Malawi National Park

Photographs taken from Pages by G.F. Turner, Professor of Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity, Dept of Biological Sciences University of Hull, UK © Copyright Unknown.

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Malawi National Park


3.29.14 (Lake Malawi)


On and around Nankumba Peninsula at the southern end of Lake Malawi. Includes Boadzulu, Maleri and ten other offshore islands, Mwenya and Nkhudzi Hills, Nkhudzi Spit, and an aquatic zone extending 100m offshore. Lies in Mangochi District of the Southern Region of Malawi, and Salima District of the Central Region. 14°02'S, 34°53'E


24 November 1980, under the National Parks Act NP (Est) Order 1980, Government Notice No. 205 of 1980. Most of the area was previously classified in forest reserves; some of the islands have been protected since 1934. It protects several disjunct terrestrial areas and all lake waters within 100m of these areas. Inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1984.

AREA- 9,400ha,   LAND TENURE - Government,   ALTITUDE - to 1,140m


Nankumba Peninsula projects into Lake Malawi and has poor soils susceptible to erosion. Cape Maclear, at the north of the peninsula, is an area of steep wooded rocky hills, predominantly composed of biotite-granite. In general, the hills rise steeply from the lakeshore but there are a number of sandy bays including a fine beach in the Chembe Otter Point area. The lake is unique, forming a separate biogeographical province.

It is estimated to be between one and two million years old and forms part of the Western Rift Valley. By virtue of its tropical setting, Lake Malawi is permanently stratified, having a warm epilimnion overlying a cooler hypolimnion. Lake water is remarkably clear. The lake experiences marked seasonal variations in wind, temperature and rainfall. Water level fluctuates according to season with a long-term cycle of fluctuation over years, recent years having seen increases to the highest levels since recording began (probably due to increased rainfall and forest clearing on the high plateau).

All islands are entirely, or mainly, of rock separated from one another and from the mainland by sandy plains and deep water. Habitat types vary from rocky shorelines to sandy beaches and from wooded hillsides to swamps and lagoons. A range of underwater habitats arerepresented including the sandy zone, the weedy zone, the rock-sand interface, the intermediate zone and the reed beds.


Mean annual temperature is 22.7°C Annual rainfall averages 766mm, but is very variable.


The terrestrial areas of the park, excluding the smallest islands, were once heavily wooded. Originally, this was a characteristic community containing baobab Adansonia digitata and several species of Ficus, Sterculia, Khaya, and Albizia . The ground flora has not been studied in depth. Due to clearing of the forest, some woodland areas have been altered to shrubby vegetation. The upper slopes are covered by escarpment Brachystegia dominated by B. glaucescens (K).


Lake Malawi contains the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world, probably over 500 from ten families with perhaps half occurring in the park area. Endemism is high (thought to exceed 90%) and adaptive radiation and speciation within the lake is remarkable. Particularly noteworthy are the Cichlidae, of which all but five of over 400 species are endemic to Lake Malawi.

The lake contains 30% of all known cichlid species (Ribbink et al., 1983). Of particular interest is the 'mbuna' rock fish. More than 70% of mbuna are not described and the taxonomic affinities of many are uncertain. Other fish species include 28 endemic to the lake. Mammals include hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius, leopard Panthera pardus, greater kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros, bushbuck T. scriptus, zebra Equus burchelli, klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus, impala Aepyceros melampus, grey duiker Sylvicapra grimmia, chacma baboon Papio ursinus, vervet monkey Cercopithecus aethiops, bush pig Potamochoerus porcus and occasional elephant Loxodonta africana (V) (reported as coming down to the lake between the Mwemya and Nkhudzi Hills).

The varied birdlife includes fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer along the shoreline. The islands, especially Mumbo and Boadzulu, are important nesting areas for several thousand white-breasted cormorant Phalacrocorax lucidus. Reptiles include crocodile Crocodylus niloticus and abundant water monitor lizards Varanus niloticus on Boadzulu Island. A list of snakes is given in Tweddle (1984).


Five shoreline villages, Chembe, Masaka, Mvunguti, Zambo and Chidzale, are included within enclaves in the park. The park has been zoned so that traditional fishing methods aimed at catching migratory fish are permitted in limited areas, although in most of the park the resident fish are completely protected. Some 16,000 people make a living from the Lake and 40,000 tonnes of fish are taken annually for local consumption (Lewis, et al., 1986).


There is some tourist development within the boundaries. Several small hotels are planned which will be designed to blend in with the environment. The recreation site at Cape Maclear is heavily used and includes a resthouse, bar, caravan and camping site.


The Department of Fisheries has a research station at MonkeyBay. Research has concentrated on fish, conducted mainly by overseas and national scientists and graduates (Department of National Parks and Wildlife, pers. comm., 1995).


Lake Malawi National Park comprises the only lacustrine park in Africa, protecting several hundred species of fish, most of which are endemic. Lake Malawi's importance in the study of evolution is comparable to that of the finches of the Galapagos Islands.

Established under the National Park Act (Cap. 66: 07), primarily to protect examples of Lake Malawi's aquatic communities. The management plan is being implemented. As part of the preparation of the plan, a special study of the area was carried out to assess the impact of the park on the local population, including a comprehensive review of the resources.

There are plans to plant trees in a 1,200ha section in the south of the peninsula to supply fuelwood and poles to local people. A managed fishing zone is to be established off the mainland incorporating some islands within the park, but trawling will be prohibited. Other fishing methods such as gill netting, long line and trapping are prohibited within the 100m aquatic zone. Conservation zones are proposed around the park. The management plan details four zones within the park: special zone, wilderness zone, natural zone and general zone.

Most of the terrestrial area is in the natural or wilderness zones and the lacustrine area is in the special zone. A forestry nursery has been started in the park to begin reforestation of the peninsula. The goal is to plant 30,000 seedlings annually both in the park and in nearby village enclaves for future firewood and building purposes. Reforestation of the peninsula is a critical element in projection of the water quality. A small demonstration plot adjacent to junior staff housing is expected to provide fuelwood to staff members. The World Wide Fund for Nature sponsored the development of an environmental education complex, located within the park boundaries at Cape Maclear.

The initial complex comprised an environmental interpretation centre, an aquarium, and a research library/conference area, and was operational in 1990. Additional development have included a youth hostel and glass-bottomed boat for aquatic interpretation. The centre aims to educate local people, as well as international visitors. Exhibits range from the formation of the rift valley to the historical and cultural heritage, the creation of the park, designation as a World Heritage site, and the importance of protecting the resource (Department of National Parks and Wildlife, pers. comm., 1995).


Although there are no human settlements within the boundaries much of the lakeshore is heavily populated. Villages on the peninsula (population of about 5,400 in 1977) are cut off between the park and the lake and local people are dependent on fishing for a livelihood as the soil is poor and crop failure frequency is about 50%.

The brightly-coloured 'mbuna' provide a substantial export trade to collectors. Clearing of timber for building, firewood and cultivation has increased (particularly on Nankoma Island, part of Mumbo Island, around Chembe village and the Mwenya and Nkhudzi Hills). Unsightly and unplanned visitor shacks at Cape Maclear will be removed when a new lodge is built.

The lake is polluted by powerboats at Cape Maclear. Because of the limnological aspects of the lake, should it be contaminated, the renewal time would be in the order of 1,700 years. The size ofwater area of the park is only 700ha (0.04% of total lake area) and it is recognised that the integrity of the park can only be ensured by the proper management of the whole lake.