How an IFAW project has reinvented a struggling African community

In 2011 I visited Malawi, a very poor country in southern Africa, with a pressing question on my mind: How could I convince local communities that it was in their best interest to protect elephants and other wildlife living in and around Liwonde National Park, a wonderful natural resource?

As I flew from the capital city to Liwonde, I was struck by the widespread deforestation below. In fact, it was quite easy to see where the national park began because it was a verdant island in a vastly deforested landscape.

I knew that communities living near the national park had not been offered much incentive to see the park, and the wildlife that lived within, as a resource. I know that in other parts of southern Africa communities are offered the paltry leftovers from trophy hunts, and I wanted to find a way for the communities living around Liwonde National Park to meaningfully benefit from wildlife.

At IFAW, we believe in the intrinsic value of animals and that means not killing elephants to save them, as is the way in many other countries in the region.

The village of Chikolongo, along with many communities that sit outside the park, had suffered many deaths and injuries from human-wildlife conflict, so it was our job to find ways to make the people and the animals safe. I told the village chiefs that IFAW would protect the people of the village whilst at the same time increasing security for the elephants that lived in the park.

IFAW helped secure the park by setting up a dedicated fence attendant system aimed at maintaining the integrity of the boundary fence. IFAW worked with the Chikolongo community to help them gain access to water outside the park, as well develop a revenue generation programme (through commercial, cooperative farming) to provide an income stream so they didn’t have to rely on fishing and poaching inside the park. In collaboration with local partner HELP Malawi, we’ve developed curricula for surrounding schools that incorporates the livelihoods work in the region with our animal welfare awareness.

As we made our way to the village in a recent trip to Malawi, we found the elephants in this video calmly drinking and socializing along the river.

The changes to the village were dramatic.

No people had been killed or injured by elephants, and no elephants had been killed by poachers.

It is hard to describe my feelings at successfully finding a solution for these animals and people.

We hope to bring all the lessons we’ve learned from our success in Liwonde to our new project in Kasungu.

READ: Working in Kasungu will bring it back to its glory days

I need you to join me in building a network of people around that world that is committed to supporting projects that keep animals, and the people who protect them, safe.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime