MALAWI: April 2018

“We need to make Malawi an experience in one country,” says David Kelly, general manager at Tongole Wilderness Lodge in the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.

But he adds that he would rather see Malawi promote its diverse ecosystems than go down the big game park route.

“Malawi can offer a complete safari in one place – the Lake, wilderness, mountains, mopani forest. There are varied landscapes that Malawi could sell, but it has to be managed properly to do so.”

As for Nkhotakota itself, “the next ten years will be interesting”, he says. “We will see improvements in the road networks, more animals, the reintroduction of lion – but [he reiterates] it must be managed properly.”

As well as running lodges – both at home and previously in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia – and with ambitions to set up his own mobile safari company, the 59-year-old is also a writer and painter.

Bushy haired and sporting a moustache, David is a fascinating character. A Malawian with an Irish father, he, not unsurprisingly given his dad’s origins, is partial to the odd glass of whiskey and telling yarns around the campfire.  

“’Tongole’ means ‘mopani bee’,” he says. “They make the sweetest honey…” – which also makes it appealing to a certain primate – “… but you may find it contains baboon mucus and sweat.” Nice.

One shot too many

As we discuss the recent elephant relocation scheme, David is cautious about the long-lasting effects of the programme. “Elephants are changing the landscape,” he warns. “They are very destructive of the forest.”

Equally, though, the fact that poaching is now under control and elephant as well as other species can begin to thrive here is a welcome development. “Killing to sell bush meet decimates the place,” he adds.

Mind you, this is not the only reason animals have become victim of a hunter’s gun.

“In Kasungu about 40 years ago,” he recalls. “A giraffe wandered up from Luangwa and the locals shot it because they had never seen one before and thought it was an evil spirit.”

Thankfully, the resurgence of Malawi’s wildlife and conservation efforts will see the country’s heritage preserved for generations to come. Evil spirits or not.

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