Flora and Fauna
The landscapes in both parks change with proximity to the river, especially above the 'high flood' line. Within parts of the termitaria zone you'll find some low bushes like the paperbark acacias (Acacia sieberana
), zebrawoods (Dalbergia melanoxylon
), fever trees (Acacia xanthophloea
) and rough-leaved raisin bushes (Grewia flavescens
). Drier patches here, such as the area around the tented camp, often have pretty acacia glades with large and shady white thorns (Acacia polyocantha
) and smaller blue thorns (Acacia erubescens
As the plains gradually merge into woodland, you'll find some of the typical species from munga woodlands including sickle-leafed albezias (Albezi harveyi
), pepper-leafed commiphoras (Commiphora mossambicensis
), and the distinctive woolly caper-bushes (Caparis tormentosa
Slightly higher and further from the water, the tree-belt becomes more established and varied, containing different bands of mixed woodlands. The belts of mopane woodland are particularly distinctive, dominated by Colophospermum mopane
, but also including leadwoods (Combretum imberbe
), raintrees (Lonchocarpus capassa
), and even the occasional knobthorn (Acacia negrescens
Finally, well away from the water, you find stands of classic miombo woodland becoming the dominant environment – for example, as you travel south out of Lochinvar. (As an aside, it was interesting to see some notable specimens of Natal mahogany – (Trichilia emetica
– in this particular woodland.)
The very different bands of vegetation in these parks give rise to a wide variety of birds and animals – although this also means that some of the species found here are restricted to fairly small areas of the parks and so you need to move around if you're to have a chance of seeing a good range of them.
The parks are home to huge herds of Kafue lechwe – a little-known subspecies of the red lechwe, endemic to the Kafue's floodplain. Historically the Kafue lechwe used to occur here in enormous numbers. In the 1930s, population estimates suggested about 250,000 Kafue lechwe lived across the whole Kafue Flats area. By the 1950s an aerial survey put the population at about 95,000 lechwe. By 1988 this was revised down to 65,000, and the most recent survey in 1999 estimated the population as down to about 45,000. However, wander around Lochinvar or Blue Lagoon and you'll still see thousands of them – but look at the change over the last century and you'll see that we have to move swiftly to conserve them, and their habitat.
Alongside the Kafue lechwe, many other species occur here – although all have reduced in numbers drastically over the last few decades. Typical of this area are buffalo, eland, roan, Burchell's zebra, Lichtenstein's hartebeest, blue wildebeest, puku, reedbuck and the delightful, diminutive oribi antelope; whilst in the thickets on the edge of the plains you'll find kudu, baboon and vervet monkeys. That said, last reports were that reedbuck had disappeared from Blue Lagoon, and that bushbuck numbers were in single digits!
The best season for birds on the Kafue's floodplain is probably around April/May, when the waters are at their highest levels. Then the resulting lagoons attract a great variety of migrant birds – giving a staggering spectacle of waterfowl. Often you'll find large numbers of just a couple of species in one area. This may be dominated by fulvous ducks, pratincoles, sandgrouse, or waders like sandpipers, avocets, ruff, kittlitz's plovers, little stints and black-winged stilts. In the last ten years, lochinvar has become a major wintering ground for black-tailed godwits, 3,000 or more of them. Plovers are usually plentiful, including long-toed, crowned, white-crowned and the ubiquitous blacksmith.
Pelicans are always around, both white and pink backed, and sometimes so are small numbers of flamingos. Cranes, both wattled and crowned, are there, usually in flocks of a hundred or more, plus spoonbills and a variety of storks and ibises (notably sacred and glossy). In both parks the best areas for watching water-birds are unpredictable. They depend on the water levels, which in turn depend on the flood regime of the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam upstream.
However, during the early rains, the grasslands are always full of harlequin quails, Luapula cisticolas
, Ethiopian snipe, yellow-crowned bishops, and a sprinkling of streaky-breasted flufftails. Later in the season when the plains are dry, secretary birds pace around in pairs, whilst in the air are plenty of raptors – bateleur, martial and African hawk eagles, plus brown and black-breasted snake eagles. Amongst the thousands of lechwe there are always recent deaths, so there are four species of vulture present, plus large numbers of marabou storks.