Saving Michiru bats, birds

You could not resist the chirping sounds of birds in the early hours of the morning. The chorus, punctuated by silence, brings smiles on your face.  Different species reflect the biodiversity of this place.

That’s Michiru Mountain for you. It is one of the popular bird watching conservation forests in the commercial city of Blantyre. The mountain which stands at 1 470 metres and covering 46 km² and established as a conservation area in 1975.

Bird watching is a common sport in Michiru Nature Sanctuary

The road to the forest is a joy to take. From Glyn Jones Road, travelers turn right at Adventist Hospital on Kabula Hill. After a few minutes, drive covering 5.5 kilometres, you are greeted by a breath taking view of Chilomoni Township at the foot of the mountain.

The beauty of the site transcends the mind and it is easy to understand why many travelers enjoy bird-watching here.

Michiru Mountain and its wonderful trails-well maintained by the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi-Blantyre branch-is home to a diversity of birds such as the African paradise flycatcher, Heuglins Robin, Red-throated Twinspots, many other birds, and bats.

In total, Michiru Nature Sanctuary is home to over 250 bird species.

As some bird watching experts say, birds know no boundaries; hence, bird populations in Michiru need to be multiplying.

But as the birds-so colourful-roam freely, they are in constant fear of the man-made damage taking place on the edge of the mountain.

Saving bats

Highly at risk is the bat walk service, one of the many activities the sanctuary offers to tourists and researchers.

It is an activity which has been welcomed by many birdwatchers for years.

However, rampant deforestation in the mountain is leading to extinction of some birds and the bats due to loss of habitat.

Wesm chairperson Tiwonge Gawa says if no action is taken, the country may lose the entire treasure in Michiru and other nature conservation forests across the country.

To save the situation, Wesm in conjunction with Bats without Borders (Bawb), have embarked on empowering key stakeholders that handle the endangered species especially game rangers.

The two organisations inked a five-year agreement that will see the sanctuary ‘s tour guides get the much-needed training on how to protect the rare species in the reserve can be protected.

The tour guides will be acquainted with ecological and biological aspects of bats and birds for preservation of the remaining species.

​Bawb is a not-for-profit organisation working across southern Africa to conserve bat populations and biodiversity.

The organisation believes bats are as incredibly important as birds because the mammals are often misunderstood, feared and persecuted.

According to conservation scientist at Bawb, Rachael Cooper-Bohannon that’s why training of rangers in Michiru Nature Sanctuary is important.

“We are aiming to train more rangers about bats, because bats provide vital ecosystem services that are important for people and ecosystem health,” she says.

The scientist explains that bats can eat huge quantities of insects such as mosquitoes and important agricultural insect pests.

Nature conversationalists also claim that in addition to being major insect predators, bats are also important seed disperses and pollinators.

Study and research

The sanctuary’s manager Anthony Chikwemba hopes the training helps the wildlife and nature reserve’s bird and bat population to soar.

He says visitors to study and research at the park have been asking for a bird guide or want to do a bat walk but most of the rangers were not well-equipped to provide support.

“At times we receive visitors who solely come [to study] birds and bats hence the need to protect them from extinction. So the training [of rangers] is timely and important,” Chikwemba said.

Malawi has over 650 bird and 80 bat species that have high tourist attraction potential for the country’s economic gains if nurtured.

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