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Anthilltiger

**New to posting trip reports so hopefully this formats properly**

 

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This is a different kind of trip report.  We moved to Blantyre, Malawi in March 2020, just at the start of the pandemic.  Arriving only with a couple of suitcases, we had to wait another 4 months until our household stuff (and our camping gear) arrived from Rwanda due to Covid restrictions.  By then we'd had an attempted lockdown, an election, a change in government and got ourselves a Toyota Hilux bakkie to get to the bush.  Staying away from crowds was a priority, so the best way was to go camping and Malawi has 2 wildlife parks within easy driving distance from Blantyre that caters for this - Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve. 

 

That became our weekend getaway - we did Liwonde in the dry season (you can check out my TR for Liwonde here) and once the summer rains hit we switched to Majete because the roads are all-weather and accessible.  So this trip report is actually a consolidation of multiple weekend trips to Majete just to give you an idea of what you can expect to see there and some of our more memorable encounters.  It's also a celebration of how far Majete has come from a poached out barren landscape to a thriving big-5 game reserve thanks to the collaboration between AfricanParks and the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife.  

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Anthilltiger

First a bit of history...

If you’re unfamiliar with AfricanParks, it’s an NGO set up in 2000 to rehabilitate and manage national parks that had been neglected and poached out of animals.  After 3 years of negotiation, Majete became the guinea pig - the first reserve in AfricanParks’ portfolio.  And it was a daunting challenge - almost no animals were left after most had been poached out, trees were being felled for charcoal at an alarming rate and no tourists had visited in 3 years! 

 

Fast forward to 2020 and it is now Malawi’s only Big-5 reserve, and in 2017 they actually translocated 150 elephants out of the park as they had too many since being introduced over a decade earlier.  At 700km2, Majete is actually larger than Liwonde NP (the other notable park in Malawi), but the main tourist area that has all weather roads is quite small.  The sanctuary or tourist area covers the northern section of the reserve (along with the Mkulumadzi concession)  and is situated along the most important river in Malawi, the Shire River. The southern section is largely undeveloped with the exception of some 4WD roads that lead to a few waterholes, but we haven’t ventured down south much in the rainy season yet.

 

We visited Majete for the first time in August 2020 in the middle of the dry season, but didn’t get back to the reserve until New Year’s Day 2021.  We spent most of the dry season in Liwonde chasing cheetahs (I'll post all about that in a different trip report) but once the rains started, those roads became a black cotton slippery mess and it was time to go back to Majete. And we were not disappointed…

 

Giraffe heads:

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Elephant enjoying the fresh mud after the rains:

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Hidden lions:

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Nyala browsing:

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A baby crocodile basking:

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Edited by Anthilltiger
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Game Warden
1 hour ago, Anthilltiger said:

We moved to Blantyre, Malawi in March 2020,

 

How many guest bedrooms do you have?

 

I did a couple of interviews back in the day with Michael Eustace, one of the founders of African Parks, (and at the time of the interview, on the board of Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi - perhaps still is?) here, and with Samuel C. Kamoto, at the time of the interview, Extension and Environmental Education Coordinator for African Parks, Majete, here.

 

I don't know if you read them.

 

Matt

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Thanks for starting this trip report, I would love to read more about Majete and later Liwonde.

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Anthilltiger

The park itself

Unlike the vast marsh plains in Liwonde, Majete is quite dense bush with a sandy riverbank along the eastern side. Apparently the south is a lot more open grassland and that is where you will find the big herds, including buffalo and sable (there are 1500 sable in the park!) so we look forward to exploring that in the dry season.

 

The riverside drives loop between the main road and the river, going from thick bush and old trees to the grass covered banks.  When we first went there didn’t seem to be any animals coming to the fast flowing river to drink, but over time we’ve seen plenty of impala and waterbuck and nice herds of elephants at the river’s edge, plus a couple of grumpy hippos out of the water.  Considering how fast the river flows, we’re amused that there are actually hippos in the water, but there are quite a few and we often see quite big crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks too.

 

Inland there are no real open areas unless you count the airstrip next to the campsite (more on that later…) but 2 hides have been built along the main Njati middle road, named after the dry rivers that must have once flowed into the Shire river.  Because we have mainly spent the rainy season in Majete, we don’t spend much time at the hides since the animals don’t need to go there to drink, but the one time we were there in the dry season we were treated to eland, elephant and giraffe all coming to drink along with the usual animals such as nyala, waterbuck and warthog.  

 

We have even heard that a black rhino comes to drink at one of the hides in the dry season, so it will be something that we will be looking out for when it dries up.  But now with the rains and puddles of water all over the park, including the drainage ditches and dry riverbeds, there is just so many options for water-dependent animals that we rather spend our time along the river and anywhere the cats tend to hang out ;)

 

Some nice luck with active lions:

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Baboon drinking from a rain puddle:

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Baby elephants are just so cute:

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While kudu bulls are always so majestic:

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Edited by Anthilltiger
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Anthilltiger
1 hour ago, Game Warden said:

How many guest bedrooms do you have?

As long as you're prepared to share the guest room with all our camping gear, you're most welcome ;)

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Anthilltiger

Elephants

 

We’ve been surprised about the amount of elephants - they’ve been more than we expected.   We did know that they had moved 200 elephants from Majete to Nkhotakota NP as part of AfricanParks’ 500 elephants translocation and had assumed that there weren’t too many left.  But there are still plenty.  

 

There’s something special about seeing a herd of a dozen or so elephants drink and bathe in the Shire River in the warm afternoon sun.  In fact, the elephant’s love of bathing and being able to drive along the river gives plenty of opportunities to catch these huge animals act like kids at a swimming pool ;)

 

The elephants are generally calm, but there are a few angry bulls around - we’ve encountered one that seemed to be waiting for us so that he could charge at us… twice!  It notches up the adrenaline even higher when the bush is dense so you can’t easily turn and get out of his way.  Luckily the first time we saw him coming from a long way away and were able to u-turn in time, and the second time we had just passed the spot where he came crashing out the bush, allowing us to hightail it out of there!  So needless to say the lone bulls make us very wary!

 

Elephant grazing on the banks of the Shire River:

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Elephants drinking from the river in the afternoon light:

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Baby elephant leading the way:

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Some herds are more relaxed than others.  This matriarch was not very happy:

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Anthilltiger

Hippo

 

A river park is always going to have hippos in the water and Majete is no exception.  Mostly they’re just hanging in the fast moving water, but in the afternoons some of them head out to graze and the light is really good to get some nice relatively close up photos.  We were lucky enough to find one that was happily scooping up dirt into his mouth - the assumption is that they are getting minerals to supplement the diet of grass - very amusing to watch this living one ton excavator ;)
 

Nice enough to pose in good light:

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Shovelling sand into his mouth:

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Always trying to catch them with the river in the background:

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Always got to try and get them yawning: 

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Anthilltiger

Giraffe

 

In 2018, 13 giraffes were introduced to the reserve and the first two times we found them they were on the middle road of the reserve (Njati road) near the southern hide, amongst the dense bush.  Luckily we also came across them on the airstrip one trip.  It was a really good sighting of 8 of them, with one pair fighting and another pair mating.  Giraffe mating is a pretty slow affair with a lot of build up (from what we’ve seen before) so getting there just in time to see the deed being done was lucky. We believe that Majete are also planning to bring in more giraffes in 2021 to boost the genetic diversity of the population.  

 

Chilling on the airstrip:

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Giraffes mating (probably won't make any publication...): 

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Young fighting males:

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Anthilltiger

Antelope

 

Majete was our first introduction to the Nyala - an antelope that lives in Southern Africa with a reasonably small range - it’s core distribution is northern South Africa, southern Mozambique and a pocket in Malawi - specifically Majete. It looks most similar to a bushbuck but bigger with more impressive horns. We were quite excited to finally see these animals, but they soon become as commonplace as the impalas as they are plentiful in the park ;)

 

Waterbuck are all over the park as well, they really are one of the most common antelope that we see in Malawi.  There are 2 main species of waterbuck and the one found in Malawi is the Common Waterbuck, distinguishable from the Defassa waterbuck of West and Central Africa by the very defined white ring around the tail.  

 

As usual - in almost any park where they occur, impalas are the most abundant of the antelope.  And of course since we’re going in the rainy season, there is an explosion of the population with the birth of the offspring in time for the season of plenty.  After being quite sedentary the last few months, the male impalas have started to chase one another and play fight - all gearing up for the rutting season which starts in April following the rains.

 

The rest of the antelope are seen in small numbers, but again the dense bush probably plays a part in visibility.  There are quite a few kudu antelopes around and they’re always a treat to see, especially with the imposing horns of the males.  We’ve seen the odd sable here and there, but look forward to catching the herds in the South when the dry season rolls around.  The eland, as usual, can be seen running away from us (so frustrating!) and we finally caught our first sighting of some skittish Hartebeest when coming from the Southern region.  
 

Nyala bulls fighting:

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Waterbuck living up to his name:

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Often overlooked, but impala are really photogenic:

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This waterbuck is going to have a few problems soon:

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Kudu horns are some of the most majestic:

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Bushbuck are one of the less seen antelope:

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The rutting season will start soon: 

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Anthilltiger

Other non-predators

 

There are quite a few zebras around, much more than we initially thought.  In the beginning we only saw a couple, but each time we go back we catch more and more milling in the bushes.  Maybe the rains have fanned them out into small groups and during the dry season they will congregate at the waterholes and river in larger herds.

 

Surprisingly, buffalo is something we have hardly seen.  In fact, if memory serves we’ve only spotted one dagga boy in a small muddy waterhole.  Again, we’ve been told that the big herds can be found in the south where there is open grassland and the few waterholes (away from the river) will come into their own when there isn’t rain water around every turn. 

 

The usual suspects are all over the park.  It’s amazing that when AfricanParks took over Majete there weren’t even warthog around - now they’re common sightings. 

Of course, baboons are everywhere and are often the most reliable animal to give an indication that a predator is around.  Because of the dense bush, it’s normally the baboons that first spot a cat around so don’t dismiss a bunch of baboons in trees alarm calling like crazy - we’ve found quite a few predators that way!

 

Otherwise, the tortoises and terrapins can be found in the rainy season, along with quite a few snakes that we’ve spotted - including one that raided a palm thrush nest to grab a baby bird.  And a highly unusual sighting - a monitor lizard running off with a woodland kingfisher!

 

Rhino… our elusive animal.  We still haven’t managed to catch a black rhino in Malawi.  After spending so much time in Liwonde (although admittedly not in the rhino’s preferred habitat) and not seeing one, our bad luck continues in Majete.  We assume it will be a chance encounter and also think we’re probably hanging around in the wrong area of the reserve to catch them, so our search for them continues…

 

Of course, it shouldn’t be surprising since our search priority remains the cats.  Luckily Majete has provided some nice sightings over the last couple of months we’ve been visiting there. To be continued...
 

Zebra found a nice scratching post:

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Warthog chasing another from his waterhole:

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The sausage fruit is plentiful in the rainy season and a favourite of baboons:

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Plenty of baby baboons around:

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Every waterhole seems to have a few terrapins:

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A most unusual sighting - monitor lizard with a woodland kingfisher (don't know if he killed it):

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During a particularly quiet drive, this puffadder Southern African rock python (thanks @inyathi) the star of the show judging by the amount of cars around him trying to get a photo:

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Drive carefully during the rainy season - plenty of tortoises on the road:

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Edited by Anthilltiger
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offshorebirder

Thanks for this trip report @Anthilltiger- it must have been great to see Nyala bulls fighting.   I love the photo of the baby elephant - being shepherded by an older sibling?

 

You have me wanting to visit Majete!

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@AnthilltigerVery interesting report, I've visited Liwonde some years ago and been to Nyika a couple of times, but I have never been to Majete, it is interesting to see just what AP have achieved, with what was an empty degraded reserve, there's certainly plenty of wildlife to see, great to see that the giraffes are happy in their new home and getting busy trying to populate it with more giraffes. 

 

Nice shot of the snake, I have to say though it's not a puff adder, it's a Southern African Rock Python (Python sebae natalensis), good view of one, you don't often get to see snakes on safari and seldom as well as that.

 

  

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@AnthilltigerYour photographs are wonderful and thank you for this informative report.  I am enjoying it.

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the jumping active lions are great, never seen this before. I hope you have more pictures of this sighting to share with this hungry audience

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@Anthilltiger Thank you for this trip report especially since I'm planning to visit Majete, as well as Nkhotakota game preserve. I have 

already been to Liwonde National Park and I consider it one of my personal favorites.

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Anthilltiger
12 hours ago, inyathi said:

Nice shot of the snake, I have to say though it's not a puff adder, it's a Southern African Rock Python (Python sebae natalensis), good view of one, you don't often get to see snakes on safari and seldom as well as that.

Thanks for the correction!  My snake identification knowledge is poor at best ;)

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Anthilltiger

Lion

 

The first time we went to Majete it was in winter in the dry season and we had seen the lions in the bush, but it was so thick that it was just an ear here and a tail there.  Considering that was the height of the dry, we weren’t expecting much when we finally returned in the wet.   The bush was thicker and more lush - what were the chances of actually catching the main pride anywhere in the open?  Well, we hadn’t anticipated the airstrip!

 

The main pride in the tourist area consists of a male, 2 big females and 3 subadult cubs and their home range is between the Shire river and the Thawale lodge.  Now, the campsite is slap in the middle of that and the airstrip is right next to the campsite.  And the lions like to hang around on the airstrip, probably because it’s the only open area and they can sit and watch the impala that gather on the same runway. Our first meaningful sighting of this Shire pride was on the airstrip.  

 

We’d heard that the lions were in the area that morning after passing by the Thawale Lodge at about 3am.  Some of the lodge guests had seen some of the lions, but unfortunately despite our searching we couldn’t catch them.   We did know where they were though - they were in the thicket next to the airstrip if the baboon and impala alarm calls were anything to go by. 

 

By lunchtime they still hadn’t appeared so we decided to have lunch and do some birding in the campsite in case they started to move and the alarm calls started again.  Sure enough, the baboon alarm calls came in the afternoon, and we rushed to the airstrip 2 minutes away to be greeted by the pride of 6 sitting in the sun.  It only lasted about 10 minutes before they crossed the runway and headed into the bush again, but it was our first clear sighting of the big cats, and we had it all to ourselves.  We did return later but they were nowhere to be seen, the hope was now that they would be still hanging around and back on the runway in the morning. 


They were back on the runway by evening and spent the whole night roaring - there’s nothing quite like the sound of lions close by!  

 

The next morning we were out like a shot and there they still were - minus one of the lionesses - on the runway.  We were entertained by them for over an hour; first the subadults played with each other before the young male tried to stalk some nervous impala, ruining any chance of the lionesses  stalking them.  Finally, they moved off to drink at a nearby waterhole (unfortunately not a great photo opportunity) before heading off into the bush. 

 

This awesome sighting was one of the main reasons we kept going back to Majete,  made more amazing by the fact was that we had them all to ourselves the whole time!
 

The dominant male of the Shire pride:

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Pride bonding:

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Heading off down the airstrip:

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The male and female of the pride:

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The 3 subadults of the pride provide a lot of play opportunities:

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The young male spoils a potential hunt by walking boldly down the airstrip:

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An impala stands his ground... for a while:

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The flehmen grimace of the male:

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4 hours ago, Anthilltiger said:

This awesome sighting was one of the main reasons we kept going back to Majete,  made more amazing by the fact was that we had them all to ourselves the whole time!

Woow, I can imagine you did, great photo’s 

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Anthilltiger

The Shire pride’s territory spans from the lodge to the river - a length of about 5km. We have caught them mainly around the campsite, and didn’t actually think they went down to the river at all.  One morning, after hearing the male roaring at 3am right at the campsite waterhole, we drove out expecting to see him right there - nothing!  We did some tracking of his spoor that we found and finally caught him on the main road - we followed him for a long time - he was definitely on a mission.  

 

And in the end we didn’t need to look for the rest of the pride - he led us directly to them - resting right on the banks of the river.  It was a cool morning and the young lionesses were playful - first hunting for a hapless mongoose in a fallen tree before play fighting with each other and then the big females, before they all headed off into the bush for the day - a really special sighting on the riverbank.

 

There are about 25 lions in total in Majete.  At least one pride of 4 is in the Mkulumadzi concession in the north and the others are mainly to the south, but the main pride that is seen most often is this Shire pride.  We’ve been lucky enough to catch them a number of times in the open making for nice sightings and shots.  And we look forward to catching some of the others in the south in time to come.
 

We found the Shire male walking on the road after finding his spoor:

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We followed him all on our own for about half an hour before he led us to the pride:

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Quick stop for a drink while looking for his pride:

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A lioness with her stick:

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They were very interested in something in the fallen tree.  Later we saw a mongoose shooting out and running for his life:

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The 2 lionesses were very playful:

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Mom wasn't as keen as her sibling to play:

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There was a clumsy attempt to climb the branch:

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Thank you for an great trip and informative report so far. I really like your photos too. The warthog in the water is great, good capture :) And great sightings of lions, but I guess you have to work really hard for it. The bush looks dense ! Looking forward to the next chapter....

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Thanks for posting this TR from Malawi, a little visited country. Its great that the parks now support diverse animal populations.

 

Great photo of the python.

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Brilliant! a TR on Malawi, and your photos are a great advertisement for Majete (and Liwonde) parks!

 

Am i right in saying the male lion is collared? is that part of the AP  monitoring efforts? 

 

 

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A fantastic TR

On our visit we had Rhino sighting by one of the hides at dusk. But only for a few seconds twice.   

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Fascinating. Two recent reports on Majete. Both are so very welcome

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