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Malawi / Zambia MoU signed

14 August 2004

Zambia and Malawi shake hands in historic deal on cross-border conservation areas

CHILINDA, Nyika Plateau: A brief handshake at this remote outpost high above Lake Malawi on Friday has sealed one of the most far-reaching conservation initiatives yet seen in southern Africa.

As an icy Chiperoni wind blanketed the 2 600-metre high plateau in mist, the environment ministers of Zambia and Malawi signed a deal that will see the two countries joining forces to create two vast cross-border conservation areas.

But the historic deal was nearly torpedoed at the last minute by the vagaries of Africa's weather - those same Chiperoni mists grounded the two ministerial parties.

They had to abandon plans to fly in from the regional Malawian capital, Mzuzu, and drive for more than three hours over the dusty, bumpy Nyika roads.

At 6pm on Friday, Malawi's Minister of Information and Tourism, Ken Lipenga, and Zambia's Minister of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, Patrick Kalifungwa, signed a memorandum of understanding that will see the two countries joining forces in conserving their contiguous wildlife areas.

The final treaty, to be signed in December next year. will consolidate into conservation areas the Nyika Plateau on both sides of the border, Malawi`s Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve and Kasungu National Park with Zambia`s Lundazi, Mitenge and Mikuti Forest Reserves, Musalangu Game Management Area and Lukusuzi National Park.

The total area of the combined conservation areas will eventually be more than 35 000km² and incorporate a huge diversity of ecological systems, including Afro-montane forest and grasslands, lowland woodland, marshes, miombo woodland and gallery forest.

The proposed area will also be linked to one of Africa`s most pristine wilderness areas, Zambia`s south and north Luangwa national parks.

Facilitated by the Stellenbosch-based Peace Parks Foundation - which has supported the establishment of the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld, Great Limpopo and the Kgalagadi Trans-frontier Parks - the Malawi-Zambia agreement will see the first significant transfrontier parks established outside South Africa`s immediate borders.

Addressing the bilateral meeting, Lipenga said ecosystems divided by political boundaries could be reunited, cultural ties severed by borders could be reintegrated, agreements on collaborative management could contribute to stronger political ties between states, (and) joint tourism promotion could boost tourism revenues for communities and the two states.

Kalifungwa said transfrontier conservation areas, when developed, had the primary objective of achieving socio-economic upliftment in otherwise remote and impoverished rural areas adjoining conservation areas.

He added that a key offshoot of the process would be the reuniting of communities separated by the international boundary drawn by the colonial government.

Peace Parks Foundation CEO, Willem van Riet, said this was the first trans-frontier area not linked to South Africa.

In another significant breakthrough, Peace Parks Foundation project manager Werner Myburgh,announced that conservation officials from the two countries had agreed on a sweeping cross-border anti-poaching initiative for the Nyika Plateau Transfrontier Park, an area plagued by widespread subsistence poaching.

Previously, poachers from both countries have raided across the border with impunity, as law enforcement officials were not allowed to cross the international boundary. The new agreement allows for hot pursuit operations.

Earlier in the day, the two ministers joined a Peace Parks/University of Pretoria elephant satellite collaring research team and took part in the darting and collaring of an elephant cow in the remote Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve in Malawi.

Addressing game scouts before heading off to help collar the elephant, Lipenga said the work they were doing was as important to Malawi as the battle against HIV/Aids.

Cape Times - 16 August 2004Tony Weaver

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