Liwonde National Park

Liwonde National Park, also known as Liwonde Wildlife Reserve is a national park in southern Malawi, near the Mozambique border.

The park was established in 1973, and has been managed by the nonprofit conservation organization African Parks since August 2015.

Description and geography

Liwonde National Park is in Southern Region Malawi, just south of Lake Malawi, near the Mozambique border. It lies largely within the Machinga District, but also is in the Mangochi District. The Balaka District lies along its western border.

The reserve covers 548 square kilometres (212 sq mi) of woodlands and dry savannah. A 30km section of the Shire River runs through the park including a section of the shore of Lake Malombe, 20 km south of Lake Malawi .

A section was added in 1977 on the northern edge of the park which connects it with Mangochi Mountain Forest Reserve.

The park is managed by African Parks in collaboration with local communities represented by the Upper Shire Association for the Conservation of Liwonde National Park (USACOL) and 31 Village Natural Resources Committees surrounding Liwonde.

Liwonde has a 129-kilometre (80 mi) perimeter, which was unfenced until the nonprofit organization African Parks confirmed plans to construct a fully fenced border in 2015, which has since been completed.


Liwonde was established in 1973. When the park was gazetted, many inhabitants were forced to relocate to border communities outside the park, which has resulted in villages in the periphery of the park having relatively high population density compared to the rest of the country.

Before the park was created, the land was used for agriculture, largely subsistence. Cotton, maize, tobacco, and rice were the main crops and fishing was another important industry.

African Parks took over management of Liwonde in August 2015, after being enlisted by Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).

Rebuilding the park’s fence was a top priority for the organization, in order to reduce human–wildlife conflict by keeping animals within Liwonde’s boundaries and to reduce poaching. Fencing the park cost US$1.6 million and took approximately 18 months to complete.

In 2015, USACOL contributed K8.3 million from the United Nations Development Programme for the park’s conservation.

The project, which reportedly lasted from April to December, was managed by USACOL and CBNRM, both of which are part of the Coordination Union for the Rehabilitation of the Environment.

According to CBNRM’s national coordinator, the project encouraged local communities to “participate in the conservation and management of natural resources”.


Liwonde has a population of approximately 12,000 large mammals, and hosts more than 380 bird species.

Large mammals include African buffalo, antelope (including Common eland, the endangered sable antelope, and waterbuck), baboons, black rhinoceros, bushbuck, elephants, hippopotamus, impala, kudu, monkeys, and warthogs.

The park is home to dozens of other grazing mammal species, as well as crocodiles.

Liwonde has been very active in conservation efforts and animal relocation programs. Since 1990, elephants, black rhinoceros, elands, impalas, kudu, sables, warthogs, waterbuck, and zebra have been relocated to or from the park.

In 2011, a park survey funded by the Wilderness Trust estimated there were approximately 545 elephants, 506 buffalo, 491 sable, 3,159 waterbuck, 1,526 impala, 1,269 warthog, and 1,942 hippopotamus. According to CNN, there are approximately 800 elephants in Liwonde, as of 2017.


The park is known for elephant viewing and conservation efforts. African Parks helped park officials relocate 70 elephants from Liwonde and Mangochi to the Majete Wildlife Reserve in 2008.

During June–August 2016 and 2017, African Parks relocated approximately 500 elephants from Liwonde and Majete to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, and a further 34 elephants from Liwonde to Nyika National Park.

The $1.6 million project was funded by Nationale Postcode Loterij and the Wyss Foundation, among other donors. African Parks reported there were 578 elephants in the park in their 2016 annual report, following the relocation.

Black rhinoceros

In 1993, a pair of black rhinoceros was moved from South Africa into a 15-square-kilometre (5.8 sq mi) fenced sanctuary within the park, a project funded by J&B London and J&B Circle of Malawi (now called the Endangered Species of Malawi).

The first calf was born to the pair in 1996 and a second pair was introduced into a second sanctuary in 1998. In 1999, a second calf was born.

The Liwonde Rhino Sanctuaries led to the growth of a number of other species, particularly buffalo, eland, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, roan antelope, zebra, and sable antelope allowing for animals of those species to be moved to other parks, particularly Kasungu National Park.

The fence surrounding these two sanctuaries was removed in 2000, opening the rest of the park to these and other animals which were living in the sanctuaries, and the rhinoceros conservation effort within the park continues.

Big cats

In May 2017, African Parks relocated four cheetahs from South Africa, becoming Malawi’s first wild cheetahs in twenty years.

The two female and two male cheetahs were the first large predators to be reintroduced to the park, after being absent from this part of the country for around a century.

Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Cheetah Metapopulation Project and DNPW assisted with the relocation.

Liwonde park officials had hoped to introduce female lions in 2012. The last reported sighting of a male lion was in 2015. Park officials still planned to reintroduce lions and leopard, as of 2017.

In February 2018, African Parks relocated two male lions from Majete to Liwonde. The DNPW, the Dutch Government, and the Lion Recovery Fund assisted with the relocation, and there are plans to introduce as many as twelve more lions from South Africa.


Biome-restricted bird species in the park include: white-starred robin, brown-headed parrot, brown-breasted barbet, pale batis, Dickinson’s kestrel, Lilian’s lovebird, Böhm’s bee-eater, racket-tailed roller, pale-billed hornbill, Kurrichane thrush, Arnot’s chat, white-bellied sunbird, black-eared seed eater, broad-tailed paradise whydah, Meves’s starling.

The park is the only location in Malawi where Lilian’s lovebird and the brown-breasted barbet are found.

Four species of vulture were present in the park in the 1980s, but due to secondary poisoning of the birds, only the palm-nut vulture remains.

In 2011, Birdlife International and the Good Gifts Catalogue raised funds to survey and monitor the threatened Lilian’s lovebird.

Park rangers and local students worked with the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi to research Lilian’s lovebirds in 2012. There have been repeated requests to allow birds in the park to be captured for trade, especially Lilian’s lovebird, but these have thus far been denied.

Human–wildlife conflict

Interactions between people and wild animals in the park, has resulted in significant human–wildlife conflict, particularly with elephants. In 2003, a British nurse doing volunteer work was trampled to death during an elephant stampede.

In 2015, poachers killed at least two elephants, and a rhinoceros calf had to be saved from a wire snare trap.

Park officials have used an aircraft to steer elephants back into the park from neighboring areas, and patrol the park’s waters by boat to reduce illegal fishing. In September 2015, park officials confirmed the deaths of three poachers inside, and four people outside, the park as the result of crocodile and elephant attacks.

The incidents occurred within seven weeks of one another. African Parks’ chief executive officer called the attacks “almost unprecedented”, but also said conflicts between animals and people were one reason the Malawi government invited the organization to manage the park.

Fifty elephants and two rhinoceros in Liwonde were killed by poachers between 2014 and 2017, and rangers recovered between 18,000 and 23,000 snares in the park from 2015 to 2017.

African Parks has made over 100 arrests and installed more than 60 miles of electric fencing in an effort to reduce conflict and poaching.

During 2016–2017, the organization received funding from World Wildlife Fund and a $5 million grant from Google to assess the viability of using drones as tools in law enforcement.


Mopane is the most common large plant species in the park. The epiphytic orchid, Microcoelia ornithocephala is nearly endemic to the park, also being recorded on nearby Sambani Hill.

Other plants in the park include: acacias, miombo, Albizia harveyi, Adansonia digitata, reedbeds along the rivers, evergreen forests fringing tributaries, Vachellia xanthophloea (fever tree), Borassus (Palmyra palm), capers, Hyphaene coriacea (Lala palm), and Kigelia (sausage trees).


Tourism makes up approximately 97% of the total revenue generated by the park, with 58% of that coming from concession fees from the private lodges in the park.

The nearest township to the park is Liwonde, and there is mixed evidence that the economic benefits of the park have a great impact beyond the park boundaries.

The park has many characteristics of an enclave resort, but there are small enterprises such as Makanga Women’s Group and Njobvu Cultural Village Lodge which market goods and services to park tourists.

Before the building of a fence, people living near the park argued in support of its construction, saying that the animals were damaging their crops.

Proposals have been made by the Malawi Minister of Finance for revenue generated by the park to be divided between the park and local communities, although implementation was delayed.


Mvuu Lodge (“mvuu” means “hippopotamus” in Chewa), located on the banks of the Shire River, is the only lodge in the park, as of February 2015.

The lodge, established in 1995, is operated by Central Africa Wilderness Safaris, a company known for its sustainable practices and willingness to support local communities and conservation efforts.

Mvuu Lodge has a sister property called Mvuu Camp. Boat safaris provide guests with opportunities to view wildlife.

The lodge and camp employed 110 people, as of 2015, including: 14 guides, 4 mechanics (and a boat mechanic), 3 carpenters, 2 tailors, a builder, an electrician and assistant, and a shoemaker and has 56 beds as well as camp sites.

Previously, a second lodge, the Chinguni Hills Lodge, operated in the southern part of the park. Opened in 2000, this lodge had 44 beds plus camp sites and focussed on budget and mid-range markets in comparison with Mvuu’s high end focus.

Conservation partnerships

African Bat Conservation began conducting research in Liwonde in 2014 and worked with the park on the National Bat Monitoring Programme, which evaluates the diversity and size of bat populations, until 2016.

Carnivore Research Malawi worked with the park to evaluate carnivore density and distribution, particularly for the spotted hyena population, until 2016.

The Liwonde National Park Conservation Programme, which seeks to improve the park’s management and security and support nearby communities. Is collaboration between the International Fund for Animal Welfare and DNPW.

Projects have included fish farming, hydroponics, human–wildlife conflict and poaching reduction efforts, and skills training.