When lawmakers in Malawi passed the National Parks and Wildlife Bill last week, some of them knew what they were talking about.
Last month, 48 members of Parliament (MPs) delved into the scenic bushes of Liwonde National Park where they witnessed why wildlife must be protected at all cost: it is beautiful, but endangered.
During the game-changer safari organised by the Malawi Parliamentary Conservation Caucus, the MPs, who traded their head-turner designer suits for casual wear, fell in love with Malawi’s wildlife like never before. Even Speaker Richard Msowoya did not don the weighty robe and wig of his office, but a simple trouser with a matching long-sleeved shirt.
Dressed to the occasion, the tourists entered the park at Makanga via Ulongwe Turnoff, taking a 15-minute speedboat trip to Mvuu Camp.
On arrival at the dazzling campsite, African Parks country manager Patricio Ndadzela welcomed them with a call for hard-hitting laws to save wildlife from poachers.
“Wildlife is under threat from criminals,” he said. “It makes a difference if we see things with our own eyes. After appreciating nature in the wild, I believe you will vote for the laws that prescribe stiffer punishment for criminals plundering our natural resources.”
In no time, the water-borne safari began. Some ‘honourables’ became tremblers as eight boats carrying them heaved into the photographable expanse split by Shire River. Crocodiles, both big and small, looked like brownish rocks as they sun-bathed on the riverbanks.
Reporters and some adventurous MPs crammed a Cormorant boat led by our tour guide Chifundo Nyambalo.
He called for “a proper balance” as a familiar voice blared: “We will all be meat for crocodiles!”
It was Rumphi East MP Kamlepo Kalua. He admittedly hates dull moments and seems happy provoking light moments around him.
The man, who is accustomed to the perilous boat rides of Mlowe and Tchalo in his remote constituency on the northern shoreline of Lake Malawi, lived up to his reputation.
There was no boring moment as the boat sped by some camp chalets that cost $170 a night, according to Nyambalo.
A giggling Kalua interrupted: “Did you hear that, colleagues? Even an MP would struggle to pay that much. I pity Malawian salaries.”
He laughed infectiously. We all laughed.
But silence was loud as Nyambalo steered the boat too close to crocodiles and hippopotami, devotedly delivering lectures on the sleeping giants’ habits and mannerisms.
“Male hippos often kill one another over territorial dominancy. The winner gets the right to service all 13 female hippos, sometimes,” he said.
Kalua laughed even louder.
“Can you slowly repeat what you just told us? Repeat very, very s-l-o-w-l-y!” he said.
More laughter erupted.
Kamlepo turned in my direction: “Did you hear that? Some of you, preachers, insist that people shall go to hell over polygamy, even when a man is seeing only two concubines or so. But nature here allows one male hippo to sleep with 13 female hippos. Will such hippos also burn in hell?”
Just then, Nyambalo signalled us to a large hippo perching on a nearby anthill.
Intoned he: “Look carefully. Does it look active?”
Nooo! We chorused.
The hippo looked wounded and sulking. It had oozing sores.
“Well,” Nyambalo exclaimed. “It must have just lost a fight over territorial rights. It is now truly considering which other part of the river it must migrate to-but very far from its victor.”
No one roared louder than Kalua.
Laughingly, he thundered: “I ‘m sorry for the beaten hippo. Look at it. It must be thinking: ‘Where will I find my next lover?’”.
Kalua took a brief recess.
The long muted MPs used his breather to discuss why it was great to be in the boat, with many recommending an immediate promotion for our unmarried safari guide.
“But don’t ever become like the losing hippo,” Kalua quipped.
Enough of hippos!
We later saw elephants, warthogs, waterbucks, impalas, fish eagles and many other marvels of the jungle. Nyambalo had fascinating anecdotes for almost everything in view.
He even told a story of fish net entangled in a stump on the riverbank.
“Some poachers beat our park security to try and catch the teeming fish in the river. We will come back to this very spot to destroy the net and probably track the poachers,” the easy-smiling game ranger declared dutifully.
It was time to return to Mvuu Camp for lunch.
We sailed too close to the other boats amid seemed kindergarten-ish excitement, frantic waving, risky handshakes and jokes.
“Just jump into our boat,” we shouted at our colleagues.
It was truly enjoyable. In 90 minutes, we had seen plenty of stunning animals that are constantly depleted by poachers.
Navicha Thom took a turn to brief the press: “I recently visited one of our neighbouring countries where they took us on a longer safari, but we never saw half as many animals as we saw today.”
She feels we do not adequately market our country, rare wildlife resources and tourist attractions.
She urges the media to lead concerted efforts to promote tourism hotspots and their endowments.
Most importantly, the MPs confessed in random interviews that the tour offered them numerous reasons to pass stiffer laws to safeguard the endangered beauties.
The country can no longer allow poachers and other criminals to continue terrorising its invaluable natural resources, they said.
Their final conquest came on Wednesday when they easily passed the long-awaited National Parks and Wildlife Bill.
Just like that, the adventurous MPs became contenders for every Tourists of the Year Award up for grabs. They lived up to their promise to end wildlife crimes. n