Kasanka National Park

From Chalo Chatu, Zambia online encyclopedia

Kasanka National Park is a park located in the Serenje District of Zambia’s Central Province. At roughly 390km2, Kasanka is one of Zambia’s smallest national parks. Kasanka’s situation is interesting as it is the first of Zambia’s national parks to be privately managed. The privately funded Kasanka Trust Ltd has taken on all management responsibilities, in partnership with the Zambian Wildlife Authority, and has been in operation since 1986.

Kasanka National Park
IUCN category II (national park)
LocationCentral Province, Zambia
Area390 km2

Topography and vegetation

Kasanka lies between 1160 and 1290 meters asl. It has a relatively flat topography with very few noteworthy relief features, with the exception of the small but beautiful Mambilima Falls (close to the Mulaushi Conservation Centre), and the rocky Mpululwe and Bwalya Bemba hills. Nine permanent lakes occur in the Park and it is dissected by a network of rivers and streams. The larger rivers are the Luwombwa, Mulembo, Kasanka, Mulaushi and the swampy Musola River. All of these rivers eventually shed their water via one another into the Luapula River, the only drainage outlet for the Bangweulu basin, and a major tributary of the Congo River.


Kasanka is blessed with a wide variety of habitats listed below:

Brachystegia woodland: otherwise known as "miombo woodland", this habitat covers around 70% of Kasanka’s surface area, interspersed with grassy dambo’s. It is very rich in tree species and in many places forms a half closed canopy but also supports a well-developed herbaceous stratum. A high frequency of fires removes this stratum and young saplings and leads to miombo woodland with large, widely separated trees. Decades of “early burning” in the park have resulted in more natural miombo with a strong presence of young trees and thicket species.

Evergreen forests: three kinds occur within Kasanka; Mushitu or ‘swamp forest’, riverine forests and very small patches of Mateshe (dry evergreen forest). The Mushitu is characterised by huge red mahoganies, waterberries and quinine trees amongst others and is fairly well represented. The largest tract of intact Mushitu, in the Fibwe area, hosts the annual gathering of straw-coloured fruit bats from October to December making it the largest fruit bat roost on Earth.[1] Riverine forests are found along most rivers in Kasanka, with the largest stretches being found along the Luwombwa. True Mateshe probably was common in historicc times but is rare now, as a result of centuries of frequent fires. All both forest types are at risk from frequent wildfires as the tree species they support are not resistant to fire.

Chipya: also known as ‘Lake basin woodland’. Trees are further interspersed and do not form a closed canopy, this allows sunlight to penetrate and tall grasses to grow. Chipya is prone to very hot fires in the dry season,and this gives these woodlands their name as ‘chiya’ means ‘burnt’ in the local language. Chipya typically occurs on relatively soils and are thought to be a fire derivate form of Mateshe.

Dambo’s: dambo’s are grassy drainage channels and basins with little to no woody vegetation but very palatable grasses. Most woody species grow on exposed termitaria as dambo’s tend to retain water very well. Dambo’s are of a vital importance to grazing mammal species as well as several woodland mammals that choose to graze on the fringes, especially during the dry season. Several large (several square km) grassy plains occur within the park such as Chinyangali close to Fibwe and the Chikufwe plain north of the Kasanka River.

Papyrus swamps: the crown jewels of Kasanka are the vast marshes supporting large tracts of thick papyrus swamp, home to the elusive sitatunga. The most notable papyrus swamps occur in the Fibwe and Kapabi areas.

Rivers and lakes: Kasanka has no less than nine permanent lakes and over 100 km of rivers flowing through the park. Many of the rivers, especially the Luwombwa in the north support riparian fringe forests on their banks. Large areas of grassy floodplains are found along the Kasanka, Mulembo and Luwombwa rivers. The rivers and lakes are host to a variety of fish and are rich in other forms of aquatic and semi-aquatic wildlife.



An impressive 108 mammal species have been recorded in the park. Although severely depleted in the past, due to effective anti-poaching measures, game populations in Kasanka are recovering well. Puku are the most plentiful antelope and graze on the grassy floodplains and dambo’s throughout the Park. common duiker, bushbuck, warthog, vervet monkey and Kinda baboon (a race of the yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus)) are common throughout the park and hippo can frequently be encountered in Kasanka’s rivers and lakes, including in Lake Wasa, opposite the main lodge. Kasanka is perhaps the best place in the world to spot the shy and reclusive sitatunga, of which the park holds an estimated 500-1,000 animals, and offers great opportunities for sightings of the rare blue monkey.

Elephant are faring increasingly well and several breeding herds and bachelor bulls traverse the park and the surrounding game management area. Several of the plains like Chikufwe are home to common reedbuck, buffalo, sable antelope and Lichtenstein's hartebeest, which are often encountered in the dry season. A small population of plains zebra clings on to existence close to the airstrip at New mulembo. Roan antelope, defassa waterbuck and Sharpe's grysbok occur but are rare and seldom seen, whereas bushpig are common but also very difficult to detect. Yellow-backed duiker and Moloney’s monkey have been said to occur by some authorities but this is highly unlikely and probably based on incorrect identification or on specimens obtained from outside the area.

The largest resident predator in the park is the leopard. Lions and hyenas are no longer resident but wanderers still move through the park. Side-striped jackal are common and often spotted in the early mornings. A range of smaller carnivores occur, of which water mongoose, white-tailed mongoose, African civet and large spotted genet are commonly encountered at night and slender, banded and dwarf mongoose can often be seen crossing pathways during the day. Caracal, serval, honey badger and the rare Meller’s mongoose occur but are very seldom sighted. Two species of otter live in Kasanka’s rivers, marshes and lakes.


The first of Kasanka’s famous straw-coloured fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) start 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 arrival of the bats normally coincides with the start of the first rains and the ripening of many local fruit and berry species such as the masuku (wild loquat) and waterberry, on which the bats feed.

The bat roost is centred on one of the largest remaining patches of Mushitu (indigenous forest) in Kasanka along the Musola River. The edge of the forest is accessible to tourists wanting to see the bats up close and guided batwalks into the heart of the roost are arranged at dusk and dawn. The high concentration of food items attracts an incredibly 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,[2] whereas leopard, water monitors and crocodiles make off with those bats unfortunate enough to drop to the forest floor.


Kasanka holds undoubtedly some of the finest birding in Africa’ according to Dr Ian Sinclair, one of Africa’s leading ornithologists. With over 450 species recorded in this relatively small area without altitudinal variation, one will find it difficult to argue with this statement. Kasanka is blessed with a wide variety of habitats, each hosting its own community of bird species, many of which are rare or uncommon elsewhere.

A boat-trip along the Luwomwba River, or any other major river in the park may reveal Pel’s fishing owl, African finfoot, half-collared kingfisher, Ross’ turaco and Böhm’s bee-eater. The vast wetlands of Kasanka support some species not easily seen elsewhere such as rufous-bellied heron, lesser jacana and African pygmy goose. The shoebill was confirmed for the first time in 20 years at the end of 2010 and a breeding pair of wattled cranes and their offspring are often encountered. Marsh tchagra, coppery-tailed coucal, Fulleborn's longclaw, locustfinch, pale-crowned, croaking and short-winged cisticola, chestnut-headed and streaky-breasted flufftail, harlequin and blue quail, black-rumped buttonquail and fawn-breasted waxbill are amongst the other specials on the wetland fringes and in the large dambo’s.

The Mushitu is host to a wide range of other species, the sought-after Narina trogon can often be heard and seen in the small patches of forest close to Pontoon and Fibwe. A range of other species occur such as blue-mantled crested flycatcher, Schalow’s turaco, brown-headed apalis, black-backed barbet, grey waxbill, Bocage's robin, West African (olive) thrush, dark-backed weaver, red-throated twinspot, green twinspot, red-backed mannikin, green-headed sunbird, yellow-rumped tinkerbird, scaly-throated honeyguide, pallid honeyguide, purple-throated cuckooshrike, black-throated wattle-eye, yellow-throated leaflove and little, grey-olive, yellow-bellied and Cabanis's greenbul.

However, perhaps the richest birding areas of Kasanka are the extensive tracts of miombo woodland. A variety of specialist species occur here, many of which are not found outside the sub-region, these include black-collared and green-capped eremomelas, racket-tailed roller, rufous-bellied and miombo grey tits, grey penduline tit, woodland and bushveld pipit, spotted creeper, white-tailed blue flycatcher, Böhm's flycatcher, yellow-bellied hyliota, red-capped crombec, Cabanis's bunting, Reichard’s and black-eared seedeater, miombo scrub robin, miombo rock thrush, thick-billed cuckoo, Anchieta’s sunbird, and Anchieta's, Whyte's and miombo pied barbets.

Other wildlife

In addition to the large and more visible game and wildlife, Kasanka is home to an incredible variety of insects and other arthropods. The many rivers and marshes are home to a wide range of (reed)frogs and other amphibians. Large crocodiles dwell in the rivers and huge specimens can be seen along the Kasanka and Luwombwa Rivers. Large Nile monitors occur as well, as do Speke’s hinged tortoise. Common snake species include African rock python, forest cobra, lined olympic snake, olive marsh snake and herald snake. Three gecko’s, one agama, five skinks, one worm-lizard and two lizard species are known to occur as well. It should be mentioned that presence of the slender-snouted crocodile, which is sometimes said to occur, is considered errounuous.

Kasanka Trust Limited

After visiting the neglected and completely undeveloped Kasanka National Park for the first time in 1985 and hearing gunshots, the late Mr David Lloyd, impressed with the wide range of habitats and amazing scenery, concluded that if there was still poaching, there must still be wildlife! He made it his life’s mission and ambition to develop the park and safeguard the amazing biodiversity of Kasanka.

In 1987 the Kasanka Trust was founded as a non-profit charitable institution with tax-exemption within Zambia. It has since become a registered charity in the UK and the Netherlands. The Kasanka Trust has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Zambian Wildlife Authority and has taken upon itself the responsibilities of park management, community relations and tourism. ZAWA retains the responsibilities for anti-poaching work in the park and surrounding Game Management Area in conjunction with the Trust. The Kasanka Trust aims to cover their costs through tourism-generated revenue, but is still reliant on gifts and charitable funding for part of their budget.

In the last 25 years a lot of work has been done in the park, a vast network of roads has been created as well as an excellent tourist-infrastructure, a community conservation centre and the implementation of effective anti-poaching measures. The Trust employs about 90 local staff and does a lot of outreach work within the surrounding communities and amongst other things; sponsors the secondary education of promising local students, educates farmers on more effective alternative farming practises and teaches them how to employ chilli-fences to keep elephants out of their fields. The Trust also operates Shoebill Island Camp in the Bangweulu Wetlands. In 2011 Kasanka Trust began operations in the undeveloped and depleted 1,600 km2 Lavushi Manda National Park with assistance from the World Bank.

See also


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  1. Martha Holmes & Michael Gunton 2009.
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