In August 2006, I arrived at a Catholic Mission 3 hours drive from Lilongwe, in a small area of Malawi called Mua, my purpose of being there was to find a small menagerie of animals that were reportedly being housed in small dilapidated cages. It was not long before I stumbled across the sad array of animals within the zoo; it contained an extremely obese baboon, an attention-seeking blue monkey, a terrified porcupine, a sad looking crocodile (as sad as a crocodile can look!!), pythons in a deep dark pit and a variety of small antelope and birds of prey. Although extremely depressing to see, all the animals had been rescued by the founder of the Mua Mission Cultural Centre, Father Bouche, who had arrived at the Mission in the mid 70’s and had accepted many wild orphaned animals in over the years, out of pity. They had all been victims of the illegal bushmeat and pet trades in and around his area.
When visiting the Mission for the first time, it was always obvious where Father Bouche’s passion and talents lie; the Cultural Centre, its dancers, its carvings, a small lodge and now recently opened Museum are impressive to say the least; they are a true testament to the diversity of Malawi’s tourism potential, a true gem of an attraction for both local and international visitors. And so, over the past two years the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre and the Mission have been discussing ways in which the zoo could be dismantled, the animals relocated to the Wildlife Centre and the zoo replaced with a new facility; a facility that would not require animals in captivity, that would complement the cultural centre and its educational activities and that would provide a tranquil environment in which locals and tourists could explore and learn about cultural, wildlife and environmental links.
After many visits to Mua, my visit two weeks ago was by far the most enjoyable. Travelling to Mua with two boxes was one thing, travelling home with two boxes and two successfully darted animals was another, our baboon and blue monkey had taken their first steps back to a more ‘wild’ life. First stop, Lilongwe, where they would be placed in quarantine and later introduced to large open topped enclosures with their own kind.
But for our yellow baboon, Aide, there was a special treat in store. Two days prior to the Mua rescue the Centre had rescued a young baboon called Chimpy (yes Chimpy!!) who was being kept on a two metre length of chain at a private residence within Lilongwe. After a lonely existence on her own for many years, Aide would now spend quarantine and possibly the rest of her life with her new baboon friend, Chimpy.
This relocation of just two animals from the Mission to the Centre, marks the first step in a transitional process that will see all the animals removed from Mua and the zoo replaced with an alternative attraction for both local Malawian and International visitors. A process that will require funding. The Born Free Foundation have once again stepped in and have agreed to fund the relocation of the animals and committed funds to the development of a ‘Sensory Garden’ within the existing grounds of the Cultural Centre. Financial support has also been provided by Body Shop that has allowed the Centre to build two new enclosures at the Centre which will enable the centre to rescue some of the remaining birds of prey and porcupine.
Thank you to both Born Free and Body Shop for helping to make this first (and future) rescue/s happen.
Operations and Development Manager