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Zambia National Parks

Experts regard South Luangwa as one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world, and not without reason. The concentration of animals around the Luangwa River, and its oxbow lagoons, is among the most intense in Africa.

The Luangwa River is the most intact major river system in Africa and is the life-blood of this 9059 km2 Park. The Park hosts a wide variety of wildlife, birds and vegetation. The now famous ‘walking safari’ originated in this Park and is still one of the finest ways to experience Africa’s pristine wilderness first-hand. The changing seasons add to the Park’s richness, ranging from; dry, bare bushveld in the winter, to a lush, green wonderland in the summer months. There are 60 different animal species and over 400 different bird species in South Luangwa National Park. The most notable exception is the rhino, sadly poached to extinction.

When to Go

Seasonal changes are very pronounced in Luangwa. The dry season begins in April and intensifies through to October, the hottest month, when game concentrations are at their height. Warm sunny days and chilly nights typify the dry winter months of May to August.

The wet season begins in November as the leaves turn green, and the dry bleak terrain becomes a lush jungle. The rainy season lasts up until the end of March and the migrant birds arrive in droves. Each lodge stays open for as long as access is possible, depending on its location in the area.

Lower Zambezi is still relatively undeveloped, it’s beauty lying in it’s wilderness state. The diversity of animals is not as wide as the other big parks, but the opportunities to get close to game wandering in and out of the Zambezi channels are spectacular. The Park lies opposite the famous Mana Pools Reserve in Zimbabwe, so the whole area on both sides of the Zambezi River is a massive wildlife sanctuary.

The River’s edge is overhung with a thick riverine fringe, including ebony and fig trees. Further inland is a floodplain fringed with mopane forest and interspersed with winterthorn trees and huge acacias. The hills which form the backdrop to the Park are covered in broadleaf woodland.

Even though the Lower Zambezi National Park covers an area of 4092 square kilometers, most of the game is concentrated along the valley floor. There is an escarpment along the northern end which acts as a physical barrier to most of the Park’s animal species. Enormous herds of elephant, some up to 100 strong, are often seen at the river’s edge. ‘Island hopping’ buffalo and waterbuck are common. The Park also hosts good populations of lion and leopard.

When to Go

The best time is mid season from June to September, but all lodges and canoeing operators are open from April to November. Royal Zambezi Lodge and Kayila Lodge is open all year. Fishing is at its best in September / October

What will you see?

The ecological unit of LZNP and the Chiawa Game Management Area support a relatively large population of mammals. The escarpment and plateau regions are largely inaccessible and have not been formally surveyed. A small area on the valley floor is host to many of the bigger mammals, elephant, buffalo, hippo, waterbuck, kudu, zebra, and crocodiles, and occasionally, roan, eland and the Samango monkey. Nocturnal animals here are hyaena, porcupine, civet, genet and honeybadger.

The birdlife along the riverbanks is exceptional. Many a fish eagle can be seen and heard for miles around. Nesting along the cliffs are white-fronted and carmine bee eaters. Other unusual species are the red-winged pratincole, the elegant crested guinea fowl, black eagle, and vast swarms of quelea. In summer the stunning narina trogon makes its home here. Other specialities are the trumpeter hornbill, Meyers parrot and Lilian’s lovebird.

The vegetation in the area is predominated by Acacia albida trees, called the winterthorn, growing 10 to 30 meters high, with the classical shady umbrella canopy. It is able to tolerate sandier soils than other woodland species and serves to stabilize infertile sandbanks and reduce erosion.

Located in the centre of western Zambia, Kafue National Park is the oldest and largest of Zambia’s national parks. It covers a massive 22,400 km2.

First established as a National Park in the 1950’s by the legendary Norman Carr, Kafue is one of the largest national parks in the whole of Africa. Despite its size and prominent location only two hours drive from Livingstone, it remains little-known and largely unexplored with vast tracts of its virgin bush still untouched. Thanks to its size and variety of habitat types the Kafue holds a fantastic diversity of wildlife .

What will you see?

The Kafue is not about the sheer numbers of wildlife you see, it is about the diversity of wildlife you see. This is not to say the Kafue does not have healthy populations of many of the more charismatic species of animals, because it does, but if you are looking for the ‘Big 5 in 24 hours’ experience then you will miss the point of this special place.  The Kafue is home to more species of ungulate than any national park south of the Congo Basin. Rare and elusive antelope such as the blue and yellow-backed duiker occur in the thickets, sitatunga and lechwe in the swamps, roan, sable and hartebeest in the miombo woodlands, the list goes on.

The park is regarded by those who know it as one of the best places in Africa to find leopard. In certain areas and at certain times of year these secretive and elusive predators are frequently seen, especially on night-drives (allowed in the Kafue) and even from afternoon boat cruises along the Kafue river in the hotter months when leopard come down to drink.

A rarity for Zambia is the cheetah. Cheetah can not be found in the Luangwa or Zambezi national parks and only occur in the west of Zambia, with Liuwa Plains and the Kafue holding the last viable populations of this rare and charismatic predator. In the Kafue cheetah are not solely restricted to the plains, in fact they do very well in mixed woodland and riverine areas, where they can be found preying on puku and impala, amongst others.

Cheetah are found throughout the Kafue, from Nanzhila in the south to the Busanga in the north.

The African wild dog is a highly sought after species for wildlife tourists; these exceptionally rare and elusive predators are not easy to find, however the Kafue has what some might say the largest population of this species compared to any other national park in Africa. Packs can be found on both sides of the Kafue River and in almost all habitat types, from dense woodland to riverine and dambo areas. This species has started to receive much needed and warranted interest in the Kafue from various conservation organizations, as such in 2011 the Zambian Carnivore Programme began baseline studies of wild dog in the Kafue and look set to continue its good work for the foreseeable future.

When to Go

The dry season runs from June to October, with most of the park being inaccessible during the wetter months of November through to April. Inaccessibility however need not be a deterrent to those wanting to visit the Kafue in the ‘green’ season, as it is a spectacular time of year and the lush greenery of the bush is something really to behold. The trick is visiting the camps that do stay open for 12 months (or as close as possible to), Mukambi Lodge, Mayukuyuku and Musekese Camp being some in the central/northern section of the park.

It is possible to reach Itezhi-Tezhi all year round too. The dry season does however enable easier driving and game is generally easier to view in the dryer months.

Temperature-wise the Kafue is wonderfully mild due to it’s altitude, averaging 1100m above sea level; it is generally cooler compared to the Luangwa or Zambezi valley’s in October and November and in fact the Kafue goes sub-zero in winter (June-August) in some areas. The park is well serviced by a number of all-year-round airstrips, notably at Chunga, Ngoma and Lufupa- these enable tourists to make the most of the park in any of it’s ever changing seasons.

Most people visiting Zambia for their safari choose to spend their time in just one of the national parks.
Travelling between them by road is a long slow process and the costs of internal flights is high.
That said, there is more than enough to keep you busy in any one of these fabulous parks.