There are four wildlife reserves in Malawi all managed by African Parks who translocate wildlife: put more simply, it’s a ‘swap shop of animals’.
We stayed in Majete Wildlife Reserve at “Thawale Lodge”:https://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/accommodation/177103-review-sunbird-thawale where we learned that black rhinos were introduced in 2003; elephants in 2006 and lions in 2012, as well as a host of other wildlife. As the number of elephants grew so quickly, they exported huge numbers to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. The project, “500 elephants”:https://500elephants.org/about/, was supported by Prince Harry and if you wonder how you move an elephant, this short “video”:https://500elephants.org/journey-giants-prince-harry-malawi/ will show you how.
Morning game activities started with coffee and biscuits at 5.30am in the lodge and evening drives with tea at 4pm. Osman was a knowledgeable guide and in the afternoon he was accompanied by Andy who managed the spotlight, which was used after sundowners, when we returned in the dark.
Majete is the only place in Malawi with the ‘Big Five’ and our hopes were high. The most ubiquitous animals were from the antelope family: eland, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, sable, impala, water buck, reed buck, nyala and kudu. We came up with an acronym, DLTs, to stand for the Deer Like Things we couldn’t identify.
The African buffalo, often said to be the most dangerous of the ‘Big Five’, were evident in huge herds at various watering holes. Our second ‘Big Five’ tick, was elephant and not seeing them in huge numbers, made sightings more exciting. We came across a large bull elephant standing in the middle of the track we were driving along. We eyed each other up for a while, wondering who was going to give way first, but eventually a quick rev of the engine, soon showed we were in charge.
There were other unforgettable sights: a huge baboon in a tree casually sat with his leg propped out to support him whilst he munched on tasty leaves and 25 vultures tugging on the skin of a dead water buck which Osman suspected had died of old age. The skin was obviously tough and the birds were struggling to make a tear and it was fascinating to watch from a nearby look out point as they took it in turn.
As well as game drives in open 4WDs, walking along the river allowed us to see more of the flora and fauna with their fabulous names: the rainy tree, zebra tree, fever tree (obviously a connection to the trendy, expensive tonic water) and sausage tree with its long brown heavy pods.
There was also the opportunity for an afternoon boat trip to see the sunset. The section of river we sailed on had been created into a man-made lake to provide HEP to the region through the dam. Consequently, our route was dictated by submerged trees and rocks and a submerged pathway used by elephants. We saw a lot of birds, elephants, a young crocodile at close quarters and submerged hippos who disappointingly refused to yawn!
When not on organised game activities, there was plenty to see at the large man-made watering hole 100 yards from the lodge. In one morning, we saw seven zebra, an elephant who announced himself by pushing down a large tree, baboons and warthogs. The latter two also loved the much nearer, smaller drinking bowl which the warthogs could manage to hop in, albeit one at a time.
Whilst not fortunate enough to see the three remaining big five, lion, leopard and black rhinoceros, we spotted their tracks and met the rhino trackers patrolling the area on bikes in an attempt to protect them. As well as African Parks improving the wildlife population, they’ve also trained rangers to combat poaching.
Finally, there are only two lodges in the park, Thawale and a more up-market one run by Robin Pope which has a private concession. Consequently, you’re unlikely to see any other vehicles during your trips. A far cry from our early safaris in Kenya when we toured around in VW camper vans and poked our heads through the roof window only to have any photos full of others doing the same.