This peaceful sanctuary, situated on the south western edge of the Lake Bangweulu basin, is one of Zambia’s smallest national parks. However, it’s 111,197 acres are so well endowed with rivers, lakes, wetlands, forests, lagoons, meadows and dambos that it supports a uniquely wide range of wildlife including an abundance of birds and fish.
About ten years ago Kasanka was in danger of becoming yet another defunct national park due to rampant poaching. David Lloyd, a British expatriate, who had lived in Zambia for many years, visited the Park in 1985 and heard the crack of gunshots. He concluded that if there was still poaching there must still be animals there and set out to save the Park from total depletion. He teamed up with a local farmer, sought funding and along with much of their own resources applied for official permission to rehabilitate the Park. They built tourist camps, roads and bridges and set up the Kasanka Trust to raise funds for this community based project. Slowly it began to earn a little money from tourism to help cover costs. Three years later the National Parks and Wildlife Services Department were sufficiently impressed enough to sign a 10 year agreement with the Trust allowing full management of the Park in conjunction with National Parks & Wildlife Services and to continue to develop Kasanka in a greater effort for tourism in partnership with the local community.
Although today there are still none of the heart-stopping walking safaris amongst elephant herds, or any lions brushing past your open vehicle as found in parks such as South Luangwa, you will find some of the most rare bird species and animals in Zambia in a uniquely beautiful corner of Africa. Over 330 bird species have been recorded, including such rarities as Pel’s fishing owl, the Pygmy goose, Ross’s loerie, the osprey and the wattled crane. Lucky ones even catch a glimpse of the rare shoebill stork. This is an excellent park for raptors as well such as the black-breasted snake eagle.
Leisurely safari walks and drives in the beautiful miombo woodlands, swamp forest, grasslands, floodplains and riverine bushveld reveal large herds of puku, spur winged goose, saddle-bill storks, hosts of hippos and waterbuck. Duiker are often seen in the woodlands fringing the pan. Lake Ndolwa is a beautiful and secluded spot where the shy shoebill stork has been seen in the papyrus reeds flanking the lake. Chikufwe Plain is particularly rewarding in the early hours of the morning during the dry season. The plain is the favorite haunt of the sable and also attracts large numbers of hartebeest, reedbuck and occasionally a few zebra and buffalo. There are also ample opportunities for fishing tigerfish, bream and barbel in the beautiful Luwombwa River.
The hippo in Kasanka National Park are recovering from depletion as are sable antelope, and Liechtenstein’s hartebeest. The puku, once reduced to a few hundred, today exceed 1500 individuals. There are also fairly large herds of the swamp-dwelling sitatunga, reedbuck, waterbuck, Sharpe’s grysbok and a good number of the rare blue monkey. Elephants do appear in the park from time to time, and their numbers are expected to increase.
Perhaps even more than for it’s great recovery wildlife recovery efforts, Kasanka is known for it’s bats. The first of Kasanka’s famous straw-colored fruit bats begin arriving towards the middle of October each year. By mid-November the roost has reached its highest density and numbers are estimated to be around eight million. It is believed to be the highest density of mammalian biomass on the planet, as well as the greatest mammal migration known to man. The bats swarm to Kasanka en masse every year as the rains first begin to fall, ripening the local fruit and berries on which they feed.
The bat roost is centered on one of the largest remaining patches of Mushitu (indigenous forest) in Kasanka along the Musola River. The edge of the forest is the access point for dusk and dawn safari walks into the heart of the roost. The high concentration of food items attracts an incredible variety of predators and scavengers to the bat forest. Martial eagles, fish eagles, lesser-spotted and African hawk-eagles, kites, vultures and hobby falcons are amongst the raptors that concentrate on the roost for easy pickings, whereas leopard, water monitors and crocodiles make off with those bats unfortunate enough to drop to the forest floor. The entire scene is fascinating and to watch the bats together, rather in flight or resting is an experience not soon forgotten.
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