More about Lilongwe Wildlife Centre

Tracey Dettmer sent me this article in Aug ’08

Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, one year on……

In July 2007, the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre (LLWC) opened its doors to the general public for just three days a week, in order to give those interested in the Centre an opportunity of seeing what was being created.  One year on, and from the main Kenyatta Road entrance between City Centre and Old Town, it may appear that progress has been slow with only a thatched reception, a few thatched parking bays and a container to show for it…..  This is, however, far from the truth and it becomes blatantly obvious, when visitors move away from the main road and further into the Rehabilitation Area of the LLWC, that huge structural in-roads have been made over the past year.  Visitors now have an opportunity to view the country’s wildlife orphans, and also those that were relocated from the old Nature Sanctuary Zoo, beyond large open-topped electrified fences in a semi-natural habitat – a far cry from the old style cages that previously existed here in Lilongwe.  Although public viewing areas to all enclosures are restricted to twenty-or-so metres along the fence line, which offers a degree of privacy to the animals, the reception from the general public in seeing the animals in a more natural environment has been extremely positive.

The general public are extremely excited about the new project, and are delighted about plans to build an entrance area that will include an auditorium (sponsored by Beit Trust through WESM), a bar/cafe (sponsored by the Born Free Foundation), shops and offices, a cyber-aquarium (sponsored by WWF-Finland) and a new education centre (sponsored by the British High Commission). Whilst a common comment in our visitors book is that people would like to see more and different kinds of animals, the Centre takes care to explain that we are not actively looking for animals and do not intend to breed, trade or exchange animals into the Centre. Instead, we make it clear that we are a rescue centre that only offers sanctuary to those animals needing the Centre’s support, having been orphaned, rescued or confiscated, particularly baboons, vervet monkeys, duiker and grysbok. We also underline that our primary remit is to return all Malawi’s orphans back to the wild – a concept which often takes a while to sink in.

Although the Centre has already conducted many minor releases of invertebrates, non-venomous snakes, amphibians and birds into the Sanctuary (perhaps give a very short explanation of this term in brackets here?) , the most exciting release has been that of JD, a genet that was brought to the Centre in December 2006, having been found almost dead along the shores of Lake Malawi (so small he could curl up in the ball of your hand).  JD is now running free within the Nature Sanctuary (and even outside the protection of the Centre at times!!) with a fitted radio collar that allows us to monitor him daily, ensuring that he adapts well to life back in the wild.  After four weeks, JD has begun to hunt and look after himself, which is very encouraging.

In November 2008, in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the Centre is planning to conduct its first major release, which will entail preparing 14 baboons and 24 vervet monkeys for their big move back to the wild.   Such releases complete the cycle of returning the Centre’s orphans back to the wild but it is not the end of our work.  Any released group such as this shall be monitored, with radio tracking equipment, for at least a year so that we can ensure that they get through this transitional period without major problems.

In accordance with the Wildlife Centre’s aims and objectives under the Born Free Foundation’s People and Wildlife Concept, staff at the Centre have begun to engage 12 local communities surrounding the Centre, identified as being most affected by our presence.  As with many conservation and environmental policies today, it was important that we create mutually beneficial relationships with the Nature Sanctuary’s closest communities.  With the support of WESM (Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi) the Centre has now run two successful sets of workshops with all 12 communities, which have formulated Wildlife Clubs under their community Chiefs.  This has created firm foundations on which long-term partnerships can now be built. As well as offering employment opportunities, the Centre has also begun to offer opportunities for community members to visit the Centre free of charge and at the end of the day collect firewood which they can take home – a small but well received incentive. More long term, we hope to facilitate income generating projects within the communities and help source funding for community projects such as boreholes, repairing schools roofs etc, which is where links with international organisations such as the Born Free Foundation will bear fruits.

An additional benefit to the communities will be the introduction of a Society that will bring advice, veterinary care and support to their domestic animals – a programme that will ultimately reduce rabies cases and create better appreciation and understanding for domestic animal welfare.  The Lilongwe Society for the Protection and Care (PC in RSPCA = Prevention of Cruelty to…just checking this is a strategic name change) of Animals (LSPCA) outreach programme is to be supported by funding generated from its own income streams that include a ‘cyber-kennel’ and associated adoption and fostering programmes, home care and re-homing services.  It is envisaged that like the Wildlife Centre, the LPSCA will become financially self-sufficient within two/three years, which will ensure that the programme can support local communities for years to come.  The initial costs of establishing the LSPCA is to be met by the RSPCA International, a UK animal welfare society that protects the interests of mistreated domestic animals.

The Lilongwe Wildlife Centre is proving that private sector/conservation project partnerships do work, and that they can create mutually beneficial relationships in support of essential, long-term conservation and environmental programmes.  Through the initial financial support and ongoing commitment to our activities of the Born Free Foundation and Land and Lake Safaris (www.landandlake.net), the Centre has a prosperous future ahead, which will enable it to support wildlife conservation and education in Malawi for many years to come.   Most importantly, in creating such a success story, the Centre will become an example on which other facilities within Africa can be modelled.  For further information on the Centre and the PAW Concept, please take a look at our website www.lilongwewildlife.org or contact us on wildlife@llwc.org.

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