Cheetahs return to Malawi

Liwonde National Park in Malawi welcomes back its first big cats, a profound milestone in the ongoing restoration of this valuable protected area. 

A cheetah observes the plains in Masai Mara game reserve

Famous for its glorious Lake Malawi, easygoing vibe and blissfully uncrowded wildlife reserves and national parks, Malawi is working hard to rehabilitate its wilderness areas. The latest good news is the successful reintroduction of a small founding population of cheetahs to flourishing Liwonde National Park.

Led by African Parks, in partnership with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), the four cheetahs were translocated from South Africa. They made the journey by plane from South Africa and arrived safely in Liwonde National Park on 17 May 2017. The cats were released into specially built bomas (enclosures) to allow for close supervision during a period of adjustment, until being released into the wider park. The animals are all in good health and are expected to do well in Liwonde, where habitat and prey conditions are optimal and measures are in place to ensure their ongoing conservation and protection.


Beautiful Big Cats

Although it is 20 years since they occurred in Malawi, it has been close to a century since cheetahs were documented in Liwonde National Park. Lions and leopards were also historically common, but disappeared in recent years due to poaching. Decades of habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict and poaching severely reduced the nation’s predator populations, entirely eradicating cheetahs, a species threatened with extinction in Africa. According to IUCN, as a wide-ranging carnivore that never attains densities of much more than two individuals per 100km2, cheetahs are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation.

“Large predators like cheetahs play pivotal roles in African ecosystems but they are in troubling decline across the continent,” said Liwonde National Park Manager Craig Reid. “Malawi has made progressive commitments to conserve wildlife. The reintroduction of the cheetah is historic for the country and a new era for the park, where the return of large predators holds great optimism for the restoration of the natural system and the conservation of this highly vulnerable species.”

Where did these cheetahs come from?

The cheetahs were carefully sourced through EWT’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project. Established in 2011, the project aims to create safe spaces for cheetahs in South Africa. It also manages the existing population in a number of reserves to ensure genetic diversity. The project now operates in 54 reserves and, in 2016, began investigating opportunities for reintroduction outside of South Africa. This partnership was deemed ideal as African Parks has secured safe spaces for a myriad species in the reserves it manages. Phinda and Welgevonden Game Reserves each made a male cheetah available, while Mountain Zebra National Park and Amakhala Private Game Reserve each provided a female cheetah.

Conservation vision for Malawi

The reintroduction of the cheetah to Liwonde forms part of the collective vision of African Parks and the Malawian government to restore the country’s parks, rehabilitate wildlife populations and increase tourism. Non-profit conservation organisation African Parks assumed management of Liwonde National Park in partnership with the DNPW in 2015. Since assuming management of Liwonde, African Parks has constructed a reliable perimeter fence, removed thousands of snare traps, significantly reduced poaching and is working with local communities to ensure the long-term success of conservation in the area. Managing and restoring key species also positions Liwonde as a globally significant wildlife tourism destination, with benefits flowing to local communities.

Malawi’s revitalized appeal

If Malawi had a perceived weakness in tourism terms, it was that some of its neighbours offered a better safari experience. But the effective commitment to rehabilitating its wild spaces is resulting in a total transformation of Malawi’s wilderness reserves. Malawi is fast becoming one of the most complete destinations in Africa. Warm, welcoming and unspoiled, Malawi really is just waiting to be discovered.

Share this post