Our Great Stories

Inspirational conservation and social projects. Most can be met if traveling.


audio Richard Chimwala [audio]

See all Great Stories by Roddy Bray

Our experiences at Grootbos, Reflections, Sungubala, St Lucia and in the Okavango have shown how much ecotourism can contribute to conservation, this is a story from Malawi of how ecotourism initiatives can transform lives.

Mvuu | Richard Chimwala - Liwonde | Mvuu, Malawi [2012 © greatguides.org]

In our travels through Africa I have been struck by the potential of ecotourism; our experiences at Grootbos, Reflections, Sungubala, St Lucia and in the Okavango have shown how much ecotourism can contribute to conservation and positive social change. Now in Malawi, central Africa, we encountered another example of ecotourism: I met Richard Chimwala and recorded his story of how Mvuu Lodge has contributed to wildlife in the Liwonde National Park and the local community, and to his own remarkable journey from part-time gardener to manager of this 5* lodge.


The Liwonde National Park, south of Lake Malawi, is a gem. It is a magical environment of towering palm trees, fat baobabs, grassland, river and marsh, with Roan and Sable antelopes and large herds of elephant. The birdlife is fantastic. We watched a fluffy young Pel's fishing owl in a baobab waiting for its mother. We listened to the treble call of fish eagles circling over the Shire River, and hundreds of hippos grunting like bassoons, and the silent splash made by giant crocs sliding menacingly off the banks.


Mvuu | Pel's Fishing Owl chick - Liwonde | Mvuu, Malawi [2010 © greatguides.org] - Mvuu : Ecotourism - Great Guides
Mvuu is home to the rare Pel's fishing owl
Despite its natural beauty, Liwonde has suffered much. First from hunters, then the massive culling of wildlife in the mistaken belief that this would reduce tsetse fly and open the way to cattle farming. Increasing human populations, meanwhile, have led to over-fishing and the trapping of game.


When Liwonde was declared a national park in 1972 local populations were moved to the west bank, but continued to fish and hunt in the park. Lions, rhinos and other species were wiped out altogether. The park had nothing to offer these very poor communities, and the authorities had few resources to stop them hunting. It was a conflictual relationship.

Despite the lack of 'the big 5', Chris Badger and others led mobile safaris into the area from the late 1980s and then took on the lease of a small government rest camp in the park called Mvuu, opening in 1994 a campsite, family units and a luxury lodge.


Mvuu | Lodge - Liwonde | Mvuu, Malawi [2010 © greatguides.org] - Mvuu : Ecotourism - Great Guides

His vision was long-term, to revive Liwonde's wildlife through education, employment and conservation. The lodge focused upon employing people living within 2km of the park. People like Richard Chimwala found employment at the lodge, and through excellent management he was encouraged to rise beyond his expectations and develop a real passion for conservation. Today he is the highly competent manager of the luxury Mvuu Lodge, and a role model in Malawi as a guide and manager.

Richard Chimwala worked his way from gardener to GM of the luxury Mvuu Lodge


Listen to Richard Chimwala's Story in the audio link above (the grunts in the background are hippos!)

The staff of Mvuu have taken the message of eco-tourism into their communities. Employing 100 people, Mvuu has made a dramatic impact upon the local economy, in an area that has almost no formal employment. Through extended families and related opportunities Mvuu probably supports 2,500 people. Mvuu staff make clear to their community the connection between conservation and their livelihood, encouraging an end to poaching.

Mvuu has also worked extensively with local children, and their education centre in the park teaches kids about the value of wildlife and the income it generates for the community. The camp is also periodically closed to tourists in order to host extended 'Children in the Wilderness' camps. Mvuu staff help run the camps, and they become role models and impress on the children the need to end poaching and aspire to a career in conservation or hospitality.

Mvuu | Children in the Wilderness - Liwonde | Mvuu, Malawi [2012 © greatguides.org] - Mvuu : Ecotourism - Great Guides
Mvuu runs 'Children in the Wilderness' camps teaching life skills and conservation
In addition to education, Mvuu actively supports anti-poaching patrols by the park staff, providing facilities and transportation. These measures have vastly improved the security of the park and with other sponsors, like WWF, Mvuu has helped to successfully re-introduce endangered species including Rhino and Sable. The numbers of animals in the park is now five times greater than in 1994.


At Mvuu, like Grootbos and other lodges, it is impossible to separate the commitment of staff and management to business, conservation and social upliftment. The three are so intertwined in all that they do that they are indivisible. It is a model that creates skills, pride, addresses poverty, protects the environment and all in a sustainable way.

See also 'HELP Malawi' where we tell the story of the social impact the lodge has made in conjunction with a US funded NGO. For more information on the lodge visit www.wilderness-safaris.com

Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 15 Sep 2010
Location: East Africa | Malawi
Themes: natural world, travel | conservation, safari guide