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The History of the Development of the Nyika National Park 2

In 1972 the important road down the western escarpment of the park, connecting Rumphi to Nthalire, was constructed in just 12 weeks by the British Army. It is very steep in places but is a fine road, provided it is graded each season after the rains.

Shortly after Malawi 's Independence in 1964 the Nyika was made into the country's first National Park and the management of it was transferred from the Forestry Department to a new Department of Wildlife. There had been silting problems on good agricultural areas near the Lake shore and much of this had originated from landslips on the slopes of the Nyika escarpment. The protection given to the area was intended to secure the water supplies for the country below.

The period from the inception of the park to the early 1980s was a period of optimism, with some suggestion that protection measures were making headway, although game numbers were under continual pressure from poaching. In 1978 the park was enlarged threefold to incorporate the steep escarpments and woodlands in all directions. It involved moving around 5000 people. Not everyone was unhappy, since the isolation of the more remote villages from markets, schools and medical help was a daily problem. However, some felt the compensation was inadequate and a few deeply resented the move and probably had undue pressure put on them in Malawi 's darkest period of totalitarian government. The following 20 years was less positive for the park. Chronic under-funding made the management of such a large park, from essentially one poorly equipped management centre, very difficult. Achieving continuity in experienced staffing was a problem. More recently protection seems to be gaining strength once more but the pressure of a much increased population around the perimeter of the park makes the challenge even greater.

Many of the current park staff are from the families of earlier staff and local villagers. Local families such as Mfuni, Nyirenda, Mtumbuka, Msiska, Moyo, Mkanda, Munthali, Mkandawire, Mghogho and many others (note the prefix M and N, indicating a family name, being common) are well represented in the management structure. They represent continuity in a small community that has witnessed much change over the past fifty or so years and has shown commitment to supporting conservation in the park. Their fathers before them made the magnificent Nyika National Park a possibility, aided by the vision and experience of a succession of ex-patriot British government officers, who showed great enthusiasm to doing an excellent and meaningful job in a country where they were unlikely to retire but would always be offered a very warm welcome by the Malawians on future visits.

Some of the historical information has been adapted from The Nyika Experience, published by the Wildlife Society of Malawi. It is well worth the read for anyone with an historical interest in the Nyika and can be obtained if you wish to Contact Us

The author, Peter Overton, has known the Nyika since 1972, prior to the enlargement of the Park and is now organiser of Biosearch Expeditions to the Park. Profile can be seen in Leaders

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