The year 2006 has ended and looking back, like
in December 2005, we can say it was a successful year! And more important: we
did even better than last year. And that's our 'personal' goal: a continuous
improvement of our conservation efforts in Thuma F.R. for the benefit of Malawi.
- We have made
local people living around Thuma F.R. beneficiaries of conservation via
the several community projects we have conducted this year in the
- we have made the
legal collection of bamboo in Thuma F.R. by communities around Thuma F.R.
- 14 volunteers and
students have assisted us this year in Thuma F.R.;
- we have enjoyed
an increase of visitors visiting Thuma F.R.;
- the membership
organization W.A.G. Support in Europe has been founded this year;
- thanks to funding
from individuals and donors, we have been able to double the number of
scouts employed by W.A.G. to 12, resulting in a 100% law enforcement
coverage of Thuma F.R.;
- in total we have
arrested 207 poachers in Thuma F.R. (mainly illegal charcoal burners and
bamboo cutters) and confiscated 45 bags of charcoal, fire wood, 39 axes,
33 hoes, 69 bundles of bamboo, 118 pangas, 135 planks, six 7-feet saws, 3
bow saws, 1 gun plus bullets, 2 bows and arrows, 1 club, bush meat,
fishing nets/poison/ traps and lines, illegally caught fish, plus many
other items used by poachers like pots, plates, buckets, sickles, files,
knifes, water tanks, a torch and others. Besides this we destroyed 97
illegal heaps of charcoal found in the forest, 2 pit traps and we removed
Most of this law enforcement success is the result of the strengthening of
our field team and the consequential expansion of the area where we are
now able to patrol regularly (for example: in December this year the
scouts spent a total of 240 man-days in the bush!);
- and plenty of
wildlife has been observed in Thuma F.R. by visitors and field staff this
The Mammal Survey 2006 which we started in June
this year, is rounded off.
A lot of data on the mammals in Thuma
F.R. has been collected in the last months and some very interesting conclusions
can be drawn from this data. If you are
interested in our findings, feel free to download the Mammal
Survey 2006 Report.
The elephant dung count we had planned for the second half of 2006, has not been
conducted yet. Reason for this is the observation that elephant dung hardly
decays (disappears) in the dry months but simply dries out completely and
remains unchanged until the first rains come. Since the decay rate is vital
factor in a dung count survey, further research on the number of elephants
living in Thuma F.R. has to wait until the first half of next year.
proper boots (shoes), which can endure the many kilometers of patrolling done by
the scouts through the rugged terrain of Thuma, is (almost) impossible in
Malawi. At the moment, our scouts have only one pair of boots which is very
inconvenient in the rainy season since wet boots take a few days to dry. If you
have any spare (army) boots which you would like to donate to W.A.G., you're
W.A.G. has employed 3 new scouts (recruits):
Mark Kambwiri, Edison Banda and Simeon Viktor. Next month another 3 recruits
will be employed, bringing the total number of scouts at 12.
The Task Force, mentioned in September news, has not been
re-activated (yet?). Lack of (financial) resources
Department of National Parks and
Wildlife (DNPW) and of the Department of Forestry is probably the main reason
However, fortunately, the grant from the
United States Fish & Wildlife Service provides W.A.G. with
a budget for paying day allowances for an armed DNPW game ranger who, with the
start of this month, is based in Thuma F.R. and who will join our scouts during
their patrols in the coming 12 months.
This makes the so much required, immediate response to the poaching incident of
last month possible and effective.
Although we cover many
kilometers in the field daily for years now, there are still new things to
be discovered in Thuma F.R.. This month we discovered a cave with rock
paintings (see pictures below). The game ranger, who was patrolling with us that day, told
that he has seen other rock paintings in other parts of Malawi (Dedza, Mulanje) and that they are similar
to the ones we found in Thuma F.R..
fascinating discovery, untouched since, possibly, prehistoric times!
Note: The distance to the Rock Paintings Cave is only about 2
hours walking from our camp so that is an extra reason to pay Thuma F.R. a (day)
Németh, a student from Hungary, has spent 4 weeks in and around Thuma F.R.
assisting Matias Elisa with W.A.G.'s Conservation awareness Project.
On the 22nd of this
month, after following the tracks of poachers for 3 days in a row from inside
Thuma into the adjacent Dedza-Salima Forest Reserve, we discovered the fresh carcass
of a young elephant bull in Dedza-Salima Forest Reserve. The young bull was
shot by the poachers and decapitated, the body left behind to rot away. A clear
indication that these professional poachers were only after its ivory.
Although a young bull carries only
small tusks, it is obviously still rewarding for poachers to hunt elephants this
size. Even if the amount of money they receive for these small tusks is only
small in our(!) eyes, for the poachers it is apparently still an interesting
The incident was of course reported directly to the director of the Department
of National Parks and Wildlife and to the director of the Department of
Forestry. The directors have immediately decided to revive the so called Task
Force: a joint, armed, rapid action force of the Department of National Parks
and Wildlife and the Department of Forestry, established in recent years but
never really activated due to lack of financial resources. Its primary goal is
to assist the Department of Forestry in case of serious incidents (like the one
described above) occurring in or around forest reserves. A most welcome
initiative which will hopefully not strand in bureaucracy: if the Task Force can
assist W.A.G. with patrolling the area in the following weeks, it will send a
clear message to all poachers that there is zero tolerance towards (gun)
The shot young elephant bull, found in Dedza-Salima Forest
But there is also excellent news this month:
Kiboko Camp & Safaris (www.kiboko-safaris.com),
a leading safari tour operator based in Malawi and operating in both Malawi and
Zambia has been so generous to assist W.A.G. by sponsoring a scout.
And the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (www.fws.gov)
has granted W.A.G. significant funding from their African Elephant Conservation
Fund for a period of one year to support our "local anti-poaching efforts in and
around Thuma Forest Reserve".
This is huge step forward: making
it possible to raise the total number of scouts employed by W.A.G. to 12!
All this support W.A.G. receives
from organizations, companies and individuals hopefully reflects the trust
people have in our conservation work in Thuma and the difference we try to make.
Many, many thanks!
Charlotte Lay and Stephanie Walker, two students studying Wildlife Conservation
at the University of Plymouth (UK), have come to Thuma to do their placement.
This month we made a start with
collecting data for the elephant dung count (to estimate elephant numbers in
Thuma) we are hoping to conduct in the coming months. Heidi Mansell, a graduate
in Biodiversity and Conservation from the UK, has joined our team as a volunteer
this month. In the coming weeks she will try to collect elephant defecation data
(:how many droppings does an elephant produces every day); important information
which is required to be able to do a dung count survey but also the most
difficult factor to get proper figures on. Best chance you have to collect this
data is to find that one big solitary bull which you are able follow for whole
day (without being noticed!).
far the elephants are quite cooperative in a way that in the last weeks many elephants have moved from the more remote parts of Thuma and the adjacent
Dedza-Salima Forest Reserve to the part of Thuma where our base camp is located
and we have seen the elephants many times in the last few weeks.
coming months are the best game viewing month anyhow and everybody who is
prepared to do some serious hiking has a reasonable chance to meet elephants in
Thuma (with Buffalo as a potential bonus, as visitors experienced this month).
Thuma elephants: note the many juveniles in the herd.
amazing what difference the 2 extra, sponsored, scouts make (see May
With the 7 scouts W.A.G. is able to employ now, we can now patrol in those
parts of Thuma F.R. where we were hardly able to go before because of lack
of manpower. Regular 2-, 3- and even 4-day patrols are possible now and
that has resulted this month in another significant step towards the full
protection of Thuma F.R..
Several poachers, especially from the far West side of Thuma, must have
been completely surprised when they discovered that all their snares or
illegally cut planks were suddenly removed or destroyed from those areas
where, in the past, they could do there 'work' unnoticed.
Besides this expansion of manpower, the wildlife survey conducted by the
volunteers and scouts, also results in interesting discoveries. For the
wildlife survey, every square kilometer of Thuma is being surveyed during
these months, following a straight diagonal line through each square
kilometer block. This often means tough walking up or down steep slopes
and through thick bush which brings you to places where you would
otherwise not go.
Altogether this has resulted this months in: 18 arrests plus the
confiscation of 2 fishing nets, 4 axes, 2 hoes, 4 pangas, 1 sickle, water
tanks, pots and plates (from poachers who spend several days in a row in
the bush), 2 bags of charcoal, 18 bundles of bamboo, bullets(!), 87 hard
wood planks, one 7-feet saw and 180 snares!
Although we are very satisfied with this month's result, we of course hope
that this was a unique event and that poachers will become completely
discouraged and start avoiding Thuma F.R., including the most remote
To the right: The scouts Matthews and
Adams with the arrested plank sawyer.
W.A.G. - Malawi has a new partner: W.A.G.
Support in Europe. This newly established organization is our counterpart in
Europe. It is a membership organization with as its main objective to
support our conservation efforts in Malawi. Join us on
W.A.G. Support Europe!
The Dutch volunteers
Jan-Willem van Hasselt and Lonneke
and the Swiss volunteer Silvia Tschuemperlin have joined us in Thuma Forest Reserve this month. In the coming months they will assist W.A.G. with
the Mammal Survey we are conducting this year. The mammal survey will give us a better picture of
which species are living where in Thuma. For this, each square kilometer block
of Thuma will be visited and the signs of all mammal species (sightings, droppings, prints and
so on) will be recorded. The data will be used to produce distribution maps for
each mammal species. These collection of maps will give (additional) information
on habitat preferences of, plus the effects of poaching pressure and our patrol
efforts on, the different mammal species in Thuma.
And Deborah Mets who already
volunteered in Thuma last year has returned to continue her inventory of trees
in Thuma and their use in traditional medicine, a knowledge that is
unfortunately slowly by slowly disappearing.
These early months of the
dry season is also the
time that a lot snares are put out by poachers in Thuma (and other
reserves). For drinking,
the animals are becoming more and more dependent on streams, and in the
parts where the bush is still thick, it is not difficult to see which
paths are frequently used by the animals to reach the streams, making it
easy for poachers to locate good spots to put out their snares.
We have therefore put extra effort in finding these snares, resulting in
the removal of 121 snares in the last two months. Although still a
significant number, it is a major drop compared to last year around this
time (a decrease of over 50%!), clearly showing that Thuma F.R. is getting less and
less interesting for poachers because of our conservation efforts.
To the right: A very unpleasant sight; a
Porcupine caught in a snare with its right front leg, partly eaten by
The German organization Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas e.V. (www.reaev.de),
which focuses on elephant conservation in Africa, has donated Euro 1,000.00 to
W.A.G. via our
sponsor a scout programme,
which enables W.A.G. to employ 2 new scouts!
Stella Fauré who
started her internship in Thuma last February, has finished her work in Thuma
this month and the result of her literature study is a first recommendation
towards W.A.G. on how to 'count' elephants in Thuma F.R.. Because direct counts
of elephants in a rugged area like Thuma is close to impossible, the best way to
get an idea of elephant numbers is the dung count method, a commonly used method
to count elephants in the thick jungle of Asia, Central and West Africa.
How does it work? Briefly: if you count the number of dung found along transects
in a certain area and you know how many dung piles an elephant produces every
day plus how long it takes before these dung piles disappear again (decompose),
you are able to calculate the number of animals in the area.
The basic principle of the dung count method is actually very simple though the
mathematics and statistics behind it is, to say the least, baffling.
In the coming months W.A.G. will use Stella's literature study to get a further
and full understanding of the proper way a dung count has to be conducted. And
we are planning to do a dung count in Thuma in the second half of this year
which should result in the first proper estimate of the number of elephants in
Thuma (and maybe even the first in any conservation area in Malawi in the last
We have added a
picture page to our website.
Click here and enjoy!
An update on our
of Chilli Pepper for Chilli (De)fence"
project (see also the
news 2005 page): this month the
farmers participating in the chilli project have started harvesting the
first chilli's (left). Most of them can expect a good harvest this first
year (the chilli plant produces fruits 3 years in a row) and any rejects
will be used to build the chilli (de)fences. The fact that
chilli is not raided by wild animals (like baboons, elephants and bushpigs: it's too spicy!), doesn't require any fertilizer nor pesticides
plus the fact that the (fluctuating) world market price for chilli is high
this year, will hopefully stimulate more and more farmers in the area around Thuma
F.R. (and other reserves) to start growing chilli as an alternative income
generating activity: this will be of benefit to both farmers and wildlife!
After establishing 4 Wildlife and
Environmental Clubs in the villages Chembe, Mphinzi, Mvululu and Chimutu
(East of Thuma F.R.) in February, March was the month to organize the
first activities for the 4 clubs as part of our
conservation awareness/education project
(see the news of January). In the villages Mphinzi and Mvululu, a State Of
the Environment Report (SOER) was conducted. Together with the wildlife
club of each village, a inventory was made of the environmental
problems in their area. Examples of the (linked) environmental problems
mentioned in the SOER are soil erosion, deforestation, scarcity of clean water and
lack of traditional (herbal) medicine. By discussing these problems and their
effects on the area and the population, the people become (more)
aware of the causes of these problems and therefore the possible
solutions. Besides that, the SOERs can also be used by
the wildlife clubs to backup any proposal they want to submit to the local
government and donors in order to tackle these environmental problems.
And we also organized the first
conservation drama. The Mvululu wildlife club performed their very
play in front of a large audience on the 31st of the month; see the picture on
the left: two 'poachers' are discussing their plans to poach in the
This month 2
students have arrived in Thuma F.R. to do their internship:
Jan Verachtert from Belgium
is studying Wildlife Management
in Gent and will stay in Thuma for 3 months. Jan will make an inventory of the
orchid species growing in Thuma and study their ecology. "For a small country,
Malawi is rich in orchids; with over 400 species, it has almost the largest
number of any African country." This rich abundance
of species might be explained by the fact that in Malawi "Considerable diversity
of habitat is available, from the high plateaus of Nyika
and Mulanje, where much of the land lies around or above 2000 m in altitude, to
the hot, low-lying Shire valley only about 60 m above sea level, with numerous
intermediates between these extremes." These are quotes from the excellent book
Orchids of Malawi by La Croix et al (ISBN 90 6191 808 1). However,
looking at the orchid distribution maps in this book, apparently hardly any
inventory work is done yet in the region where Thuma is located. Jan's work can
therefore be considered as real pioneers work and will for certain produce
valuable new data. In the next Monthly Newsletter we hope to publish some of the
first orchid data collected by Jan in Thuma (on the picture to the right: the
orchid Habenaria splendens).
is studying Animal Health Care in the Delft, The Netherlands.
During her 3 months stay in
Thuma she will do a literature and practical study of the methods available to
From a management point of view W.A.G. is very interested in the number of
elephants in Thuma F.R.. That the number is increasing is certain but an
accurate estimate of the number of elephants that seek refuge in Thuma is
That counting elephants is much more complex than it sounds at first hand, might
come to you as a little surprise but especially in rugged, forested areas like
Thuma, the biggest land animal on earth can sometimes easily "disappear" in
front of your eyes, even when the distance between you and the elephant is not more
than 15-20 meter. This makes counting elephants not an easy job.
The methods available for counting elephants vary from direct counts from
airplanes to indirect methods by counting elephant dung (droppings) along
transects (imaginary lines through an area along which you do the counts) by
which you can calculate the likely numbers of elephants.
By selecting a good and practical method to count elephants in Thuma plus
defining a clear protocol on how to conduct the method, W.A.G. will be able to
start collecting useful elephant data in the years to come.
The Danish Hunters Association (DHA)
has approved our 3 micro projects proposals for 2006 which we submitted to them
DHA has gained a lot of experience in sustainable use and conservation of
protected areas in Denmark and is now implementing their experience in
Malawi (and other
The projects they approved are: two
beekeeping projects; one in villages North-West and one in the villages
East of Thuma F.R..
Beekeeping is introduced in these villages as an IGA/ALS. IGA stands for Income
Generating Activity and ALS for Alternative Livelihood
Strategy. This is 'proposal language' for: assisting the people who are
living around a reserve in making a living without them misusing and destroying
Within these projects W.A.G. also wants to
explore the possibility and
effectiveness of using strategically placed beehives along streams as a possible
help to deter crop raiding elephants from the banana crops located along these
Staff from the Department of Forestry and Athan Columbus, a Peace Corps
volunteer and enthusiastic and skilled entomologist, will assist W.A.G. with
The third project is the start of a
conservation awareness/education programme in the villages East of Thuma.
Together with Matias Elisa, the experienced conservation extension worker from
The Department of National Parks and Wildlife who is already involved in
W.A.G.'s Chili (De)Fence project, we will focus on creating environmental and
conservation awareness within the communities by: explaining the need and
benefits of protected areas and its wildlife, establishing wildlife clubs in
each village and organizing various conservation activities like excursions to
Thuma, conservation quizzes, a conservation drama competition and a drawing
competition for the youth.