Volunteer with Lilongwe Wildlife Trust's primate release program operating in Kasungu National Park, Malawi, for experience in the field.
About the Project
Lilongwe Wildlife Trust works to release any animal possible and, although notoriously challenging, primate releases are amongst the most exciting. Our primate release project is currently operating out of Kasungu National Park where we released a troop of yellow baboons in January 2013, a troop of vervet monkeys in January 2014 and a second troop of yellow baboons in 2015. We now have a further vervet monkey release planned for January 2016. The troop of vervet monkeys will be released into Kasungu National Park and will be tracked and observed on a daily basis by our field team, who will be collecting scientific data on their welfare in the wild for research and publication purposes. The purpose of the project is to contribute to a body of fundamental research on the extent to which these animals are able to adapt to life in the wild and how their new found freedom contributes to their welfare compared to a life in captivity. With a successful history in primate releases, this is an incredibly exciting project to get involved in and learn about primate behavior, releases and life in the field.
From captivity to the wild
Primates are complex animals with sensitive social structures and therefore the entire troop has to be monitored carefully for months to assess their suitability for release. Many of the individuals at the centre have chequered histories which may affect their ability to survive out in the wild. Prior to their release, all individuals undergo an intensive rehabilitation process and we invested in a brand new soft-release enclosure, deep in the indigenous woodland in the heart of the wildlife reserve and well away from any human contact.
Once a troop is established it’s important to move all of them at the same time. This involves ‘knocking down’ each individual for their health checks including TB screening and de-worming etc., to receive their unique ID ear tags and carefully moving each animal in turn to their new enclosure. Introducing new troops into a habitat which is already home to a number of wild primates can cause conflict as the different troops vie for territory and dominance. This is inevitable, but despite a couple of confrontations our latest troop has been doing well and has even recruited a wild male baboon, Roman, who has taken the troop under his wing. The release team have followed the troop each day to track their progress. It is important that the group can live naturally and free from human interference and the main reason for the tracking is for research purposes. However there have been a few times when the team have been able to avert major disasters in the early days with some choice interventions.
Most of our non-primate releases go to Kuti Wildlife Reserve – it has a varied habitat of grassland, woodland and wetland, rich biodiversity, a lack of predators and a protected status. We also have a volunteer programme based there meaning that help is on hand to manage and monitor releases. In the last year we have released several antelopes and owls there. In cases where we can be sure of a rescued animal’s provenance we do our best to release them back to their home – such as a serval cat, Kovu, we rehabilitated and released in July 2014. We have also been involved, alongside Carnivore Research Malawi, in an urban hyaena translocation. Four ‘problem’ hyaenas in Lilongwe were captured and relocated to Liwonde National Park in April 2015, a setting more fitting for their lifestyle.
Out team follows the released baboons since January, making reports and collecting data. You will be with them every step of the way assisting in all aspects of the field work. There will be many technical aspects to learn as you monitor the troop through the park from dawn till dusk and assess their behaviour. Your tasks will include:
Kasungu National Park is the second biggest national park in Malawi at over 2000km2. It is a stunning setting with elephants, antelope, monkeys, zebra, buffalo and carnivores such as leopards and hyaenas. Elephants regularly stop into camp to say hello and they can often be seen taking a dip in the dam.
If you have time either side of your placement and wish to venture further afield we can advise you on plenty of holiday destinations in Malawi worth a visit. A visit to the famous 'lake of stars' is a must, or Nyika plateau when the orchids are in bloom, down to Mount Mulanje at 3000m high with its endemic upland rainforests or to Majete National Park to see the big 5 are also a must. We also offer discounted trips to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia for an incredible safari experience!
Our placements start and finish on a Tuesday, and on those days we will have our driver, or a representative, pick up and drop off any volunteers at the airport. They will hold a sign with your name on it and the logo of Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, so you know who to look for!
The camp is located at Lifupa Campsite, on the banks of the Lifupa Dam. It is rustic but very comfortable with volunteers sharing a chalet equipped with beds, mattresses, linen, and solar power. Showers and toilets are located nearby. There is a kitchen and living area on-site
with and a lodge located nearby. It’s the perfect place to feel part of the wilderness and get to grips with field research in a beautiful national park.
Food is supplied from weekly trips into the market in Kasungu town. There are a range of choices for breakfast, packed lunches for days in the field and volunteers and staff taking it in turns to cook up a feast! Food is mostly vegetarian. There is also a lodge nearby if you'd like to treat yourself to a restaurant meal.