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Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve lies on the watershed between Lake Malawi and the Luangwa valley on 11° 00's and 33" 28'E. It is located on the Central African Plateau, west of northern Malawi and covers and area of986 km'. Its northern boundary coincides with the Malawi -Zambia border. It is bounded by subsistence farmers on the south and east of the Reserve. The wetland alluvial type (281 km') constitutes 28% of the total area of the reserve.
Vwaza Marsh natural features consist of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view. Geological and physiographical formations constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of science and conservation. Its natural sites are unique areas of outstanding universal value from the point of science, conservation and natural beauty.
Vwaza was once a home to thousands of people from the Early Iron Age who practiced subsistence agriculture, iron smelting works, hunting in the last twenty century and can be considered as an 'aesthetic quality' because no one lives there any more. A site at Phopo Hill was excavated and revealed pottery, iron slags, tuyere fragments and bone fragments which contain elements which are not unlike the Gokomere pottery of Zimbabwe and southern Zambia. This indicates human occupation during the third century A.D (McShane 1985 quoting Robson, 1972).
Therefore, Vwaza presents sanitized versions of the past human occupation because of an oversimplified story that is so alluring. Records indicate that during the last half of eighteenth century, the Balowoka people came into the area due to abundant supply of elephants at that time and Ivory was plentiful resulting in extensive trade for cloth, beads and similar merchandise. Chief Chikulamayembe established a firm trade route to Bisa country in Nkhamanga plain and the monopoly was broken by the appearance of Swahili slave and ivory traders and the intrusion of the Ngoni into the area (McShane 1985).
Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve is an important reserve that protects and maintains natural processes in undisturbed state in order to have ecologically representative examples of the natural environment available for scientific study. The Reserve is strongly associated with traditional cultures where people used to offer spiritual sacrifice, burial rituals and that the reserve is well known for Iron Age Smelting at Phopo Hill. It is also associated with biological diversity within its vegetation communities, and that the reserve is internationally known as a waterfowl habitat.
Criteria (iii): The site bears a unique testimony to a cultural tradition through extensive iron smelting and the presence of tuyere slag in the western part of the reserve, the Phopo Iron Age site, which reflects remarkable occupation of inhabitants for many centuries and burial sites of Zolokere chieftainship and Mowa chiefs presents an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition which is still living to date.
Criteria (v): Vwaza Marsh Natural Heritage site is an outstanding example of traditional human settlement and land use. The coming of the Swahili, Ivory trading by Chikulamayembe, Katumbi (Balowoka) and the Ngoni is a representative of human interaction with their environment. People practiced subsistence agriculture only in fertile soils (McShane 1985).Several cultural landscapes reflect human settlement. These include the Themba Triangular Hill where Chief Chikulamayembe and Katumbi parted each other, one went to the north and the other settled in Nkhamanga plains. The rock on which they sat reflects a memory to Katumbi chieftainship who collects a stone from the site yearly for annual ceremony of Mu1indafwa. Ywaza Marsh, a waterlogged basin was used as Zolokere chiefs burial site from 1500 to 1986. Chinyawima, Chiwambala and Nthuthika hills is a testimony to spiritual sites.
Criteria (viii): Major stages of earth history including the records of life present a significant on -going geological processes in the development of landforms, geomorphic and physiographic features. The geological setting date back to the Palieozonic period about 250 million years ago, associated with the Karoo sediments of Majimalala ridge, the Mesozonic period 150 million years ago resulting in the formation of Kapata hills; the Mesozonic period 70 million years ago resulting in the formation of a small portion of Karoo sediments at Majimalala ridge which was the beginning of the African erosion cycle; the Genozoic period 10 million years ago resulting in the formation of a line of Luwewe river and the western side of Vwaza marsh running along the north-south axis, extending from north into Zambia along the Bembe river and south Rukuru resulting in the formation of Zaro Pool; and lastly the Genozoic period 3 million years to the present whereby the western area might have extensive marsh before silting up or being drained by cutting of streams through the alluvial levee which may have accounted for high level of water at Lake Kazuni, and the area 10 km of the south Rukuru valley west of the Lake Kazuni there are sporadic unconsolidated deposits of pebbles of vein quartzite. (McShane, 1986).
Criteria (ix): Vwaza Marsh presents a significant on -going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of Lake Kazuni, Zaro pool and the Marsh ecosystems and communities of plants and animals. Lake Kazuni and Zaro Pool currently are silting up due to stream bank cultivation. This is a major unique development which has affected reduction of fish species from ten to four, major impacts on breeding and roosting birds' habitats, and reduction in hippo population, and further the Waterbuck species which roamed around Kazuni lagoon and Zaro Pool became extinct in 1970s. McShame, 1985). Other developments occurred in Ywaza Marsh -a water logged basin in the north east of the Reserve which used to be habitat for Wattle cranes. Management has started restoring the Marsh to provide habitats for hippos and other water species.
Criteria (x): Vwaza Marsh reflects a significant natural habitat for in-situ conservation of biological diversity that includes threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of science and conservation. The Malawi Wildlife Policy and the National Parks and Wildlife Act (2004) complement the idea to increase rare, endangered and endemic species of wildlife to optimal levels within the Vwaza Marsh. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife accept the desirability of protecting Vwaza Natural heritage site as a contribution to the worldwide effort to protect living resources and conserve biological diversity to retain in its wild state. Furthermore, it would protect and maintain natural processes in an undisturbed state in order to have ecological representative examples of natural environment available for scientific study, environmental monitoring, education and maintenance of genetic resources in a dynamic and evolutionary state ( MacKinnon etal 1986).
Flora: The proposed Vwaza Marsh Natural Heritage Site has a wide variety of plants communities and there are 398 species of vascular plants from 71 families. The vegetation is broadly classified into eight types and fifteen communities which include:
The proposed Vwaza Marsh Natural Heritage Site has a diverse vertebrate fauna that includes 50 species in 21 families of mammals, 341 species of birds and 10 species of fish. The Zaro Pool, Lake Kazuni and the Marsh are important areas for waterfowl and a number of Palearctis and intra· African migrants. The Site is important for about 19 bird species based on the Important Bird Areas (IBA) criteria for the Zambezian biome (A I0). The OCCUrrence of Swainson's francolin and the Whitewinged Babbling Starling are of particular interest. These two are species have been recorded only in Vwaza. The Whitewinged Babbling Starling is common localised resident and occurs in the flocks in Brachystegia woodland around Njale and Chivwala hills. Appendix I). McShane( 1985) also recorded rare and endangered mammal species which included Wild dog, Elephant, Puku and Clawless Otter. Two mammal species that used to occur in Vwaza Marsh Natural Heritage Site were recorded as vagrants and extirpated, these included Cookson's Wildebeest (Connochaeles laurinus cooksoni was recoded as rare and became extirpated in about 1945 or 1946; the Black Rhinoceros ( Diceros bicornis) was last recorded in 1969.
Joly, C etal 2008 recorded eleven Insect species from the proposed Vwaza Marsh Natural Heritage Site as follows:
Critchlow, D.P (1996) also recorded the Amphibian from Vwaza and recommended that much work on amphibians in the reserve need to be investigated. The following were recorded:
Vwaza Marsh first became a conservation area in 1941 when an area within 5 miles of the centre of Lake Kazuni was proclaimed Lake Kazuni Game Reserve (GN 166 of 1941). Historically, the Vwaza Marsh conservation area contains locally significant wildlife resources since the third millennium B.C. where hunters and gatherers of the Later Stone Age used it as hunting area due to abundance of elephants (Simfukwe quoting Clark 1969, Sandelowsky and Robinson 1968.) Furthermore Vwaza has preserved some traditional cultures such as the collection of stone on which Themba Katumbi sits during annual ceremonies. The collection of a rock from Themba Hill for annual ceremonies is a symbol of Katumbi chieftainship, and the Zolokere Chieftainship burial site on the edge of the Marsh which continues to be preserved. The traditional iron production has ceased to be practiced, but evidence of iron smelting still exist. The wetlands of Vwaza has been identified as a potential Ramsar site for the Waterfowl species and Palearctic and intra -African migratory birds species.
• The cultural tradition through Iron smelting and the spiritual chieftainship burial sites symbolize or represent human interaction with environment. None of these cultural elements has been altered or destroyed; they remain intact though natural weathering may have taken its course.
• The Vwaza Marsh still maintains its biological processes and landforms which are Plateaux, Wetland alluvial and Hills and Pediments. The Kazuni lagoon, Zaro Pool and the Marsh with their three adaphic grassland communities support numerous waterfowl and Palearctic migratory birds.
• It is in the integrity of its natural heritage values that Vwaza Marsh has special interest or unique characteristics in natural and scenic areas of international significance for scientific and for the maintenance of genetic resources in a dynamic and evolution state. The on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, geomorphic and physiographic features bear a testimony of earth history landscape formation in Vwaza.
There are a number of marshes outside Malawi that are similar to Ywaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve such as Ligawasan Marsh of the Philippines. Ligawasan Marsh is the largest swamp and marsh area in Mindanao and one of the largest in the Philippines, covering an area of about 288,000 hectares. It is a conglomeration of three marshes: Ligawasan, Libungan and Ebpanan. It is a vast complex of river shannles, small freshwater lakes, ponds, and arable land subject to seasonal flooding in the basin of Mindanao.
The Marsh is known to support species of endemic threatened birds, including the Philippine eagle and the Philippine duck (Anas luzonica). Because of its relatively expansive swamp forests, it is identified as an important wetland site of many water bird species like herons, egrets, rails, shorebirds and ducks. The Marsh is the last stronghold for the endemic and endangered Philippine crocodile and supports at least 33 species of freshwater fishes. There are 92 species of birds, 6 species of reptiles, 5 species of amphibians.
Vwaza Marsh on the other hand apart from supporting numerous waterfowl and Palearctic migratory birds reflects traditional human settlement and land -use. It is a significant natural habitat for in-situ conservation of biological diversity that includes threatened species of animals and plants. The resident population has maintained its biological processes and land features, which are Plateaus, Wetland alluvial and Hills and Pediments, relatively intact. The Kazuni lagoon, Zaro Pool and the Marsh with their three adaphic grasslands communities are a unique testimony to a cultural tradition through extensive iron smelting evidenced by the presence of tuyere slag is an important reserve that protects and maintains natural processes in undisturbed state in order to have ecologically balanced representative examples of the natural environment available for scientific study.