Flora and fauna
Sioma Ngwezi is the only Zambian park, outside the Luangwa valley and the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, where giraffe have historically been found. These are certainly not of the same subspecies as those in Luangwa (Thornicroft's giraffe). It is claimed that they are an 'Angolan' subspecies, which is different again from the normal 'southern' variety found throughout the subcontinent.
Some of the other native antelope species here include roan, sable, eland, tsessebe, blue wildebeest, zebra, reedbuck, kudu, steenbok, oribi and possibly lechwe on the Kwando River. The major predators are lion, leopard and spotted hyena.
Current game populations
Sioma Ngwezi's game populations are not in a healthy state. Poaching (aka subsistence hunting) is common, and made much easier by the trek to water that much of the game makes – thus bringing it into close contact with the settlements beside the two main rivers. The predators have also suffered, as they're attracted to the easy-meat of grazing cattle from nearby local villages, which then bring them into direct conflict with the local people.
That said, it seems that small populations of most of the main game species still occur here, including elephants – which frequently come down to the Zambezi to drink in the dry season.
After a recent visit in June '99 one visitor, Rob Munroe, commented: 'We spent a couple of days here, and saw lots of evidence of game: lion, giraffe, eland, sable and hyena among others.' In Bak's report on the status of wild dog (see Further Reading), he observes that there had been several sightings of wild dog there in 1993–94, whilst local game scouts told me, in 2003, that wild dog are still seen here occasionally. However, these are quite possibly packs visiting from the strong population in northern Botswana.
In short, Sioma Ngwezi's game is scarce and skittish, so it's likely that the casual visitor will see virtually no game here at all.
Left on its own, ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority) doesn't have the finances or probably the capacity to revitalise Sioma Ngwezi. The park's only long-term hope is the intervention of an organisation with the finance and patience to engage both ZAWA and the local population, and push conservation and development here over the long term.
In 2003 there were plans for African Parks, who are now trying to safeguard and revitalise Liuwa Plain, to do just that. However, by the time that all the agreements were signed in May 2004 – by African parks, ZAWA and the Barotse Royal Establishment – Sioma Ngwezi had been dropped. They cited settlement along the Kwanda, and very low game densities, amongst their reasons for this. This was sad; although perhaps, pragmatically, if they can save Liuwa and get that back on its feet, then perhaps they'll be able to look at Sioma at a later date. (They are now actively looking for a second park to help in Zambia.)
A second possibility that could help is a plan to create a huge Transfrontier Conservation Area (TCA) in the Okavango/Upper Zambezi area. This is being considered by the Peace Parks Foundation (www.peaceparks.org), which has already been successful in creating six TCA's in southern Africa. Such an area would include Botswana's Okavango and Chobe National Park, Zimbabwe's Zambezi National Park, and Zambia's Kafue National Park, as well as Sioma Ngwezi, and many areas and game corridors between these parks.
This would open this corner of Africa up to much wider game movements – and be a step towards ending the absurd situation where Chobe has too many elephants… yet just over the border, this corner of Zambia has too few!