After decades of poaching and human-wildlife conflict, it seems Malawi’s Liwonde National Park is on the up. With cheetahs and lions back on its land, could this really be the country’s next Big Five destination?

Sat in my canoe, I watch hundreds of white-faced ducks lift from the floodplains along Malawi’s Shire River. They swoop in anxious circles and whistle warnings to their avian brethren.

“What are they so upset about?” I ask my guide Gabriel, who sits behind me in the shoulder-wide, three-person vessel. He assures me we’ll find out soon since we were headed that way.

The Shire River, Malawi’s largest, runs for 250 miles (402 kilometers) from Lake Malawi to Mozambique’s Zambezi River. Sprawling along its eastern shore is Liwonde National Park—home to a handful of game lodges such as Bushman’s Baobabs that operate walking, driving, and water-based safaris. And now, it seems the park is ready to be the country’s next Big Five (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard) safari spot.