Lewa Wildlife Conservancy shows how conservation and community are bucking the poaching trend that kills thousands.
Lilongwe, Malawi – The vervet monkey is on its back on a portable table when we first catch a glimpse of him. Amanda Salb, a veterinarian, holds the primate, as another vet carefully injects the animal’s upper eyelid with tuberculin. The monkey doesn’t flinch. It is fully sedated.
“We are conducting a quarterly check-up and checking for TB,” Salb says after removing her mask.
The vervet is one of hundreds of animals at the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in the Malawian capital.
Opened in 2008, the trust is the vanguard of Malawian wildlife conservation efforts in the country. And its portfolio is wide. It saves wild cats, monkeys and antelope from being sold at the roadside as desperation pushes more people towards the pet or bush meat trade. In partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, it rescue lions, hyenas and even pythons injured and left to die in far-flung parts of the country. And it lobbies the government to tackle the ivory trade eating away at southern Africa’s elephant and rhino populations.
Although the trust is clear that it has no intention of turning into a zoo, it attracts at least 35,000 people each year, who come to catch a glimpse of some of the country’s wildlife for a nominal fee. Kate Moore, the trust’s programme director, says the trust has a unique business model.
“Many sanctuaries rely on donors to support their operations, whereas we have developed our business model entirely around tourism, making us much more financially sustainable,” Moore explains.
Volunteers from all over the world pay to come and work at the trust, helping to provide a steady flow of income to keep the operation running.
She says that since opening, the trust has helped more than 500 wild animals, or an average of around 75 a year.
Malawi is among the world’s poorest countries, with millions of people living below the poverty line. In an environment where expertise and resources are lacking, the centre is proud of its record of “never having turned an animal away”.
Moore is also passionate about its role in larger Malawian life. “The loss of a single species, like elephants or even bees, could lead to the collapse of whole ecosystems, which in turn will have far-reaching impacts on everything from human health to agriculture,” she says.
Alma van Dorenmalen, a rescue and rehabilitation manager at the trust, says they do everything they can to keep the animal “wild”.
“We try to recreate a natural environment so that once they are better, they can return. We are not here to cuddle them,” she says, after feeding a one-and-a-half-month-old Serval kitten.
The 2014-15 year was a busy one. The trust rescued 77 animals, released 57 others back into the wild and had a total of 254 animals under its care.
“You get to see both sides of humanity. Someone who throws stones at the animals and another who is there to pick up the injured animal,” Salb says with a smile.