The description of the key features of the Malawi-Zambia TFCA is based around understanding these features from a resource perspective, followed by a description of the business environment and then the current beneficiation environment. The description of each feature is directly linked to the issues pertaining to this feature.

The figure below illustrates the concept and a summary of the key features of the Malawi-Zambia TFCA, noting that this structure is used throughout the IDP for the various discussions regarding the attainment of the delicate balance between man, business and nature.


Due to the substantial and rapid elevation changes within the TFCA (refer Map 7), the ecological gradient from the north to the south of the TFCA is distinct, ranging from afromontane grasslands to Miombo and Mopane woodland. As a result of the steep gradient, the Malawi-Zambia TFCA contains a high number of sensitive and high value habitats (refer to Map 8 ), that require conservation programmes to be implemented to ensure that the biodiversity associated with the landscape, as well as the resources, both natural and cultural, are appropriately protected.

The Malawi-Zambia TFCA is blessed with an abundance of natural and cultural resources, and its protected area network consists of five distinct and separate protected areas, all inextricably connected to one another. The main conservation areas, all IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Category II protected areas, are:
• The two Nyika national parks – Malawi and Zambia
• Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve
• Musalangu GMA
• North Luangwa National Park.

Habitat Value Formula = [Protection Status] + [Biodiversity] + [Threat Status] + [Primary Production] + [Human Footprint]* + [Food Value]*noting that criteria indicated with an asterisk have a negative value.

As a mountain catchment area, the Nyika Plateau has a significant role to play in providing opportunities to conserve several crucial ecosystem services, firstly, as a catchment for water production, and secondly, as a refuge area for rare and unique species of both fauna and flora (refer Map 9). The Nyika Plateau is an important source for several rivers and water courses of local significance such as:

• Chisanga Falls (Historical site, water resource)
• Hewe River (Irrigation, domestic use)
• Kaziwiziwi River (Domestic use)
• Lake Kaulumi (Fisheries source, water catchment)
• Lunyina River (Water catchment)
• Mhuju River (Irrigation, domestic use)
• Mwazizi River (Domestic use)
• North Rukuru River (Water catchment)
• Rumphi River – North and South (Water catchment)
• Ruviri River – Ng’Onga and Ruviri Nkhamunga (Irrigation, fishing, domestic)
• Ruviri River – Nkhamanga (Domestic use, irrigation)
• Worwe River (Power, irrigation, water resource).

The Lunyina and Ruviri Rivers are sources for the Nkhamanga Water Scheme in Malawi.

All of these rivers are important as water catchment areas, as well as for fishing, and are relied on heavily by the
local communities.

Other important water resources include:

• Lake Kazunigu (Domestic use, fishing)
• Luwewe River (Domestic use, fishing)
• Vwasa Marsh (Fishing, tourist attraction)

The North Luangwa National Park lies on the western bank of the Luangwa River bordered on the eastern side by the Muchinga Escarpment which rises over 1,000m from the valley floor. There are a number of tributary rivers running through the Park and into the Luangwa River which play an important ecological role in the area. The crystal-clear Mwaleshi River trickles down the escarpment in a series of small waterfalls. The rivers recede in the dry season, leaving many pools along the way, drawing wildlife from the bush to the river banks in search of water.

The broad vegetation types of the area are depicted in Map 10.

The Nyika Plateau is renowned for its wildflowers, especially orchids, of which there are both terrestrial and epiphytic species, of which there are 205 species, seven of which are known only from the Nyika plateau, and 11 localised orchid species. Additional wildflower species include dieramas, gladioli, protea and kniphofia. The Nyika National Park in Malawi is classified as a Centre of Plant Diversity. A SABONET (Southern African Botanical Diversity Network) report on the Nyika Plateau lists a total of 1927 species and subspecies, of which 33 are only found on the Nyika Plateau, and a further 13 species are only found there and on immediately adjacent mountains.

The main vegetation types of the Nyika Plateau are:

● Brachysteigia woodlands -
Dominant in the southern foothills
● Evergreen Forests –

– Submontane (Ocotea-Ficalhoa) forest – Confined to the eastern escarpment where it occurs as the largest of the forest remnants
– Submontane (Entandrophragma) forests on the Zambia border which are floristically more abundant.
– Montane (Juniperus) forest – Juniperus procera does not occur on the highest, most exposed parts of the plateau, but is found at 2,000–2,300m in sheltered valleys, specifically the Uyaghaya valley towards the south-east edge of the plateau, which signifies the southern limit of this species which is vulnerable to wild fires.
– Broad-leaved montane forest –As the southern limit of Hagenia abyssinica, this vegetation type isfound in patches in sheltered valleys, andit is thought that these once covered the entire plateau, yet since it is susceptible to wild fires started by lightning, poachers or accident the distribution is limited.

  • Montane Grassland – Covers approximately a third of the Plateau area and comprises hundreds of species of legumes, wildflowers and shrubs as well as over 90 species of short grass. A possible threat is the spread of Bracken Fern Pteridium aquilinum.

Of concern is that the four main forests on the Nyika Plateau – Juniper Forest; Mwenembe Forest; Bomwe Forest; and Nganda Forest – are all subject to deforestation, and that the montane grassland is subjected to excessive bush fire that changes the dynamics of this sensitive habitat.

A few exotic plant species occur on the plateau, including almost 570ha of pine plantation, planted between 1952–1958, occur on the Nyika Plateau at Chilinda, primarily Pinus patula, a few bluegums and Himalayan Raspberry (Rubus ellipticus) which could pose a threat to the habitat integrity in the area.

In contrast to the Nyika Plateau much of Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve is located on low lying flat ground although the eastern side of the reserve is hilly. It is located to the southeast of the plateau and to the north of the floodplains of South Rukuru River and covers an area of 1,000km². The area is characterised by Mopane and Miombo woodland and marshy wetlands which attracts a significant number of birds to the reserve.

The vegetation within the Musalangu GMA, the Muchinga Escarpment, and North Luangwa National Park area ranges from Miombo and Mopane woodland to riverine forest, open grasslands and acacia thicket. Trees include the beautiful sausage tree, vegetable ivory palms, red mahogany and leadwood. Approximately 24% of NLNP consists of Muchinga Escarpment, which represents a large portion of the undisturbed escarpment Miombo vegetation in the area, including more than 1348 vascular plant species. The Park has also been identified as a Centre of Plant Diversity due to the global botanical importance of the protected area.

From refer to Map 11 it can be derived that fire seems to be prevalent throughout the focus area. Fire occurs naturally on the Nyika Plateau when grassland is ignited by lightning strikes. It must, therefore, be regarded as a natural dynamic of the Nyika ecosystem. The difficulty arises when fires are the result of human activity such as the smoking out of bees, or are deliberately set by poachers to attract game to the green flush of new grass that follows the burns. Controlled burning is, however, an important management tool in the Nyika grassland environment. Not only does the protection and rehabilitation of forests depend on fire control, but there is also a need to mediate the impact of fire intensity on grassland. It has also been suggested that there is a causal link between the intensity and frequency of fires and the supposed spread of the bracken Pteridium acquilinum. The spread of this fern renders large areas of limited use to grazing and browsing game animals, though it is used by some birds for shelter and nest sites. The short green flush of new grass that appears after burns is an important source of grazing for large mammals. Fire is also needed to stimulate the growth and flowering of numerous geophyte herbs and forbs that are an integral part of the grassland flora.

From a wildlife perspective, a variety of animals can be seen in the Nyika grasslands. Numbers and species vary depending on the time of year, with the Nyika national parks having important populations of roan, eland, Crawshay’s zebra, southern reedbuck, bushbuck, warthog, spotted hyaena and side-striped jackal. Elephant can be seen at times and leopard can be seen in the daytime owing to the temperate climate.
Rare and endemic species in the Nyika National Park is the only known Malawi locality of the Greater Dwarf Shrew Suncus lixus and the Lesser Dwarf Shrew Suncus varilla, as well as a very rare bat Plerleirotes anchietae and two species of vlei rats, that are endemic to montane areas from the Nyika to Ethiopia (Tanganyika vlei rat Otomys typus and Kemps vlei rat Otomys deni).

Within Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, the animal species and numbers vary from season to season as they cross the border with the Zambia, entering specifically the Musalangu GMA and NLNP. Typically the reserve has large herds of buffalo and elephants, and a large variety of antelope including roan, greater kudu, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, eland and impala.Lake Kazuni is located in the reserve and supports a notable hippo population.

North Luangwa National Park is the only protected area within the Malawi-Zambia TFCA that supports the Big 5, and is one of only a few within the SADC region. It also has Cookson’s Wildebeest and Crayshay’s Zebra.High concentration of large mammals such as buffalo, hippo, wildebeest, zebra, lion and hyaena are the major attraction in North Luangwa National Park, augmented by the presence of endangered and endemic species, such as black rhino, Cookson’s wildebeest and wild dog.

Due to the relative abundance of wildlife throughout the Malawi-Zambia TFCA the occurrence of Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) incidence is also high. This is often a result of encroachment, unseasonal burning disturbing wildlife movement patterns, and the lack of effective mitigation measures.

Both the Nyika and North Luangwa components of the Malawi-Zambia TFCA are listed as IBAs (Important Bird Areas). Notable birdlife in this area include Goliath Herons, Openbill Storks and the rare White-winged Starling, whileapproximately 430 species of birds have been recorded on the Nyika Plateau of which around 60 are vagrants or very rare. Denham’s Bustard (Neotis denhami) are resident on the plateau grassland with occasional sightings of groups numbering 15-24. Also endemic are Red-winged Francolin Francolinus levaillantii crawshayi, first collected in 1895, and other special birds such as Pallid Harrier, Augur Buzzard, Mountain Cisticola, Mountain Marsh Whydah, and Blue Swallow (seasonal: August to April).

Three species of global conservation concern breed on the Nyika:

● Blue Swallow (Hirundo atrocaerulea) – Nyika National Park supports 10% (300 pairs) of the total breeding population. Healthy montane grasslands are critical for their survival
● Churring Cisticola (Cisticola njombe), also dependent upon healthy montane grasslands
● Wattled Crane (Grus carunculatus), while about 12 breeding pairs were recorded in 1986, it is now thought to be only 3 breeding pairs.

Also of conservation concern are the:

● Pallid Harrier (Circus macrouris)
● Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)
● Great Snipe (Gallinago media)
● Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Nectarinia afra).

Listed for the Nyika Plateau,there are 47 reptile species, of which three species are endemic,and at least 15 types of frogs and toad, mostly favouring the damp and cool dambos, of which two are endemic to the area:

● Nyika Variable Skink Mabuya varia nyikae
● Hilda’s Skink Mabuya hildae
● Goetz’s Nyika Chameleon Chamaeleo goetzi nyikae
● Black-Striped Sedge Frog Hyperolius quinquevittatus merdensi
● Nyika Dwarf Toad Bufo taitanus nyikae.

The abundant number of crocodile in the Luangwa River, especially along the Luangwa – Mwaleshi Confluence is also an attraction to the area.

Lake Kaulumi and the three man-made dams, together with the four major rivers that rise on the Nyika Plateau and supply the northern region before flowing to Lake Malawi, as well as numerous streams, provide habitats for 27 indigenous species of fish. Most are found in the lower reaches of the rivers, the most important being Lake Salmon Opsaridium microlepis (known locally as Mpasa) that spawn in the clean waters of the North Rukuru river.
The only indigenous species on the plateau itself is the Mountain Catfish Amphilius platychir, while the exotic Rainbow Trout Salmo gairdnerii were introduced.

Despite very little being known about the 1000 plus collected and identified insects of the Nyika Plateau, the area supports 223 species of butterflies of which around 120 are forest species. At least 13 species are endemic, including:

● Charaxes dowsetti
● Charaxes nyikensis
● Papilio thuraui cyclopis
● Mylothris crawshayi crawshayi
● Axioceres karinae
● Lepidochrysops chalceus
● Lepidochrysops nyika.

Throughout large areas of the Malawi-Zambia TFCA, the natural resources are utilised by local people and communities. This use varies from nutritional, functional, and cultural to spiritual. Many of the plants are utilised for food and include tubers (Chinaka), mushrooms, wild fruits (Masuku) and palms, while other are used for construction–thatching, timber and poles – including grass in the area, which is also used for grazing of domestic livestock. Illegal harvesting of timber has been raised as a concern in the area.

Two rock features have specific cultural value – Fingila Rock and Ng’Anjo Rock (furnace) – both of which have got value for use within cultural tourism aspects of the TFCA.

Fossil bearing rocks occur in the Luangwa Valley and have been documented by a series of studies dating as far back as the 1930’s. The following are among the fossil bearing rock sites that exist within NLNP:

● Locality 9 of the 1974 expedition which lies on the Musina River, about 2 km west of Marula-Puku and is rich in dicynodont, gorgonopsid and pareiasaur specimens of the Madumabisa mudstone;
● The exceptionally well preserved silicified wood between the Lufwashi and Mulondoshi Rivers. Whole petrified tree trunks and specimens showing such details as insect infestations are abundant;
● Madumabisa mudstone along the Mulondoshi River; and
● Locality 10 on the Lokokwa River is an exposure of the middle Triassic Ntawere formation consisting small pieces of fossilized wood and a few fragments of bone on a piece of breccia.

Despite the tourism value, the full spectrum of wildlife – mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and insects – is exploited to augment food security and commerce. Most of the mammals are hunted, either commercially, recreationally or traditionally, and this situation has led to depletion in most of the wildlife populations. Poaching of wildlife has been raised as an issue that must be addressed.

Fish resources are heavily utilised and concerns have been raised regarding overfishing, not abiding to the fish bans, trapping of fish during the breeding season, the use of mosquito nets and chemicals, and perceptions regarding the ownership of fish and water resources.

Honey, as well as honey bees, are a valuable resource that is extensively utilised in the Malawi-Zambia TFCA, for both food and as an income generation activity.

Cultural heritage resources, such as hot springs, graves, and burial sites are spread throughout the entire Malawi-Zambia TFCA.Among the identified cultural and archaeological resources of NLNP are Museba and Mboloma. Museba is a site along the Mwaleshi River near the falls, and this is the location that the subjects of Chief Mukungule used to embalm their chief for about a year in preparation for burial. Mboloma is a site along the Lubanga River where the Bisa of Mukungule still visit on a yearly basis to perform their traditional rites to appease their ancestors and ask for continued peace and prosperity for the whole tribe.

Due to the remoteness and undeveloped nature of the entire region, the Malawi-Zambia TFCA offers one of the finest wilderness experiences in Africa. North Luangwa National Park specialises in offering walking trails based on the principle of restricted development and use of vehicles and a road network that is limited. Other areas within the TFCA offer similar wilderness experiences. Wilderness is a rare and threatened resource that should be identified, managed and protected (refer Map 12).

  • Malawi Zambia TFCA

    Kenyatta Road | Capital City| Lilongwe | Directions | PO Box 30131 | Munif House| Lilongwe | Republic of Malawi

    Tel: + 265 (0) 1755528
    Mobile: +265 (0) 888852648
    Fax: + 265 (0) 755528

  • About TFCA

    The project supports transboundary biodiversity conservation through planning, institution building, fundraising and capacity building for protected area management within three management blocks belonging to Nyika TFCA.