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Lilongwe, Malawi (CNN) -- Malawi is in the midst of a population explosion. In 1966, the country boasted a meager four million citizens. Today, that number hovers around the 15 million mark and could reach 37 million by 2050.
That's a big number for a country half the size of the United Kingdom, and could spell trouble for indigenous wildlife.
"Animals know their range. They're used to feeding and drinking (in certain areas), and those features are still there in the mind of an elephant," explains Alex Chunga, a manager at Kusungu National Park.
"When an animal goes back to where it used to go, and suddenly there are people, those people feel the animal is doing something wrong, but in essence, it used to be their home."
Each year, thousands of wild animals fall victim to human encroachment, poaching and the illegal pet trade. The Lilongwe Wildlife Center -- the country's only accredited wildlife sanctuary -- is hoping to change that. They house over 200 animals and host educational tours for school children to get them into conservation early.
Cast of characters
Every animal as the Lilongwe Wildlife Center has a story, and often, not a happy one. Take for instance Stumpy, a one-armed baboon who was found tied to a tree outside a butcher shop. Because he likely wouldn't survive back in the wild, the Center will be his home for the remainder of his life.
Then there are the seven owls (each since named after one of Snow White's dwarfs) who a local found on his roof and, fearing they were bad luck, almost killed them before someone convinced him to call them in instead.
There's also Xena, a vervet monkey who was kept as a pet and tied to a rope on the roof of a barn. As a result, she's never interacted with other monkeys, and has to be trained to coexist with her own kind.
"This is a good site for animals who are not getting the proper welfare," says Yessiah Symon, Lilongwe's head of animal care.
Do they stay or do they go?
Lilongwe is partnered with Kasungu National Park, 111 miles outside of the reserve, to release some animals back into the wild. To qualify for release, an animal needs to have spent part of its life in the wild, or be young enough to adapt. It also has to be in good health.
A lot goes into training animals to reintegrate into the world at large. For starters, there is a strict no-human contact policy. The subjects are also given predator awareness training. Once reintroduced into the park, some animals are then monitored by release managers to make sure they're integrating properly.
Conservation for the future
To further the cause, Lilongwe hosts thousands of school children each year. Last year alone, they received over 30,000 school groups. They teach the children respect for wildlife, and try and drive home the point that some animals -- like primates -- aren't meant to be pets.
"We've managed to come up with various modules, from targeting biodiversity, soil management, climate change, and wildlife welfare," explains Clement Manjaalera, Lilongwe's education manager.
"Inspiring youth to conserve nature, to look after animals and have respect towards these animals and also to take a leading role in these projects is important. It can be useful in helping them to have a sustainable livelihood."