SMART technology transforms conservation at over 1,000 of the world's most important biodiversity sites
14 Sep 2021
The ongoing protection and development of Malawi’s Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve has been greatly enhanced with the handover of six brand new 4×4 vehicles, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), through KfW Development Bank, with support from its implementing partner Peace Parks Foundation.
These two reserves, managed by the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife in close collaboration with Peace Parks, are integral components of the Nyika-North Luangwa section of the Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area. The wild and rugged landscapes of Nyika and Vwaza, which cover a combined area of 4 200 km2, pose significant obstacles to effective park management, as poor road conditions make it a challenge to access many areas of these protected spaces. The addition of hardy vehicles capable of traversing this difficult terrain will, therefore, prove invaluable for vital park management activities, particularly anti-poaching.
Nyika National Park is Malawi’s largest national park and is included in the Global 200 Ecoregions. These regions include the most outstanding and representative habitats for biodiversity on the planet. The 3 200 km2 park protects the vast Nyika plateau, a unique landscape with an average elevation of more than 2 000 metres, boasting undulating hills, grasslands, mountain streams and pockets of forest. Wildlife in the park includes more than 200 species of orchid (of which 30 are found nowhere else on earth) and other flowering plants, along with herds of roan antelope, eland, zebra, leopard and elephant. Three vehicles were delivered to the Park, giving anti-poaching units improved capability to better track down and intercept poachers.
“Anti-poaching units in Nyika are tasked with protecting this richly biodiverse habitat, which is home to an incredible variety of fauna and flora. In recent years, anti-poaching activities in the Park have intensified, resulting in a significant drop in poaching. The addition of the new 4×4 vehicles will further bolster the efforts of Peace Parks Foundation and its governmental partners to mobilise field rangers and keep the poaching of animals and plants under control,” says Arrie van Wyk, Peace Parks Foundation’s Senior Project Manager for the Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area.
These anti-poaching initiatives have included the establishment of a central operations room which is ensuring that units on the ground are coordinated through a digital radio communications system. The formation of a rapid response unit is set to take place in future, comprising 12 specially trained field rangers, supported by the addition of a helicopter and canine unit. Rangers and law enforcement officers in both Nyika and Vwaza have also been trained in intelligence gathering and the use of advanced technology such as the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) and Quantam Geographical Information Systems.
This enhanced level of law enforcement and anti-poaching capacity in Nyika has resulted in a 37% decline in detected illegal activities between 2019 and 2020, from 1 671 to 1 058.
Meanwhile, two vehicles were handed over to the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, enabling more efficient coverage of this remote 1 000 km2 area of miombo woodland, grassy plains, verdant marshes and wetlands.
Although very different from Nyika in terms of ecosystems, the terrain of Vwaza – with its marsh and wetlands – presents its own challenges in terms of access, particularly in the rainy season, and the road network still requires substantial improvement. The addition of the 4×4 vehicles will therefore assist greatly with traversing the reserve to execute a variety of management tasks.
Arrie van Wyk, Senior Project Manager, Peace Parks Foundation
The vehicles will be used to deploy field staff for operations and patrols, and will be highly beneficial in day-to-day protected area management work like fire management, alien invasive species control and infrastructure maintenance.
A vehicle was also handed over to the divisional manager of the two parks. In the near future, a range of road building and road maintenance vehicles will be procured for the two protected areas. This will further accelerate the significant progress that has been made in the development of infrastructure in Nyika and Vwaza, improving access for tourists and park employees alike.
Peace Parks Foundation has a long history with this beautiful country, dating back nearly two decades when, together with the governments of Malawi and Zambia, the Foundation started exploring the conservation benefits and commercial opportunities that a transfrontier conservation area could offer to this region. In 2015, the Malawi-Zambia (MAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area, of which Nyika National Park and Vwaza Wildlife Reserve are integral components, was established with the signing of a treaty by the two governments.As the implementing agent for funding provided by KfW, Peace Parks initiatives in MAZA include protected area management and protection, development of infrastructure, supporting tourism development, and community involvement and beneficiation in conservation