Lonely Planet Writer

Threatened cheetahs have returned to Malawi after 20 years absence

In a huge success for conservationists, cheetahs have returned to Malawi after a 20-year absence. The four cheetahs were relocated from South Africa to Liwonde National Park.

A cheetah explores Liwonde National Park
The Malawi cheetahs are settling into their new home. Image by African Parks Frank Weitzer

Cheetahs all over Africa are being threatened with extinction due to a loss of habitat and poaching and they haven’t been seen in Malawi for 20 years. NGOs, African Parks and Endangered Wildlife Trust, oversaw the relocation earlier in the month. The animals were flown from South Africa in specially-built enclosures and, after a period of close supervision to ensure their health, were let loose in the park.

The big cats haven’t lived in Liwonde National Park for nearly a century but they are expected to thrive as there are optimal habitat and prey conditions, and they’ll also be monitored closely for their own protection. “Large predators like cheetahs play pivotal roles in African ecosystems, but they are in troubling decline across the continent” said Liwonde National Park Manager Craig Reid.

“Malawi has made progressive commitments to conserve wildlife”, Mr Reid added. “The reintroduction of the cheetah is historic for the country and a new era for the park, where the return of large predators holds great optimism for the restoration of the natural system and the conservation of this highly vulnerable species”.

A cheetah emerges from their enclosure
The cheetah is released into Liwonde. Image by African Parks Frank Weitzer

Only 6700 cheetahs are estimated to still live in the wild and projects such as these are considered vital to preventing further decline. “Reintroduction to safe and fenced protected areas is one way to protect the future of the species on the continent” said coordinator Vincent van der Merwe. African Parks will continue to work with the local community to ensure that the area is protected and remains free of snares. The cheetahs have also been tested to ensure genetic diversity.

African Parks has spearheaded several high-profile conservation successes in recent years. Earlier this month, they celebrated the return of black rhinos to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park after a ten-year absence. They’re also in the middle of a project to move 500 elephants to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in Malawi by the end of the year. As well as being valuable contributions to the local eco-system, it’s hoped these efforts will also increase tourism to the parks.

A cheetah running at full speed in Namibia
It’s hoped the Malawi cheetahs will get their happy ending. Image by Gallo Images – Heinrich van den Berg