Wildlife Research Programmes, Malawi

Malawi

Join expert research teams and deliver applied conservation research on the reintroduction and management of key wildlife in Malawi.

Malawi is rich in wildlife but the biodiversity is threatened by wildlife crime, the human-wildlife conflict and high rates of deforestation. 

Research into focus species is critical to increasing the knowledge about Malawi's wildlife, and influencing the country's long-term conservation and wildlife management plans. There are four areas of research being covered in this programme:

  • Elephant research
  • Primate research
  • Samango monkey research
  • Conservation medicine

Conducting your own research

Volunteers are also welcome to conduct their own research projects relating to the above programmes, and unrelated studies will also be considered. You are required in these cases to submit a research proposal and be prepared to stay for a minimum of 1-2 months (up to 12 months).

Quick Facts

Who can join: Volunteers and students from 18 years
How long can I stay for: 2 weeks - 12 months
Accommodation: Volunteer house / tented camp
Transfer time: 5-6 hours
Pick up from: Lilongwe (Kamuzu) International Airport
Meals: 3 meals a day included
Start dates: Mondays
How much: from £1,150 (2 weeks)

WHY CHOOSE THIS PROJECT?

A unique opportunity to work alongside research professionals, helping inform the Malawian Government's conservation policy. Gain practical experience in field research techniques, and choose from a number of focus species to study.

Elephant Research

Research goal:

To assess the status, distriction and movement patterns of elephants in the conservation area around Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, an area of around 31,000 square km between Malawi and Zambia.

Research summary:

Currently very little is known about the elephants of northern Malawi. The ratio of resident versus migratory elephants and their seasonal movements and territories remains undocumented. The Transfrontier Conservation Area is critical to the conservation of elephant populations, as it provides a wildlife corridor facilitating movement, migration and gene flow.

Data collected from this project informs the Malawian Government’s conservation management strategy, and also assists the project's wildlife enforcement project, which aims to quantify the nature and impact of wildlife crime and illegal trade on elephant populations in northern Malawi.

Where is the project based?

This research project is based in the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve and Nyika National Park.

Who can join this research project?

This project is open to volunteers, students and post-graduates. Volunteers who are not studying a related degree must volunteer at the Malawi Wildlife Sanctuary for a minimum of two weeks before joining the research project. Students of related subjects may join the research project straightaway, although we recommend spending some time at the sanctuary as well!

What do research volunteers get involved with?

  • Foot transects to survey elephant populations
  • Behavioural observations to record group cohesion and feeding behaviour
  • Individual elephant identification and development of ID database
  • Habitat assessments using vegetation plots
  • Data entry and GIS mapping
  • Diet assessments using dung surveys
  • Learn about the surrounding plant and animal ecology
  • Gain field experience with an expert team

Primate Conservation Research

Research goal:

The goal of this research programme is to study and assess the effectiveness of the project's yellow baboon and vervet monkey release programme, to inform future reintroductions and to identify improvements. 

Research summary:

The project's Primate Reintroduction Programme for yellow baboons and vervet monkeys has been running since 2013. The success of reintroductions for those rescued and
rehabilitated at the Wildlife Centre is assessed with the aim of informing future releases, and to identify improvements in terms of cost effectiveness and animal welfare.

The project conducts extensive research pre and post reintroduction to inform processes. For example, a comprehensive primate population census and habitat assessment at the reintroduction site are conducted. These census surveys are on-going to monitor primate population changes in the park.

Where is the project based?

This research project is based in the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve.

Who can join this research project?

This project is open to volunteers, students and post-graduates. Volunteers who are not studying a related degree must volunteer at the sanctuary for a minimum of two weeks before joining the research project. Volunteers can spend up to 12 weeks on the project. Students studying related subjects may join the research project straightaway, although we of course recommend spending some time at the sanctuary as well! Students may spend up to 12 months doing their research placement.

What will I be doing?

  • Population census surveys using standardised foot transects
  • Individual identification (based on age and sex classes)
  • Behavioural observations (PRCP only, seasonal)
  • Radio telemetry and GPS use (PRCP only, seasonal)
  • Habitat assessments using vegetation surveys
  • Behavioural observations (feeding, group composition etc)
  • Learn about the surrounding plant and animal ecology
  • Gain field experience with an expert team on data entry and GIS (using QGIS)

Samango Monkey Research

Research goal:

This research project assesses the occupation and density of Samango monkeys in Nyika National Park.

The research aims to:

  • Confirm the number of sub-species in Malawi using molecular, pelage and morphometric data
  • Determine how habitat loss and fragmentation affects the genetic composition of blue monkeys
  • Assess the distribution of Samango monkeys in Malawi.

Research summary:

To assess the populations of the Samango monkey, researchers conduct ongoing vegetation and GIS surveys to identify forest patch and habitat metrics. The research uses molecular and ecological methods to assess the genetic impacts of habitat fragmentation and degradation on Samango monkeys in the area.

Samango monkeys are under threat in Malawi, primarily due to habitat loss. Their genetics, ecology and distribution are currently unknown, which limits their conservation management. This is the first Samango project in Malawi and the results will be used to inform conservation management for this species group, and more broadly to advance understanding of the genetic consequences of human induced environmental change.

Where is the project based?

This research project is based in the Nyika National Park, with some surveys carried out in Mulanje and
around Lake Malawi.

July: Nyika
August: Nyika
September: Zomba
October: Satemwa

Who can join this research project?

This project is open to MSc, MRes and PhD students. You must commit to a minimum 1 month stay, up to a maximum of 12 months.

What will I be doing?

  • Population census surveys (walked transects)
  • Habitat assessments (vegetation plots)
  • Learn about the surrounding plant and animal ecology
  • Gain field experience with an expert team
  • Data entry and organisation GIS mapping (using QGIS)
  • Collecting genetic material using sticky hair traps

Conservation Medicine Research

If you are interested in the area of conservation medicine, and studying the relationship between human and animal health, and environmental
conditions, please get in touch to discuss the current research projects being offered in Malawi.

FAQs

How do I get to the research placements?

You should arrive in Lilongwe at Kamuzu International Airport (LLW). Kenya Airways (via Nairobi), South African Airways (via Johannesburg)
and Ethiopian Airways (via Addis Ababa) all fly to Lilongwe. All of these airlines have Lilongwe offices so there should be no problem if you
need to change your flight when you are in Malawi.

How long should I come for?

Research volunteers come for between 2 and 12 weeks. Some choose to divide their time between research and a placement at the Wildlife Sanctuary. Research students who choose one of these placements for their course projects usually come for around 3 months, and placement students doing a sandwich year or a placement during their BSc (for up to 10 months) generally come for a minimum of 4
months.

When should I arrive?

Research students should arrive in Lilongwe on a Monday and typically depart on a Thursday. There are fortnightly scheduled arrival and departure dates depending on which programme you are joining so please indicate your ideal dates and we will work from there. Wildlife Centre volunteers, and vet or primate externs, can arrive and depart on any Tuesday throughout the year

Where will I be staying?

Nyika National Park: accommodation is a log cabin with kitchen, bedrooms (shared) and bathroom. It has hot and cold running water and electricity in the evenings. There is very limited phone and internet signal.

Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve: for long stay research students, there is a camp on the edge of Lake Kazuni where volunteers stay in large shared tents. There is an ablutions block, kitchen and dining area, lab, office and storage space. Shorter stay volunteers and students will stay in the park in a tented camp with kitchen dining and lounge area; long drop toilets and bucket showers.

What meals are provided?

At all locations, three meals a day are provided plus drinking water, tea, coffee and juice. Bear in mind that Malawian food is basic, and the project has to work within seasonal availability, but vegetarians and vegans can be catered for.

What about visas?

British, Australian, Canadian or American Nationals and those from most EU countries are required to obtain a $75 visitor’s permit valid for 30 days, with the option to extend for additional 30 days at roughly $10 up to a maximum of 90 days. For other nationalities, please check online or with us.

Which vaccinations do I need?

For Wildlife Sanctuary based primate research a negative TB test and tetanus vaccination is required and we strongly recommend rabies vaccinations. For other locations, we recommend anti-malaria tablets are taken - you should consult your doctor for other recommended vaccinations.

Is the bush safe?

Our camps do not have a barrier between camp and wildlife. While there are inherent dangers in this, volunteers and students are supervised by a team of expert staff with years of experience living and working in the bush. Each volunteer or student is given a safety briefing upon arrival and trained throughout the programme. All work in the bush is conducted under the protection of an armed and trained Department of National Parks & Wildlife Scout. An extensive risk assessment and mitigation strategy is in place.

Rates & Dates

Project Pricing

2018 project pricing is as follows (please note all prices are in GBP):

2 weeks: £1,150
3 weeks: £1,575
4 weeks: £1,975
5 weeks: £2,355
6 weeks: £2,585
7 weeks: £2,785
8 weeks: £2,935
9 weeks: £3,035
10 weeks: £3,135
11 weeks: £3,235
12 weeks: £3,335

What does the cost include?

  • Project fee: this goes straight back to the project and provides funding for equipment, materials, reintroductions, facilities and general research costs
  • Return transfers to the airport, Lilongwe and the camp
  • Accommodation and three meals per day
  • Project-related travel
  • 24 hour supervision plus full training and support from project staff
  • Local sim card

What's excluded from the cost?

  • Flights to Malawi (Lilongwe International)
  • Visa fees (variable depending on nationality - usually around $75 for a single entry visa, plus $10 for every 30 day extension)
  • Personal expenses such as souvenirs, drinks, gifts, snacks
  • Pre and post-programme accommodation (if required)
  • Additional excursions and nights out
  • Travel insurance which is compulsory and must include emergency evacuation and repatriation
  • Administration fee (£30)

Project Gallery - Wildlife Research Programmes, Malawi

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