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Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi is Africa's third largest and second deepest lake, measuring about 400 miles north to south and fifty miles wide in places. The lake dominates the eastern side of Malawi, constituting roughly 20% of the country’s surface area. Lake Malawi is an essential part of the cultural heritage of Malawians and is a vast trove of natural resources. Fish makes up the primary source of protein for nearly 20,000 people that live on the lakeshore and beyond.

A number of islands pepper the lake, separated from the mainland by alternating bands of sandy flats and deep water. Palm-fringed beaches and soaring mountains surround the warm, crystal-clear waters of Lake Malawi. Picturesque fishing villages dot the shoreline, their cultures unchanged for thousands of years.

Miombo woodland and baobab occur on the shores of Lake Malawi. Mammals including baboon, vervet monkey, dassies, and hippo are most commonly sighted. And it is no surprise that bird life is also abundant, with more than 100 species recorded. Lake Malawi is dominated by the ubiquitous African Fish-Eagles, but fowl enthusiasts will be rewarded with sightings of the shyer and less common forest birds such as the north-eastern hypoxanthus variety of Sombre Greenbul. Other species seen include African Harrier-Hawk, Trumpeter Hornbill, White-breasted Cormorant, Water Thick-Knee, African Paradise-Flycatcher, and a variety of herons, weavers, doves, and starlings.

Lake Malawi supports a wide range of underwater habitats. Its more than 2,000 species of freshwater fish are a greater variety than any other lake on Earth and more than all of Europe and North America combined. The majority of these are colorful fish are cichlids (locally named mbuna). All but five of over 350 species of the cichlids are endemic to Lake Malawi. Other fish species include catfish such as kampango and bombe or cyprinid fishes such as usipa, ningwe, nchila, mpasa, and sanjika. Much of this astounding underwater diversity is protected within the Lake Malawi National Park, a World Heritage Site and the first area in the world set aside for the protection of freshwater fish.

Mammals found in the area include hippo (particularly in the Monkey Bay area), duiker, baboon, vervet monkey, bush pig, warthog, and occasional elephant (reported as coming down to the lake between Mwenya and Nkhudzi hills). Leopard, kudu, bushbuck, and impala have been reduced or extirpated from the area. Reptiles found here include crocodile and monitor lizards (on Boadzulu Island).

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