Saving Africa’s wildlife: A 21st-century Noah’s ark transports animals back to places where they’ve been wiped out.


Two decades ago, this patch of Malawian forest was almost emptied of wildlife. The last elephants had been poached. The lions had been caught in snare traps. Other species died off as their range was diced by machete-wielding farmers.

Now the animals have returned in a modern-day Noah’s ark — a bold attempt by private philanthropists and environmentalists to move wildlife from other parts of the continent.

Hundreds of miles from this dense forest, the animals were scooped up in harnesses dangling from construction cranes. They were carried into white metal storage containers, with the occasional elephant trunk peeking out. Then they crisscrossed southern Africa in commercial planes and flatbed trucks.

By almost any measure, Africa’s wildlife has suffered immensely in recent decades. Over 90 percent of the continent’s elephants have vanished over the last century. The lion population has crashed by more than 40 percent since 1993. There are fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild. There are only three northern white rhinos in existence.

African Parks, the nonprofit organization that arranges the shipments of the animals, aims to restore populations that once existed in some of the world’s most remote places. It has trucked 520 elephants across Malawi. It flew 20 black rhinos from South Africa to Rwanda. This month, it started bringing rhinos back to Chad, where they were wiped out three decades ago.

And in southern Malawi, on a recent overcast morning, Craig Reid dragged the carcass of a gazelle across a grassy enclosure in Liwonde National Park, north of Majete. Three cheetahs growled at him from about a foot away, showing their teeth.

“Craig, what are you doing?” Reid’s wife, Andrea, asked nervously, as the cheetahs inched closer.

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