MALAWI – A USDA Forest Service team spent the last two weeks of July in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi, working to advance a long-term, reserve-wide wildlife and habitat monitoring program. This monitoring program, which was co-designed by the USDA Forest Service and African Parks with support from the Malawi office of the US Agency for International Development, is specially tailored to this rugged, densely vegetated landscape.
The team included Damon Lesmeister, research wildlife biologist and team leader, Pacific Northwest Research Station, and Raymond Davis, monitoring lead, Older Forests & Spotted Owls, Region 6. This month’s engagement was the third Forest Service mission to collaborate with Malawian colleagues from African Parks. The objectives of this trip were to provide additional training on the installation of monitoring plots for wildlife and vegetation, while also gathering data from already installed plots. The data collected will be used to start developing trends in population and habitat dynamics.
African Parks, a non-profit based out of South Africa, assumed management of Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in 2015, at which point most of the reserve’s endemic wildlife had been extirpated. African Parks initiated an ambitious animal translocation program, including the reintroduction of over 500 elephants from overstocked parks in southern Malawi – the largest elephant translocation ever conducted. Since 2017, the USDA Forest Service has helped track trends in the populations of these and other critical species, while monitoring the condition of the habitat over space and time. This effort informs important management decisions, such as when predators like lions and leopards can be reintroduced to the reserve. The USDA Forest Service engagement contributes the depth of wildlife and habitat monitoring capacity necessary to make meaningful, lasting contributions to African Parks; the work demonstrates the versatility and applicability of the agency’s skill set in wildlife monitoring and larger considerations of ecological management.