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Sunday 19 January 2020
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Beauty in the Wild: Malawi’s Forests and Wildlife

Beauty in the Wild: Malawi’s Forests and Wildlife

Malawi is a beautiful country in Southern Africa. It is one of the few countries in the world which boast of having beaches though it’s landlocked. This is as a result of the incredible Lake Malawi which measures a staggering 29, 600 km2 with a depth of 706m and is part of the East African Rift system. Though Lake Malawi is widely considered as Malawi’s biggest attraction, this wonderful country also has major tourist attractions including over 9 national parks and wildlife reserves together with thick forests which deserve their fair mention.

Malawi’s geographical positioning (close to the equator) coupled by the fact that it lies in Africa’s Great Rift Valley which is a crack in the earth’s crust gives this country a rich and diverse terrain. Malawi has it all when it comes to the landscape from lowlands, river plains to highlands, mountains, and plateaus covered by lush and green grass.

Malawi’s lowlands and river plains are mostly wetlands and are located in the northern part of the country. The major reserves located in these areas include Mpatsanjoka, Elephant Marsh, Lake Chilwa, and Vwaza Marsh wildlife reserve. Together these reserves are habitat to a variety of animals of different species. The major activity that is characteristic of these areas is bird watching. Malawi has over 650 birds of different species and a large quarter of these birds are only present in this part of the region in the whole of Africa. Of these species, over two thirds breed in the country with the remainder migrating from all over the world including Asia and Europe.

Though you can bird watch all year round, it is in the summer (September to April in the Southern hemisphere) that most of the migratory birds will be in this part of the world. The national bird of Malawi, the African Fish Eagle is mostly concentrated in this country. The African Fish Eagle is black, has a white head, neck and tail feathers. Other popular species include the collared palm thrush, palm swifts, spine tails, brown-throated weavers, reed cormorant, marabou stork and pied kingfishers.

The southern part of Malawi is mostly covered by highlands and plateaus. The Brachystegia woodlands are Malawi’s characteristic vegetation and they are prevalent in this part of the country. In this part, the forests provide major activities. Bird watching is one of the activities, especially in Dzalanyama Forest. Mountain hiking is also another popular activity that you can embark upon in areas like Nyika, Mulanje, and Ntchisi Forest Reserve. Mt Mulanje Malawi’s and Central Africa’s highest mountain rises to 2, 000metres in height while the highest plateau, Nyika national park rises to 2,500metres. Nyika National Park has put Malawi on the global map by introducing the big five to its already impressive species. The park is home to lions, elephants, hartebeests, leopards, zebra, roan, eland, antelopes, and hyenas and over 425 bird species. Nyika National Park has rolling hills, rock clusters, pine forests and dense patches of bush. You can also go horse riding in the countryside when you visit the Kande horse stables.

When the three Cs (Civilisation, Christianity, and Commerce) were introduced in Africa, Malawi was one of the countries which housed the first missionaries. Bandawe Mission is one of the earliest Christian missions set up by Dr. Robert Laws the remnants of the mission are still there including the church and a missionary grave yard. Livingstonia near Nyika National Park was established in 1894. The mission which acted as a church has now been turned into a museum and a lodge. The museum remembers the works of the first missionaries to work in Malawi including Dr. Robert Laws. The location of Livingstonia museum is impressive as it provides scenic views of the Chitimba Bay and the Livingstone Mountains.

Malawi is a country with a rich culture. The people identify themselves as descendants of the great Maravi tribe which led the Maravi Empire for centuries. The largest ethnic group is Chewa and the minority tribes include Nyanja, Senga, Tumbuka and Mang’anja. Malawi is home to the Nyau, a secret society of the Chewa people which believes in its own indigenous religion. This group is identified by masks (nyao) which are worn by male members signifying their knowledge. They perform ritual dance ceremonies from time to time providing a great spectacle for onlookers. The dancers are said to be spirits of the dead and in some instances, they may attack on-lookers, there have been reports of deaths but with globalisation, the practice is on the decrease.

Malawi is a relatively small country but with a rich history, culture and leisure spots. The country is perfect for an ornithologist as it has a diverse bird species. With peaceful and welcoming people, Malawi is truly a destination of choice.