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Nyika National Park

Nyika National Park

Nyika National Park is Malawi’s largest and oldest national park, with an area of 1,250 square miles. About 300 miles north of Lilongwe, the park covers almost the whole of the Nyika Plateau in northern Malawi. The park was established in 1965 and has a landscape and climate unique in Malawi and unusual in the whole of Africa. It is made up of a vast range of rolling hills, sweeping valleys, dense pine forest, and flower-studded grasslands. On clear days the views seem to have no end.

Nyika means "where the water comes from," which is appropriate as the plateau's elevation makes it wetter than surrounding areas, and during the rainy season it is frequently in cloud. The effect is breathtaking. The moist climate brings more than 200 orchid types into flower, and the wide open grasslands are world-renowned for their seasonal wildflowers. The park gained World Heritage Status in May of 2000 when it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in the Mixed (Cultural + Natural) category.

Nyika National Park is one of the important Afro-montane centers of plant biodiversity, and flora found in Nyika is of phytogeographical importance. The region is thought to be the southernmost site of many species. Although Nyika lies in the tropical-dry or deciduous forest region on the map of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the park has the features of tropical grassland and savanna. Unique in the region in terms of biological diversity, landscape, scenery, and climate, it protects rare and endangered species including Lexodanta africana, Hippogratus equinum, and Bugeramus caraculentu.

Lake Kaulime served as a spiritual sanctuary to the local population for many centuries. In ancient times, it was believed that the lake harbored a serpent and a human-like being through which people communicated with god. Fingira Cave is also an ancient sacred site where stone artefacts and shells are found today. In addition, an ancient iron smelting site has also been uncovered in the area.

Nyika is worth a visit, not only because of the abundant wildlife, but also because of the world-class hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding safaris. But, of course, conventional 4x4 excursions remain the preferred way to experience the wildlife. Species found in abundance include zebra, roan, eland, reedbuck, bushbuck, common duiker, bush pig, and klipspringer. Nyika is also home to a small herd of elephant. Leopard and cerval are found too—at one time the region had the highest concentration of leopard in Africa. Warthog, klipspringer, jackal, and hyenas are occasionally seen. The birding is excellent too, with more than 400 bird species recorded, including the rare Denham’s bustard, wattled cranes, and the beautiful red-winged francolin.

The primary threat to the park’s wildlife comes in the form of poaching, which, sadly, seems endemic to Africa. In addition, fires regularly sweep across the plateau, with devastating effect. But what may be the greatest threat is the insidious European pine. A failed commercial logging and wood product industry in the mid-twentieth century has left a legacy of 1,200 acres of mature pine on top of the plateau. Pine seedlings spread and grow at an alarming rate, and, with the prevailing easterly winds, the plantation has been growing unchecked westwards across the high plateau. Himalayan raspberry was also introduced and is now found in all corners of the plateau, as it is spread by birds.

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