Small logo for the Nyika Vwaza Trust

The Nyika Vwaza (UK) Trust

Working for environmental & wildlife conservation in Northern Malawi

Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve

The Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve are the largest and most important protected areas in northern Malawi with a combined area of over 4000 km². Both are of great ecological value with the Nyika including a unique montane ecosystem of grasslands and rainforest, while the very different Vwaza Marsh consists of lower-lying wetlands and woodlands. Between them they protect a wide range of habitats, a large variety of mammal species, over 400 species of birds, and numerous endemic species of plants and animals. Both areas have great potential as tourist attractions.

Where is the Vwaza Marsh?

Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh on Malawi map

Vwaza Marsh

Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve covers 986 km2 and ranges in altitude from 1,000 to 1,660 m. Along with the Nyika and North Luangwa National Parks, and other Game Management Areas in Zambia, it forms part of the Nyika−North Luangwa Transfrontier Conservation Area. Vwaza was designated as a Wildlife Reserve in 1977 and mostly comprises miombo woodland dominated by Brachystygia species interspersed with dambos (poorly-drained grasslands) and pockets of mopane woodland, its most northerly occurrence in Africa. While the majority of the area is relatively flat, there are small rocky outcrops on the eastern side of the reserve. Water from the Nyika National Park flows into the north-eastern section to create Vwaza Marsh, and the life-giving Luwewe River runs north−south through the whole reserve. The southern border of the reserve is marked by the South Rukuru River which flows into Lake Kazuni, an area that, in the dry season, transforms into a floodplain habitat. In the dry season, most wildlife congregates around these southern water sources.

Vwaza Marsh contains a high diversity of mammal species including numerous antelopes, primates and carnivores (48 species are recorded; see checklist on NVT website), but the larger animals occur in low densities due to a history of poaching. It also has the largest elephant population in northern Malawi, estimated at 300. A number of these migrate to Zambian protected areas during the rainy season but can readily be seen on the floodplain of Lake Kazuni in the dry season.

Due to the large extent of wetland habitat, Vwaza Marsh has a high diversity of birds with around 380 species (see checklist on the NVT website). Species of particular note are the White-winged Starling, which now occurs nowhere else in Malawi, and Swainson’s Francolin. There are also 14 species of fish.

A checklist of the plants is being compiled at present.