‘’Human beings were once islands in an ocean of wildlife. These days, wildlife survives on islands surrounded by an ocean of humanity.’’
Among conservationists it’s a familiar saying that expresses a tough truth. To take just Africa, in the past 60 years, the population has quadrupled to more than billion people.
Each one of us demands land for shelter and for food.
So the breath-taking beauty of the Liwonde National Park in Malawi is somehow made more precious by its vulnerability.
The park is under new management and it is, quite evidently, the last best chance to save the place.
Liwonde’s problem is that as islands go it’s small and surrounded by a rising tide of humanity that threatens to overrun it.
Around 300,000 people crowd around its border. For the most part impoverished communities, sometimes desperately so.
Quite naturally, they see the reserve on their doorstep as a resource to sustain their lives. Firewood from the forest, fish from the river, antelope for the pot.
And as we found on that one harrowing morning recorded in our report, a few kill elephants for their tusks.
Before you blame the people, put yourselves in their shoes. You have a family to feed, and this year, no rain to grow your crops.
How would you feel if someone told you that nature’s larder next door off limits and instead the preserve of rich, foreign tourists?
The truth is that humans and animals make bad neighbours, especially when they’re scrapping for the same scarce resources.
In Liwonde, elephants often escaped to trample crops and sometimes people.
Part of the solution is actually to build a new and better barrier.
‘’Good fences make good neighbours,’’ says Craig Reid of African Parks, now responsible for the management of the park and its contents.
There are outreach programmes into the community.
The aim is to drive home the message that if the park is allowed to flourish, then those rich tourists can bring jobs and prosperity to all.
But it’s a hard sell to people who have so little.
Saving the animals here is as much about tackling poverty as poachers.
It’s hard to say which is the tougher task.