Majete is fast becoming Malawi’s most interesting wildlife reserve.
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Majete Wildlife ReserveIn southern Malawi, Majete Wildlife Reserve covers about 700km² of fairly rugged, hilly bush of the Lower Shire Valley – and has been intensively protected and re-stocked with game since about 2003. We visited the park first in 2011, and feel that it's already vying to become the most interesting wildlife reserve in Malawi.
The eastern boundary of the park follows the wide, fast-flowing Shire River, which drains from Lake Malawi and flows south into the Zambezi River. Passing through Majete it tumbles over a series of rocky rapids – and visiting recently, we've never seen pods of hippos and large crocodiles in such fast-flowing water!
Safaris to Majete Wildlife ReserveIn July 2011 a new safari lodge is due to open, beside the confluence of the Shire and Mkulumazi rivers: Mkulumadzi. It's owned and built by Robin Pope Safaris who are best known for their Nkwali, Nsefu and Tena Tena camps in South Luangwa, but also run Pumulani on the lakeshore.
This has eight very solidly constructed villas, all modern and large with great views over the river. Vegetated 'green' roofs together with a clever energy-saving air-conditioning system used to cool the bed, means that the lodge can run largely from solar power! (Read more about the lodge at Mkulumadzi…)
Background to Majete Wildlife ReservePerhaps the first historical mention of this area was in 1859 when Dr David Livingstone tried to travel up the Shire River, only to have his way blocked by the Kapichira Falls – which is within the park. A member of Livingstone's expedition, Richard Thornton, died here and his grave is still found at Maganga I village, a few kilometres from the reserve.
Much later, Majete was declared a wildlife reserve in 1955, but its management was taken over in 2003 by African Parks – a not-for-profit organisation which has effectively protected it. It has done this by launching community development projects around its edges, underlining the value of the wildlife to the local people; fencing the whole park; and also beefing up the reserve's infrastructure and anti-poaching capability.
Majete Wildlife Reserve is now entirely fenced and well protected by anti-poaching patrols, whose brief includes intensive monitoring of the park's precious black rhino.
Majete's Larger WildlifeTo supplement the existing animal populations, thousands of game animals have been moved here. These include, up to 2011, relocations of
215 elephants, 306 buffalo, 354 sable, 401 waterbuck, 78 eland, 58 Lichtenstein's hartebeest, 58 nyala, 177 zebra, and 7 black rhino. Many of these have bred, and they certainly seem to be flourishing. For example, we understand that there are now 11 black rhino, and more are due to be relocated here in the next few years.
Whilst on a single morning's game drive during a brief visit, we sighted good numbers of nyala, bushbuck, zebra, kudu, waterbuck, eland, warthogs and endless impala and baboons – most of which seem very relaxed. None were skittish, as we might have expected in a relatively 'new' reserve – but then few probably remember any poaching. On the same visit we also saw several elephant, a herd of buffalo and clear evidence of black rhino (in the form of a fresh midden of droppings).
There are plans to reintroduce leopard into Majete Reserve in 2011 – to supplement what's thought to be a very small, existing population of these cats – then lion in 2012.
Flora & Birdlife of Majete Wildlife ReserveMuch of Majete, especially on its western side, is basically miombo woodland (dominated by julbernadia, isoberlinia and especially brachystegia species), but there are also large stands of mixed terminalia/combretum woodland and lengthy ribbons of riparian (or riverine) forest around the main rivers – including section of 'marula' woodland. Plenty of baobabs are around and the towering forms of large-leafed African star chestnuts (Sterculia quinqueloba) are particularly spectacular.
Whilst the Shire River here is wide, deep and surprisingly fast-flowing, its main tributaries are very different. In the north, the Mkulumadzi (sometimes written as 'Mkurumadzi', 'Mukulumadzi' or even 'Mukurumadzi') is a very lovely, wide and shallow river – dotted with boulders, small islands and extensively grazed floodplain 'lawns'. Visiting in May 2011 it made a particularly magical corridor for a walking safari, with plenty of game around, yet it was often shallow enough to paddle through.
The birdlife here is varied, with 'bird parties' of different species often seen working their way through the miombo areas – including Arnot's chat, pale-billed hornbills and various shrikes and wood hoopoes in attendance. Raptors are very much in evidence, with at least four species of vulture and a particularly high concentration of bateleur eagles.
Birding 'specials' here include Pel's fishing owls, boulder chats on Majete Hill, racket-tailed rollers, cuckoo hawks, Livingstone's fly-catchers in riverine thickets, Boehm's bee-eaters, and rock pratincoles on the Shire River.
Mercifully, there seem to be no tsetse flies anywhere in Majete Wildlife Reserve; it's completely tsetse-free!