The Nyika National Park in
Northern Malawi is home to a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna, despite
substantial and increasing poaching. Very little base line research has been
conducted in the Park and large parts of the Park remain unexplored.
In conjunction with Biosearch Nyika a team of twelve members of the Society
spent four weeks in the Park in September - October. The team was
multi-disciplined and the main thrust of the expedition was a termite survey, an
aquatic project and a large mammal survey.
While results are still being analysed preliminary recordings have shown that a
new genus of termite and several new termite species have been discovered by the
entomological team. Entomologists at the Natural History Museum are especially
excited about these finds as so much research has been done in East Africa that
it was thought unlikely that any more new species would be found there. Several
new records for aquatic invertebrate species will almost certainly be identified
and possibly even new species discovered although these results are still being
analysed by David Bowden. Philip Watson led the large mammal survey and
initiated the investigation of new sampling methods.
The overall impression of the Nyika Plateau is that of poaching activity. Indeed
the expedition personnel were involved in a number of fairly serious incidents
involving poachers, several of which resulted in rounds being fired by the
scouts. They also had a narrow escape when a fire lit by the poachers threatened
to engulf their Base Camp. Very little large game was seen in this part of the
Park due to the poaching activity and the Park is in urgent need of more
resources to tackle this problem.
The exemplary quality and quantity of work that the expedition was able to carry
out was greatly facilitated through the backing of the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office who sponsored four scientists to join the team. These scientists included
two entomologists, a veterinary practitioner and an aquatic ecologist.
Advance Party / Main body arrival and travel to the Park 4 - 10
The advance party for the expedition (consisting of the Expedition Leader
accompanied by the Scientific Co-ordinator) undertook a great deal of planning
and purchasing in the two days prior to the main groups arrival. Departure for
the Nyika went as planned on 9 September with a stopover at Mzuzu. The final leg
of the journey (from Rumphi to Juniper Forest) took place over dirt tracks and
certainly added to the feeling of remoteness of the ultimate destination.
Acclimatisation: 11 -12 September:
This period was used to establish base camp, complete safety briefings and
establish Standard Operational Procedures for the entire expedition period.
Rather alarmingly, the promised scouts had not appeared and this limited the
potential area to be covered for the sampling programme. It also transpired that
the planned site for the base camp was, in fact, 25km to the south of our actual
position, where we had been taken. This effected the planning of the scientific
surveys that were to take place.
Phase 1: 12 - 16 September:
The first period of scientific sampling. The large mammal group sampled the area
to the south west of the base camp (restricted range due to the absence of
scouts) with the termite group sampling the forest itself. The aquatic ecology
group sampled catchments within the 3km safety range established in the absence
The latter part of the week saw the arrival of three scouts, which increased the
flexibility of the sampling teams. Their arrival enabled the first weeks
sampling to be successfully completed on schedule.
Admin period: 17 - 18 September:
This period was utilized to make a stores-run to Mzuzu, as well as to plan the
next stage and switch team members. It was established that all team members
favoured a move to the site of the originally planned base camp.
Phase 2: 19 - 23 September:
The move to the new base camp proved to be a considerable logistical undertaking
(particularly as one of the vehicles allocated had to be used to evacuate the
expedition cook to Chelinda suffering from a virus). The large mammal group
trekked to the new base camp during the three-day period taken to move all
stores and personnel to the new site. The sampling stage of this phase was
therefore relatively short (20-23 September), however all groups achieved their
Phase 3: 24 - 30 September:
The final sampling phase was utilised by all three groups to complete their
sampling regimes. It would appear from initial feedback that all groups were
satisfied with their sampling programme and certainly felt enough data was
gathered to produce some meaningful results.
R & R: 1-4 October:
A couple of days were spent in Chintheche, on the shores of Lake Malawi, which
provided an excellent recovery period from the rigours of the plateau, prior to
departure on 5 October.
Both the termite group and the aquatic scientists gathered some extremely useful
scientific data. The analysis of the samples gathered by the aquatic group has
yet to begin in earnest, however it is certain to produce some new records and
even new species. Both of these projects will provide invaluable data to the
biodiversity for the Nyika.
Also investigated during the expedition were herpetological, botanical,
ornithological and entomological activities.
The expedition was a great success. The team was of a very high calibre and
coped magnificently with the many twists and turns inevitably thrown up by an
expedition in Africa. The lasting impression is of a stunningly beautiful area
being systematically devastated by poaching where the SES team produced some
meaningful data under difficult conditions.