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Wildlife Action Group - Malawi
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Volunteer Report - Elke Faust (Germany)


Impressions of one of my visits to Thuma Forest Reserve, May 2015:

Arriving at the office of Thuma Forest Reserve I received a hearty welcome from Lynn Clifford and the staff, whom I know from previous visits and as a volunteer one year ago. Thuma Forest Reserve has an area of approximately 197 Km² and the altitude varies from 575 m to 1564 m above sea level and is about 100 km far from Lilongwe. It is a rugged mountain area.

Pride Rock

Pride rock

View towards Salima

View towards Salima

It is already evening and I sit down on Pride Rock overlooking the country beneath. The mountain range to the right descends to lower land with villages and farms towards Salima and my eye catches a glimpse of a stretch of shiny water reflection from Lake Malawi. Pride Rock is a huge boulder about 9 Km inside the forest reserve and is surrounded by bush and trees with their now changing colors. The office is well placed there receiving some breeze and suits also as sundowner and dinner place. It is a work camp and accommodates up to 40 workers (scouts , rangers and workers), but today the scouts camp further down seems to be deserted and no human sound breaks through the silence, so I have the feeling of being alone in the bush. The sunset is spectacular and the stars are bright before the moon gives a black and white appearance to the country. By 6 pm the sound of a hyena gives me some shivers, she is looking for food and calling to a partner. In some distance an owl gives its night calls and after some time the hyena calls again, closer now. Some rustling from monkeys attracts my attention and while 2 Bataleur Eagles are fighting against an intruder eagle, the monkeys are in great excitement, giving warning calls. Below, I can hear the cracking of tree branches by some elephants but the treetops are so dense that I cannot see them. The rock Hyraxes are watching me; I can see them on the rocks not far from me against the dark sky. A cool breeze brings the leaves to fall to the ground with a light rustling sound. It makes a noise when something steps over them betraying whoever comes along.

The two guest cottages

The two guest cottages

Rock Hyraxes

Rock Hyraxes

I am shivering and sit a while in front of my hut, which is below Pride Rock and is the simple but cozy shelter for visitors. By 9.30 pm the hyena calls again, she is very close now to the camp. I go to bed, closing nicely the door with a little stick, it has no other lock. I wake up by the sound of the hyena walking through the camp and calling, then silence. In the morning I get woken up by birds and Auk, the dog, who opens the door and looks at me attentively, happy to see me. But he doesn`t close the door again, so I get up. It is 6.30 am. I skip the cold open air shower leaving it to the afternoon, when I come back from the hike. I prepare my breakfast being watched by the rock Hyraxes , Kangoo the cat who wants a share and Auk.

Volomere + Chizisa Rivers

Volomere + Chizisa Rivers

At 8 am the two scouts arrive, Wilfried and Baulin, who are supposed to lead me into the bush for a hike. It is already very hot, but a little breeze brings some relief. We start off behind the scouts camp following a good visible path until we have to go around a tree turned over by elephants, then reaching the so called swimming pool when the river has enough water to fill the washed out rocks deep enough for a swim. We cross over and are immediately closed in by elephant grass which folds its tips over us. Tsetse flies are attracted to us but don`t bite. I am wearing a light green shirt hoping they do not know the trick. They are attracted to black and dark blue color. Thuma Forest Reserve is subject to the Tsetse fly control program by erecting black and dark blue sheets of tissue throughout the reserve which are impregnated with poison thus killing the flies by contact. We walk on through the grass passing some trees, mainly Silver Terminalia and Bauhinia Petersiana, some broken down by elephants who want to feed on the roots. Left and right we see elephant and buffalo tracks and their droppings, but fresh dung from an elephant makes us walk more carefully.

The spring

The spring

We reach the chizisa rock and sit there for some time overlooking the area. It is calm, only a Bataleur eagle glides through the air and some Kudus are grasing in the valley below us. The scouts are always looking for poachers and their signs, like smoke from making charcoal or dogs accompanying them. We descend over the rocks and into the elephant grass again. I follow Baulin heels on, stumble over hidden logs, avoid holes, get entangled, free myself, get help from Wilfried, think I am perhaps getting too old to do such adventures, but with these two scouts I feel at ease. They are very observant, concentrated and calm. They detect a group of buffalo on the opposite slope in the shade of some trees. I would not have seen them. We watch with our binoculars, we can count seven but there are more hidden in the grass. We continue on a good path down towards a river bed. The vegetation changes from nearly dry to green getting more moisture and we find lots of animal spoors. Huge trees (“Mbawa, Mkhundi”) left and right giving shade to a lush vegetation. We follow the Chizisa river until it unites with the Volomere river, which has more and clearer water. The scouts take water from the Volomere river. The two rivers unite and continue into the Lintipe river, which goes into the Lilongwe river and down to Lake Malawi. We walk along the river which has over millions of years washed out deep pools until we reach a spring running down from above, forming reddish and yellowish sediments. The water is warm and has a taste of salt, iron and sulphur. The whole area looks as if it was of volcanic origin. I am not a geologist but it would be interesting to know more about it.

Wilfried

Wilfried

This part of Thuma Forest Reserve is most stunning and so beautiful and breathtaking that one would like to sit there and watch the fauna and flora for days. There are spoors everywhere, from a monitor lizard, droppings from the” bird with one eye” ,the Hammerkop, from antelopes and elephants, from warthogs and baboons not to speak of the insects, butterflies and birds. I realize by the grasses hanging in the bushes that during the rainy season the river can come up to about 7 meters higher than of now.

Baulin

Baulin

We take the same way back, climbing to the drier parts finding droppings from the civet cat, the common duiker, buffalo and elephant, spoors from warthogs and baboon. We passed pits where elephants dust themselves and I learned that one of the imprints came from an elephant trunk. Baulin and Wilfried were happy to find some red seeds “ mjinkha”, liked by people and baboon equally. I tried them too; they have a sweet sour taste. After 4 hours we are back to the camp and I have my open air shower and a good meal.

'mjinka' sunset over Lilongwe river

'mjinka'

sunset over Lilongwe river

Butterfly red head weaver bird

Butterfly

red head weaver bird

shower with 'window'

shower with 'window'

I enjoy thoroughly being in true nature for some time and I encourage others to that experience. Thuma Forest Reserve is so rich on diversity of geographical structure as well in fauna and flora and should be protected by all means. Thanks to WAG (Wildlife Action Group) and many other supporters from Europe and the government of Malawi, it is for the people of Malawi, a heritage to be respected. Thanks also to a strong management team and engaged Malawian scouts and rangers.

A group of elephants seen in February 2014

A group of elephants seen in February 2014

Whoever wants to visit the place needs to contact Lynn before and bring all food and drinks along and as the road is rough come only by a 4x4 vehicle.

Elke Faust