biodiversity to the country’s parks since 2003, when a public-private partnership was formed for the management of Majete. African Parks subsequently assumed management of Liwonde (and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve) in partnership with DNPW in 2015, following the successful track record achieved in Majete.

About the Dutch Government: The Dutch Government promotes the Netherlands as a country of enterprise with a strong international competitive position and an eye for sustainability. We encourage cooperation between research institutes and businesses with a focus on nature and the natural word. The Dutch Government has supported previous African Parks projects including the lion and rhino translocation to Akagera in Rwanda. 

About the Lion Recovery Fund: The Lion Recovery Fund aims to strengthen the management of protected areas and support local communities around them who live with lions. Launched by the Wildlife Conservation Network and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, the LRF drives investment to game-changing actions by the most effective, vetted partners who work collaboratively to bring lions back.