Our EPI Friend of the Month is Brighton Kumchedwa, Director of Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Brighton was awarded the prestigious Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa in 2017.
Did you grow up in the city or out in the countryside? Were you interested in wildlife conservation as a young boy?
I spent most of my childhood in the countryside because my parents were farmers. My interest in conservation began at school when I entered an essay competition on a favourite animal. As a prize I won a trip to Kasungu National Park, where, for the first time I saw a live elephant. It was a turning point for me. When I got to university I mobilised other students to form a wildlife club and worked in the vacations as an intern at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.
You’ve spent your entire career at the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. You’ve seen the fortunes of Malawi’s wildlife decline, and then revive. What achievement are you most proud of?
Yes, l have over 25 years of service at DNPW. I joined when wildlife was plenty and saw it decline, and the good thing is that during my leadership wildlife now seems to be heading towards recovery. We’ve managed to change Malawi’s wildlife laws, and introduce stiffer penalties, and improve coordination and law enforcement. Now we have the support of the private sector and development partners.
….and what are your greatest regrets?
When an ivory destruction ceremony in 2015 was suspended by the Head of State at the last minute, largely because of misunderstandings of the whole concept. We should have done more awareness before the event.
Which is the biggest threat to Malawi’s elephants; conflict with humans over scarce land, or ivory poaching?
Our elephants are most threatened by organised ivory poaching and organised ivory trafficking.
Are you optimistic that your grandchildren will grow up to see wild elephants in Malawi?
Yes indeed; the strategies now being implemented have already started paying some dividends. For instances, in Kasungu National Park where poaching reared its ugly head and impacted our elephants, the population has started to pick up.