Thuma Forest Reserve has
exploded! The rains have woken up all life and have transformed Thuma in one big
green 'ocean': trees and shrubs have grown fresh foliage, grass 'jumps' out of
the soil and flowers, being visited by beautiful coloured butterflies, are found
The scouts Bosco
(holding a hoe), Gerald (holding a locally made gun)
and Polah (holding a bow and arrows) with some of the, in 2005, confiscated
items; the wire just in front of the scouts are the 325 snares we removed.
December is also the moment of looking back.
That 2005 was an exciting and successful year, you can read on this page.
And 2005 proved that
our work is absolutely necessary.
In total we:
arrested 105 people involved in illegal
activities in Thuma,
destroyed 113 heaps of illegal charcoal,
removed 325 snares,
and confiscated 65 pangas (big bush
knifes), 25 axes, 36 hoes plus several shovels, iron bars, sickles, files;
2 guns, ammunition, 2 bows and arrows, a club, fishing nets, poisoned
bread, pots, plates, water tanks and many bundles of bamboo, bags of
charcoal, planks plus several other items.
It proves that
even a relatively small group of motivated and dedicated people can make a
difference. And in 2006 we
will continue our work in preserving Thuma Forest Reserve and its wildlife!
|In September this
year we have started the project "Growing
of Chilli Pepper for Chilli (De)fence"
(see September News).
The chilli seeds were sown in the villages at nurseries one and a half month
ago and as soon as the first rains will come, the seedlings will be
transplanted to the fields of the farmers.
Although the project runs very well so far, we were faced with an act of
'sabotage' this month: see picture. Apparently an Elephant found it
necessary to walk through one of the nurseries! Fortunately the damage to
the nursery and seedlings was minimal. And once the chillies of the
full-grown chilli plants are going to be used on the chilli fences around
farm fields next year, the Elephants will expected to start 'thinking' twice
before they enter a chilli (de)fenced area!
those who are interested to know where we are staying or where you will be
staying when you join our volunteer programme, take a look at some pictures of
this month we were able to put extra focus on law enforcement. The results: we
arrested 28 people (mainly bamboo cutters and charcoal burners) and we
confiscated 21 pangas (chopping knifes),
1 axe, 1 iron bar, 1 hoe, 1 shovel, 1 bag of charcoal, 4 water tanks, 1 tin
bucket, a pole for construction + 2 bundles of bark rope, poisoned bread, a bow
and 2 arrows, and we destroyed 32 heaps of charcoal and trees which were already
chopped down for
the purpose of making charcoal.
The poisoned bread was hung up in a tree by poachers to kill Elephants. They
probably use rat/mouse poison to poison the bread. As soon as the poachers see
that the bread has been eaten they will follow the track of the Elephant until
they find the dead or dying animal.
had touched the bread: apart from the fact that it would
a useless loss of an
animal, it would also mean a very slow death with a lot of suffering, especially
for a big animal like an
and Martin Hofman, two volunteers from the Netherlands, joined our team in Thuma
this month. They have rebuilt the kitchen which after years of service was about
to collapse and they constructed an excellent basic bush camp site. Another good
Thuma Forest Reserve!
(Malawi Environmental Endowment Trust) has approved our project proposal "Growing
of Chilli Pepper for Chilli (De)fence".
The project goal is: "to
promote chilli pepper production
as an alternative source of income for the communities living adjacent to Thuma
F.R. and as a sustainable measure to control crop raiding elephants".
In other words: chilli
is a commercial interesting crop which is hardly raided by wild animals
and for that reason
excellent crop to grow near the boundary of the forest.
a part of the chilli crop
can be used in
the coming years to
chilli fences, with
which W.A.G. has been experimenting this year (see below),
in order to
protect other crops like maize, tomatoes, cassava and so on.
we discovered a place in Thuma where illegal plank cutters were active. They
had chopped down several old Wild Teaks (Pterocarpus angolensis).
This tree produces a high-quality heartwood and is therefore much wanted for
making furniture. Only the thick and straight parts of the tree are used for
sawing planks so besides the fact that it is illegal to cut down trees in
forest reserves, it is also a huge waste of material.
In total 29 planks were confiscated, each up to10 feet long and 2 inches
thick, representing a value of about half a year average income in Malawi.
Bringing all these planks to our Base Camp was a challenge on its own
since every plank weights about 20 kg each!
sponsor a scout program,
able to employ a new
scout. His name is Bosco Kayenda,
24 years old, very motivated and as our sixth scout a very useful strengthening
of our team!
This month we arrested 11 poachers: 7 charcoal
burners on the West side of Thuma where illegal charcoal burning is still
rampant, and 4 fishermen who were using a natural poison to kill and collect
fish in one of the streams in Thuma.
The poaching pressure is expected to increase in the coming last months of the
dry season, like every year. There are no crops growing in this time of year so
the people have time for other things besides farming. Besides that, Malawi, one
of the poorest countries in the world, is hit by famine again this year: the
total maize (the staple food of Malawi) production this year was only about one
third of the total annual consumption in Malawi which
will boost poaching
activities to generate alternative income.
That is why community
projects around forest reserves (and other reserves) are an important part of
conservation in order to assist the villagers in finding legal ways to
improve their livelihoods, an aspect W.A.G. is focussing on now.
the last months, we have noticed an increase of wildlife sightings in the part
of Thuma where our camp is located. Though the natural wildlife densities
(carrying capacity) in habitats like the ones found in Thuma is relatively low,
the chance of meeting buffalo, kudu, bushbuck, warthog and other wildlife is
rising. This is a clear result of our intense anti-poaching patrolling in the
area: less animals are lost by poaching and more and more
seem to seek refuge
in this safe part of Thuma.
Hopefully in the near future W.A.G. will be able to employ enough scouts to make
the whole of Thuma a safe wildlife sanctuary.
And you can assist us by
sponsoring a scout!
Forestry Department doesn't have a representive working near the East boundary
of Thuma, W.A.G. has started selling permits for Forestry Department in Mphinzi
village just outside Thuma. A permit costs 10 Malawian Kwacha which is the
equivalent of about 7 Euro cent and allows the villager to collect one head load
of firewood (the amount of firewood one person can carry)
or 10 bamboos.
On the 21st of this month, Claudia Biese
from Germany has started
her volunteer work in Thuma. For the next 4 weeks, she will collect geographical
data of the bamboo areas in Thuma with the GPS. Bamboo is an important building
material in Malawi and people are allowed to harvest bamboo under a permit or
license. However, it is important to know the extend of the bamboo areas in
Thuma to make sustainable harvesting possible and not to deplete the bamboo
"Children are the future". It's a cliché but
true. That's why W.A.G. has organised our first 'Conservation Excursion' in
Thuma for 20 school children from Mphinzi village, East of Thuma
on the 15th of July. Hiking around in Thuma, telling them about the
need for conservation, observing the animals we encountered and showing the
children the many signs (prints, droppings, pushed down
trees) the animals leave
behind in the forest. We and the children had a great day which was closed by
presenting all the children with a Wildlife Diploma. The head master of the
school has already asked us whether it's possible to organise more excursions
like this for the other 480 children of the school...
On the 10th of this
month, in a joint action with Forestry Department and the police, we confiscated
about 150 bags of charcoal in the village Maweni, North of Thuma. The charcoal
was produced from trees which were illegally chopped down in Thuma. The action
was initiated by W.A.G. after the scouts had arrested 3 charcoal burners from
Maweni in Thuma. Though this must be considered as a victory over poaching, it
also proves that the pressure on forests reserves in Malawi is still big and
even increasing, and it strengthens W.A.G.'s aim to raise the number of scouts
as soon as we have the means to do so.
The chilli experiment
Kristina has started 3 months ago
in Thuma (see below) has produced promising results: elephants seem to start
avoiding chilli (de)fenced areas. This month the next phase of the experiment
has started: implementation on the farmers fields outside of Thuma. The National
Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM) and Cheetah (MW) Limited, a
chilli trading company in Malawi, have been so generous to assist W.A.G. and the
farmers by supplying a large amount of chilli to extend this project that
hopefully will contribute to a better co-existence of man and elephant.
|On the 22nd of
June, the German volunteer
celebrated her birthday in Thuma. She invited friends, the Group Village
Headman of the villages at the East side of Thuma, a local band and
dance group, each scout and worker of the Wildlife Action Group brought
one or two guests and at noon the party started big time. Soon there was
dust all over the place and that's how a Malawian party is supposed to
medicine, made of parts of trees, shrubs and herbs, is for most Malawians a
significant part of the medical care in their lives. Besides that some of these
plants also have an important magical use. Every village has its own
herbalists who collect plants and prepare medicine to tread almost any disease.
Forest reserves are an important, and for certain plants very likely the only,
source from which these plants come.
The Dutch volunteer Deborah Mets
studies traditional (Chinese) medicine in The Netherlands and is spending a month in
Thuma Forest Reserve to make an inventory of the plants the traditional healers
use, in how far they depend on the reserve to find and collect these plants and
how important these traditional medicines are to the villagers in Mphinzi, a
village at the
East side of Thuma.
On the 13th of June, during a 2-day patrol, the scouts arrested 4 charcoal
burners in the far West of Thuma where illegal charcoal burning is still a huge
problem. The charcoal burners were handed over to the police in Salima and a week after brought before court. The judge on duty acknowledges the heavy
deforestation problem in Malawi and all the environmental problems that result from it and convicted the charcoal burners by virtue of the Forestry Act
1997 to 1 year and 3 months in prison, each. This is such big (and good!) news
that it was even broadcasted on Malawian radio.
Hopefully this will make it clear to everybody that deforestation is illegal and
has to be stopped now: a Malawi without forests will be a Malawi without any
chance for a better future.
On the 9th of this
month the scouts and volunteer Kristina found and removed an astonishing number
of 98 snares in a part of Thuma. All snares were new and not used before so it's
a huge 'investment' loss for the poacher.
Forest Reserve is without a doubt a special and beautiful place. The few
visitors that have visited Thuma all react very enthusiastic. Now there is
permanent management and staff living and working in Thuma, it's time to
start promoting Thuma among eco-tourists and other visitors from Malawi
itself and from abroad, as an excellent place for one or a few days in the
To promote Thuma we made the Visiting
webpage more clearly to potential visitors (entrance
fees and directions
on how to get to Thuma), made a pamphlet inviting people to visit Thuma
and hung it out in several places along Lake Malawi and in Lilongwe, and
we have started putting up signs along the road, making it more easy for
people to drive up to our base camp.
Since the Wildlife Action Group is a non-profit organisation, all revenues
from eco-tourism will of course contribute directly towards the protection
and further development of Thuma Forest Reserve.
Forest Reserve is inhabited by a significant population of elephants
(estimate: about 100). Their prints and droppings can be found
everywhere throughout Thuma; and in the evening and night, when they
become more active, they are often heard. Though, because of the rugged
terrain and thick bush, it is actually not often that you can have a
clear view on them. In
the last weeks, however, we had two big elephant bulls staying around
camp and in the morning on the 8th of May one of these bulls passed camp
very near, giving us the opportunity to actually make a picture of this
magnificent and elusive animal.
Rösel and Heike Trosin
have created a German version of our website. You can visit this website on:
the rainy season has ended, the trees start loosing there leaves and the grass
is drying, we have started early burning in Thuma Forest Reserve.
Fire is an important factor in the evolution of East and South African
eco-systems: it occurs since thousands of years and the organisms living in
these eco-systems have adapted to this often yearly event. In fact: studies in
other sub-Saharan countries have shown that the exclusion of fire can lead to
diversity degradation in these eco-systems.
Besides this, trying to prevent fires in forest areas will lead to an
accumulation of dead trees and other dead material during the 'non-fire' years
and will eventually inevitable lead to that one huge, extremely hot fire that
destroys all life: a phenomenon well known, though unfortunately by experience,
in the Western world now.
So yearly, controlled early burning, when the fires are short and not extremely
hot, is an active forest management tool which should not be ignored.
After a fire, the grass
produces new green foliage,
much preferred by animals.
18th of April, the scouts managed to confiscate a dead baboon and the
gun that was used for killing it. Unfortunately, the poacher escaped.
The gun is a 'locally made gun': it looks of poor quality but is apparently
good enough to shoot an animal with.
The German volunteer
Rösel has been so generous to donate a one year salary for a scout
(Oliver Polah) so the Wildlife Action Group has been able to raise the
number of scouts from 4 to 5. Our ultimate objective is to employ 12
scouts in order to improve the protection of the whole reserve,
including the most remote areas.
Oliver and Kristina
elephant conflicts are a major problem in large
parts of Africa. Especially in areas where villages and farm lands border
National Parks and Forest Reserves, crop raiding by elephants can be a
significant problem. Since more and more elephants seek refuge in Thuma Forest
Reserve, crop raiding also has become a problem around Thuma. Although our
experience is that the actual damage caused by the elephants is often exaggerated,
it is a message from the villagers which should not be ignored. Unfortunately,
the most used 'solution' by government to solve these conflicts is to shoot an elephant, often only wounding the
elephant, which on its turn can become a very aggressive
and dangerous animal
towards people, creating an even more undesirable situation. That is why the
W.A.G. is looking at other ways to approach these human - elephant conflicts.
One way in which elephants can be discouraged to raid crops is the use of chilli
pepper. Some good results have been achieved in other African countries, though
the method and way of using the chilli has to be adjusted to the local
Chilli is a highly irritating natural substance (our own experience!),
especially to animals with such an excellent smell as elephants. There are
several ways in which the chilli can be used. Kristina Rösel has started experimenting with the chilli by putting up two
bamboo fenced feeding places with bananas in Thuma. On one of the bamboo fences,
little baskets with chilli powder are hung. To reach the bananas, the elephants
will have to break through the fence, releasing a cloud of chilli powder from
the baskets which will hopefully convince the elephants never to look for the
bananas on that feeding place again!
If elephants will actually start to distinguish between the 'irritating
protected' feeding place and 'unprotected' feeding place, it might be a cheap,
easy and non-harmful way to assist the farmers in protecting there crops in the
future and at the same time protect the elephants from being shot.
vervet monkeys who where confiscated (people sometimes illegally sell them along
the road), brought to, hand raised and finally released in Thuma Forest Reserve
by the Wildlife Action Group two years ago, have turned up in our camp in Thuma
again! Paying us a regular visit now, together with the group of wild vervet monkeys they've joined, they give us a lot of fun but also some 'headache' because
they are experts in steeling our fruit and other food items we leave unattended!
Now the rainy season has ended and the tall elephant grass (up to 3 meters) is
getting dry, we have started to (re)build new grass huts, shower, storage huts
and so on for the volunteers and visitors who will visit Thuma this year.
Enclosure on poles to protect goats
from hyenas during the
Belgian student Jurgen De Braekeleer from the Bachelor School for Nature
and Wildlife Conservation in Gent has made a first inventory on the damage
to crops (mainly maize, groundnuts, potatoes, cassava and bananas) and to
livestock (mainly goats) caused by wildlife and the way villagers try to
protect their crops and livestock. The interview took place in the village
Mphinzi, just outside Thuma. According to the villagers most damage is
caused by respectively elephant, bushpig, baboon and hyena. Though elephants
not often enter village areas,
when they do, they (can) cause serious damage to crops because of their
size (and so huge appetite!) and because the villagers have no effective
means to chase
We have added lists with
the recorded wildlife of Thuma Forest Reserve to our
The Wildlife Action Group will, with 6 months
financial support of the European Union, start a project to pilot
and demonstrate how sustainable charcoal production outside Thuma Forest Reserve
can be achieved. As a part of this sustainability the Wildlife Action Group
tries to stimulate the surrounding communities to plant trees around their
villages. This trees (Scientific name Acacia polyacantha, local name mthethe) will be used in future for the charcoal production instead
of illegally cut down trees of Thuma; in the last months over a thousand trees
have been planted already. In the coming months two kilns will be build, one on
the East-side of Thuma and one on the West-side, which will be used for legal
charcoal production. These kilns have a high efficiency in turning wood into
charcoal: up to three times higher than the illegal way of charcoal production
in the forests. In addition the project will show how the degraded bamboo areas within
Thuma's boundaries can be improved for the benefit of the communities around this
For the next 9 months, Albert Schenk, from the Netherlands, has been appointed by the Wildlife Action Group
as Project Manager in Thuma which will make it possible to intensify our research and
anti-poaching patrolling in Thuma and re-activate our volunteer program.
Volunteers are most welcome!
Jørgensen from the Danish Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (KVL)
a research (2 months) on the importance of (illegal) bush meat and charcoal
from Thuma to the local communities.
Tree illegally cut
down for making charcoal.