Majete Wildlife Reserve is situated in the Lower Shire valley of Southern Malawi near Blantyre and is one of the most outstanding success stories of African conservation. Sitting at the bottom end of part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the reserve is made up of mature mionbo woodlands, granite topped hills, river valleys and lush riverine forests and waterfalls.
Now it is well on its way to becoming a Big Five park, having undertaken a bold and inspiring wildlife reintroduction programme to restore the park to its former glory as it was before human intervention. Previously granted protected status in 1955, it became the subject of extensive poaching in the 1980s and 1990s. The 70,000 hectare reserve has been a conservation success since African Parks assumed management in 2003, with over 2 550 animals, including elephant, buffalo, sable antelope and black rhino, introduced to the park over eight years. In 2006, a total of 70 elephants were imported from Liwonde National Park. Two years later their numbers had grown to 82, and further introductions increased the elephant population to 144.
The re-introduction of predators back into the park started in October 2011 with 8 leopards re-located from the Kruger National Park in South Africa. The introduction of leopard is the penultimate step in the Majete restocking programme, which will culminate in the reintroduction of lion in 2012. Until the launch of this project only one viable population of leopard existed in Malawi within the Nyika National Park. These leopards are the first to be introduced to Malawi across international borders, and the first leopards to make their home in Majete for nearly two decades.
In August Majete Wildlife Reserve will become the proud recipient of four lions from South Africa, completing the return of the “Big Five” to this iconic reserve situated in Malawi’s lower Shire River valley. The reintroduction of lions marks a significant milestone in the rehabilitation of the 70 000 hectare Majete reserve. Historically lions were considered to be common in the Lower Shire Valley but by the early 1960s scouts in Majete were recording only one lion every 100 patrol days. Over the years poaching took its toll and there have been no reports of lions in the region since the 1980s.
This is an ideal safari destination for experienced Africa travellers with the chance to see species including black rhino, elephant, buffalo, eland, kucu, sabel, klipspringer, suni and zebra. Although one of the products of restoring this reserve to it’s former glory is fabulous tourist facilities, the aim of the project is to benefit the people of Malawi, particularly the local communities around Majete. The gamekeepers here are mainly ex poachers, re-trained to protect their former prey and reaping the benefits.
The rejuvenation of the reserve began with law enforcement. Scouts received new equipment and training, and a 160km electrified fence was erected around the perimeter to protect local villages from marauding elephant, buffalo and hippo. Elephants in the reserve were captured, darted and collared, and a new GPS mapping and monitoring system allows scouts to record each patrol on a handheld device, noting vital information such as wildlife sightings, water sources and illegal activities. Infrastructure was improved with the clearing of 250km of new roads and the erection of new buildings including a Heritage Centre for visitors.
The black rhino – listed by CITES as a critically endangered species – was introduced around 2006, with scouts monitoring their progress on a daily basis. In July 2008 the first rhino calf was born and further successful births have brought the total number to nine, second in Malawi only to Liwonde National Park.
Accommodation in Majete. In July 2011, Robin Pope Safaris opened new luxury accommodation in Majete, offering visitors the chance to spend several nights here enjoying the variety of activities on offer. The perfect combination of luxury and isolation, Mkulumadzi Camp has eight superb chalets set on the banks of the Shire River, shaded by giant leadwood trees and wild mangos. Each chalet has a spacious bedroom and lounge, ensuite bathroom, outdoor ‘waterfall’ style shower and private viewing deck where guests can sit back and marvel at the sights and sounds of the river. Set in 7,000 hectares of private concession, Mkulumadzi enjoys an ideal location at the confluence of two rivers just a few kilometres from the point where the magnificent Shire River plunges into the Kapichira Falls.
Guests arrive by a footbridge suspended over the Mkulumadzi River to discover a friendly welcome and many home comforts. The lodge has a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining, a lounge and terrace, a bar and shop, swimming pool, viewing deck and a lapa for evening campfires. Game drives and walking safaris are offered in the mornings and late afternoons, giving guests plenty of time to relax beside the pool, gaze at the resident bird population or listen to the grunt of hippos wallowing in the river. Afternoon tea is served on the terrace and on most nights dinner is served beneath the stars. Each chalet has a sloping vegetated roof planted with indigenous species such as succulents, aloes, shrubs and grasses. This minimises their impact on the environment and keeps them cool in the hot season. The whole lodge is solar powered with a back-up generator.
Game drives: Early morning game drives are on offer daily. Longer excursions are also offered with a packed breakfast or lunch, perfect for exploring the far reaches of Majete.
Walking safaris: exploring Majete on foot is highly recommended. The routes that follow the Mkulumadzi and Shire River are especially scenic with an abundance of birdlife and large mammals. Early mornings are the best – and coolest – times for walking. Also offered is an escorted hike to the top of Majete hill.
Boating safaris: a boat trip on the Shire River is a relaxing way to view wildlife. The lush banks of the Shire are popular with elephant and buffalo; hippo and crocodile sightings are guaranteed and birdlife is abundant. A morning or afternoon boat trip is offered as an alternative to a game drive.
Viewing hides: from the seclusion of a comfortable hide overlooking a waterhole guests can experience the thrill of watching animals coming to drink. An excellent photographic opportunity with buffalo, elephant, black rhino, sable antelope and eland all regular visitors to the waterhole.
African Parks story: Visit the education centre in Majete for an insight to the practical aspects of managing a wildlife area, and in the story of the rejuvenation of Majete as Malawi’s premier wildlife destination.
Cultural experience: a visit to a nearby village and community centre offers guests a chance to experience Malawi outside of Majete, to understand local culture and to share people’s experiences of living alongside a wildlife reserve.