Mention Malawi, and most people in tourism will reply ‘ah, try asking Badge’.
Mention Malawi, and most people in tourism will reply ‘ah, try asking Badge’. For more than 20 years Chris Badger has been an outstanding figure in tourism in Malawi. He has established and promoted some of the best known lodges, he has nurtured the talents of Malawians, and he has driven vital conservation and social projects.
Chris never settled into a conventional life. Born into a British army family he travelled widely as a child and as a young man drove adventurous travellers across India and Nepal in Bedford trucks. Later he led overland journeys across Africa. One of these epic trips ended in Johannesburg. Chris was broke, and wanted a new challenge, so he cheekily applied for a job as a trainee guide at Londolozi, one of the best known lodges in South Africa. They wisely spotted his talent and he trained under men like Lex Hes who have remained at the forefront of safari guiding and conservation for decades.
It was the early 1980s he became a freelance guide in Northern Botswana. Like Peter Comley and other adventurous guides, he was drawn by the challenge of this area, which was wild and inaccessible and offered a new frontier in safari guiding. He soon hooked up with an emerging company called Wilderness Safaris, who shared his passion for conservation and pristine environments. They encouraged him to start a branch of the company in the beautiful, but little known country of Malawi.
In 1987 Chris and Andy Egginton created ‘Central Africa Wilderness Safaris (CAWS)’. For several years they led mobile safaris throughout Malawi and northern Zambia. Often their trips included the Liwonde National Park. It is a beautiful park along the Shire river, where palm trees, baobabs, mopane and grassland create a mixed environment. For a bird lover like Chris it was heaven. But culling policies in the 1950s and on-going poaching had decimated the animal population. There were no predators or rhino left.
Pel's Fishing Owl
In 1994 Chris won the tender to run ‘Mvuu’, the government lodge in Liwonde. It was an ambitious task. The lodge is regularly cut off from road access, often for months at a time. The park lacked ‘big attractions’ like lions. The villagers across the river still had fresh memories of being moved out of the area to create a park, and regarded the animals as ‘their’ bushmeat. But fifteen years later the fruit of his work is clear to see. Mvuu is a flagship lodge in Malawi. It employs one hundred staff, which in turn supports 2500 people through their extended families.
The lodges are run by Malawians, some of whom started as gardeners but have been carefully nurtured to become excellent managers and rangers (see Richard Chimwala's story.) The lodge has strongly supported anti-poaching measures and the parks animal life has increased five-fold. Rhino, Roan and other species have been successfully re-introduced. Crucial to the reduction in poaching has been education, bringing hundreds of children to the lodge on day-trips and Children in the Wilderness' camps, changing attitudes to wildlife, winning a generation to conservation. The lodge also supports schools and a clinic in the villages. Chris and his colleagues have made the benefits of eco-tourism a reality.
About all of this Chris is self-depreciating. He would rather be playing his blues harmonica than boasting of his achievements, and he remains in his element watching wildlife in the bush. But the record stands: through many years of dedication he has established not only Mvuu but several successful lodges in this poor, land-locked central African country, helping establish a tourism industry that protects its wildlife and benefits thousands of its people.
Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 19 Nov 2010
Location: East Africa | Malawi
Themes: natural world, travel | conservation, parks and trails