Earlier in the year, back in July (see Rare Orchids Saved From Poachers), a huge number of rare orchid tubers were retrieved from poachers who had tried to make off with them under cover of the Nyika National Park winter mist. The counter-poaching team trialled a new method of preventing the loss of these flowering plants from the national park as many are threatened, endemic species. By storing the orchid tubers under cover inside sheds, buried in dry sand, they hoped to keep them alive until the rains arrived. The plan was to then plant them out in the hope that at least some of the orchids would survive.
The high-lying areas of Nyika National Park are often shrouded in mist, providing the perfect environment for orchids to flourish. In summer a multitude of wildflowers and orchids bloom on the highlands, making it a sight unlike any seen in most other game parks. Nyika boasts 213 different species of wild orchids species, 30 which are endemic to the park and many of which are critically endangered.
Unfortunately, wild orchid tubers are in demand from poachers as they are used to make a local vegetarian salami called chikanda, made from boiled orchid roots, groundnuts and spices. Orchid roots are very popular and sold in markets fresh, dried, as snacks or as ready-made chikanda. Although this presents a major problem to Nyika National Park, measures are in place to counter this illegal activity to ensure that these critically endangered flowering plants remain in Nyika’s soil for generations to come. They are not only critical to the region’s biodiversity, but a major draw card for tourists, making it vital to protect them and enable the hundreds of varieties to continue to flourish.
This time it is good news for the orchids and the park. Norman – Head of Counter-Poaching Operations in Nyika National Park – examines the green shoots of progress that many of the orchids are making after being transplanted from the sand to the outdoors, where they will grow before being moved back into the park.
Nyika National Park is Malawi’s largest and oldest protected area. Peace Parks Foundation has a long history with this landscape, dating back nearly two decades when, together with the governments of Malawi and Zambia, the Foundation started exploring the conservation benefits and commercial opportunities that a transboundary conservation area could offer to this region. In 2015, the Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area, of which Nyika National Park is an integral component, was established.