It was formed in 2004 by Ken Smith, who owns and runs Barefoot Safaris, a safari company based in Lilongwe, Malawi, and Gaynor Asquith, director of ARC4 (previously ABRA), an urban regeneration agency in Manchester, UK. PAW now has 15 Africans and Europeans working to protect a remote and beautiful part of Africa.
PAW is not only a conservation project - money that is raised is put into the development of projects (and infrastructure) that will benefit the local people of Mwabvi and allow them to take control of their own livelihoods through businesses and education relating to eco-tourism.
In February 2007 Project African Wilderness signed a long term legal agreement with the Malawi Government's Department of National Parks and Wildlife to take over the conservation and development of Mwabvi, which is one of the nine National Parks in Malawi and was first protected in 1928.
The Reserve is now less than half its original size, wood and game poaching continue and PAW are first working to stop deliberate fires which destroy seedlings and saplings. If the habitat goes the animals will not come back. The Department of National Parks and Wildlife has up to 12 game scouts at Mwabvi but they have neither resources nor support to prevent poaching and protect the wilderness.
PAW has one of several 'concessions' given to various organisations by the Government to try out different ways of exploiting the natural resources for tourism. Mwabvi will never be a major tourist destination but the area lends itself to use for conservation training, and over time game scout training will take place. The former National Game Scout Training Centre at Liwonde National Park closed some time ago and the country needs more trained game scouts.
When working in this part of Malawi it is necessary to take into account that there are 60,000 people living around the edge of the Reserve - this is a highly populated area. The local primary school has 2 teachers, 2 classrooms and 250 pupils. The nearest town, Bangula, has a primary school with 6 classrooms, 8 staff and 3,000 pupils. Life expectancy is 32 - the Malawi average is 38. AIDS and malaria often kills game scouts just 5 years after they are trained, and hardly any of the local children know the Reserve exists.
Any person or organisation working in this part of sub Saharan Africa should expect to be there for the long term and save the natural environment for future generations. It is essential to work with the local people, be involved with appropriate education programmes, and not rely on short term grants and aid.
The list of projects needed to create a sustainable programme for the long term that PAW and others are working on covers:
Project African Wilderness has charitable status in the United Kingdom and operates as a not for profit organisation in Malawi with both volunteers and paid professional employees in both countries.