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Forest Service specialists support wildlife habitat monitoring and management in Malawi

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.

FS employee training a Malawi Forest Ranger
Ray Davis, monitoring lead for Older Forests & Spotted Owls, confers with Fran’gan Kapesa, Wildlife & Habitat Monitoring intern, African Parks, on data entry protocols at one of the many monitoring plots at Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve that the USDA Forest Service and African Parks are installing to track trends in wildlife and habitat dynamics. USDA Forest Service photo.
Group photo: Forest Service employees and Malawi Forest Rangers
The field team scopes options for the optimal placement of a wildlife camera trap in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. From right, Damon Lesmeister, PhD, research wildlife biologist and team leader, Wildlife Ecology Team, Pacific Northwest Research Station; Dave Robertson, field operations manager, African Parks, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve; Stonard Nchese, wildlife ranger, African Parks, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve; and Fran’gan Kapesa, Wildlife & Habitat Monitoring intern, African Parks, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. USDA Forest Service photo.
Group photo: FS employee training Malawi Forest Rangers
Conferring over maps from the USDA Forest Service Geospatial Technology & Applications Center, Ray Davis gameplans with colleagues from African Parks before the team heads into the field to continue installing wildlife and habitat monitoring plots in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. From right, Marnet Ngosi, environmental education officer, African Parks, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve; Ray Davis, monitoring lead for Older Forests & Spotted Owls; Stondard Nchese, wildlife ranger, African Parks, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve; Steven Mphamba, forest research officer, Forest Research Institute of Malawi; Fran’gan Kapesa, Wildlife & Habitat Monitoring intern, African Parks, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve; and Linnie Kilembe, Wildlife & Habitat Monitoring intern, African Parks, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. USDA Forest Service photo.