Liwonde National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
The park is primarily a system of Rift Valley flood-plain habitats with associated woodlands on higher ground. It follows the upper Shire river (the western boundary) for 30 km, up to the south-eastern shore of Lake Malombe; a northern section (added in 1977) connects it with Mangochi Mountain Forest Reserve (site MW013). Away from the river, the terrain slopes gently eastwards and is interrupted by two groups of hills (highest peak 921 m). The vegetation of the park is a complex of seven main types, the most widespread being tall, monodominant Colophospermum mopane woodland. Riverine habitats include extensive reedbeds, Hyphaene palm-savanna, flood-plain grassland and semi-evergreen thickets of Acacia–Albizia–Diospyros. A savanna woodland of Adansonia digitata, Acacia spp., Albizia harveyi and small clumps of mopane, interspersed with termitaria, lies adjacent to the flood-plain. On the hills Brachystegia–Julbernardia (miombo) woodland dominates. Cutting east–west across the flood-plain are tributary drainage lines fringed with evergreen forest.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. The park has a list of over 380 species. Circus macrourus may winter in small numbers. There are also a few records of Falco naumanni, which is possibly regular on passage, while Gallinago media has been recorded, but its status is unknown. Many aquatic bird species occur, including Gorsachius leuconotus and Ardeola rufiventris, but numbers overall are rather small. Liwonde is the only locality in Malawi where Agapornis lilianae is recorded and is an important site for this lovebird with well over 1,000 individuals occurring in mopane and baobab woodland. It is also the only regular site in the country today for Lybius melanopterus.

Non-bird biodiversity: Vegetation: an epiphytic orchid is almost endemic (Microcoelia ornithocephala; also recorded on the small Sambani Hill to the south).Mammals: the park holds the most important Malawi populations of Kobus ellipsiprymnus (LR/cd) and Hippotragus niger (LR/cd). Reintroduction of Diceros bicornis (CR) and some other species is being undertaken, but the long-term security of the park is far from certain.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
At first a controlled hunting area, Liwonde National Park was gazetted in 1973 to protect nationally and, to a lesser extent, regionally important game populations, including elephant Loxodonta africana, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest Alcelaphus lichtensteini and sable antelope Hippotragus niger. High population densities on the periphery of the park have created serious problems recently. With no effective buffer zone around the park, cultivation occurs right up to the boundary, creating a ‘hard edge’ effect. Herds of elephants therefore had access to crops and have caused considerable damage to adjacent maize farms. Occasional loss of human life has resulted from encounters between raiding elephant herds and farmers. In 1994 the South African Government funded a project to construct 72 km of electric fencing to keep elephants out of farmers’ crops. This has worked to some degree, but the fencing wire has been used by some community members to make snares for poaching game in the park; the fence has also been removed to facilitate collection of firewood in the park. In addition, poaching with firearms within the park has seen the reduction of several species, including lions (said to have been exterminated by the late 1990s). Elephants are being harassed from all quarters and suffer from multiple snare-related wounds.

For some time DNPW has received requests from the private sector to allow trade in live birds and, although these requests have been turned down in the past, the point may soon be reached when no option other than to conduct a ‘trial’ trade will be left. This clearly has implications for Agapornis lilianae and the situation must be closely monitored. The species is fully protected under the Parks and Wildlife Act at present, but is on CITES Appendix II, which means that the government can authorize exploitation. This does not, of course, rule out illegal capture and trade.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Liwonde National Park. Downloaded from on 19/07/2019.