On Monday 9th March we had a chance to visit the release site for primates rescued and rehabilitated by the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre.
Kasungu National Park is a 3-hour drive from Lilongwe, and in contrast to the sun and heat that accompanied us on our journey, the preceding days had brought heavy rains to the park, giving life to lush, emerging vegetation across the picturesque landscape.
Chosen for the availability and variety of food and water resources required to sustain primate troops, the release site is situated several kilometres inside the park boundary, far from human habitation.
As we drove through the park, I was struck by the distinct lack of sightings of other wildlife, so readily visible in other, similarly vegetated parks in East Africa. No antelope, no monkeys, even relatively few birds. Poaching has hit Malawi’s wildlife hard, but hopefully with renewed efforts to strengthen anti-poaching patrols, in tandem with the research team monitoring the Centre’s released primates, all species will be sufficiently protected to repopulate this eerily quiet wildlife haven.
Informed by the research team that the released troop was only a few hundred metres away, we sat quietly, anticipating their appearance.
As we waited, I photographed some beautiful butterflies, until hushed but excited words indicated the arrival of some of the baboons.
Bobby John was first to show himself, picking his way slowly through the long grass, pausing occasionally to chew a stem but never taking his eyes off us.
He was soon joined by Brenda, subtly disguising her attempts to share Bobby John’s meal with a kiss (see photo).
He was having none of it, and sought sanctuary on top of the Land Rover amidst the legs of the watching researchers. He even braved a look up Murray’s shorts!
Whilst cute to watch, this gesture highlighted the attachment that has grown between these baboons and humans during their rehabilitation – something that will hopefully lessen as the troop becomes more independent.
Before we left the baboons, I was particularly pleased to catch sight of the troop’s second-in-command, Chris, who strode out of the bush with purpose to ensure all was in order in the absence of Jack, the Alpha male.
As we set off to leave, I remarked to my colleagues how extraordinarily adaptable these animals have been, to have recovered from, in some cases, years of captivity, neglect and abuse, to now appear almost indistinguishable from monkeys born in the wild.
It is testament to the dedication of the team at the Centre and the researchers now tracking their progress, and a sighting of a pair of kudus before we left the park, underlined that not only the Centre’s released monkeys, but all the other wildlife of Kasungu, can thrive if given the chance.
Chris Wright, Programmes Officer, Born Free Foundation