Poaching and habitat destruction pushed the majority of wildlife in Malawi to the brink of extinction. A government-led, intensive conservation program has reintroduced more than 2,500 animals to the Majete Wildlife Reserve, including elephants, rhinos, leopards, lions, antelopes, water buffaloes and hyenas. Earthwatch is leading one of the first research initiatives to analyze how these reintroduced species are faring and what management decisions are needed to keep the ecosystem thriving.
Little research has happened on the reserve, and the region is in dire need of long-term ecological monitoring programs. The data collected by Earthwatchers will help Majete park officials make informed management decisions that will also benefit other parks and surrounding communities. When a species reaches its maximum sustainable population size in Majete, additional animals will be relocated to other national parks and wildlife reserves also devastated by poaching and habitat destruction.
Earthwatch's research will answer many questions about the animals' behaviors, such as: How large are their territories? What is their impact on native vegetation? And, how quickly are they reproducing? For example, the number of hyenas was recently found to be greater than predicted. In light of this information, park management is reevaluating their plans to reintroduce more lions and carefully monitoring the impact this may have on prey species such as antelopes.
Majete's success will ripple throughout the region. Thriving reserves attract tourism, that creates jobs, provides income and inspires the protection of additional habitat. Healthy ecosystems, in turn, provide food, clean water, nutrient cycling and other natural services to nearby communities. Majete will provide a global model for how a reserve can successfully conserve biodiversity and sustain natural resources, benefit the economy and neighboring communities, and still be financially viable.