West Lunga N.P.
Some 150km northwest of Kafue, as the pied crow flies, West Lunga is another of Zambia's parks which is very wild and little visited. It was originally gazetted as a game reserve in the late 1940s, mainly to preserve its population of yellow-backed duiker. Then elephants were also abundant, along with a multitude of antelope species including Angolan (giant) sable and Lichtenstein's hartebeest. There was big game here – including buffalo, lion and leopard – but probably never in the volumes found in the Luangwa or Kafue. However, in the last few decades it's been used very little, except as an area for hunting and fishing by the local communities, and so has been off the map for most visitors.
In the last year or two there are the beginnings of signs that, possibly, with a lot of dedication and hard work, it might be coming back to life. In 2002, several local stakeholders formed the West Lunga Development Trust, to try to conserve some of this pristine corner of Zambia. The advantage that they have here is that the surrounding population density is relatively low, and it is almost entirely adjacent to the main roads. So with the help and drive of the local chiefs, they've been able to mobilise many of the local communities into 'Village Action Groups' to help patrol and monitor the environment. Community Resource Boards (CRBs) are currently being formed which will eventually control the natural resources in each of the surrounding areas, and derive a financial benefit from any operations there.
Game counting is now under way, and together with ZAWA there are signs that a new era might be starting here.
Geography, flora and fauna
West Lunga National Park covers 1,684km2 of forests, dambos, open grasslands and papyrus swamps. It is bounded by the Kabompo River to the east and south (adjacent to which are most of the park's swamps) and by the West Lunga River to the west. The environment is still pristine miombo, interspersed with large grassland plains, flooded dambos and some particularly beautiful Cryptosepalum forests.
It's very beautiful and wild, but the grass and vegetation are thick and difficult even to walk through. The rivers that flow through the park are great for canoeing and boating – with some sections of rapids, and some where you canoe beside rock walls.
Buk's 1993–94 survey (see Further Reading) reported two sightings of wild dog in West Lunga, although noted that poaching remained heavy and the species was probably declining here. Rob Munro reports that he saw buffalo, impala, puku and warthog in the park on a trip in mid-1999.
More recently, in mid-2004, Dorian Tilbury (a first-class guide with a long history in Zambia's more remote areas) reported confirmed sightings of puku, hippo, crocodile, vervet monkey, yellow baboon and numerous excellent sightings of samango monkey, plus spoor of bushbuck, bush pig, cane rat, thick-tailed bushbaby, civet and genet. The scouts at Jivundu believe that there are also buffalo, roan, sable, hartebeest, impala, eland, and elephant here. It's also quite likely that there will be a few sitatunga, blue, common and yellow-backed duiker and Defassa waterbuck around. There are probably no lion or leopard remaining, though both certainly used to occur here.
Of course with an untouched environment, the birding remains excellent – and even a short visit along the rivers should yield sightings of half-collared kingfishers, African finfoots and large numbers of black saw-wing swallows amongst many more common species. Zambia's turacos do well here, with Schalow's and Lady Ross's more common than the grey lourie.
Cryptosepalum forests and the white-chested tinkerbird
Almost exclusive to Zambia, Cryptosepalum
forests are distinctive dry evergreen forests which occur in the area of the Kabompo River. They are regarded by botanists as forming the largest area of tropical evergreen forest in Africa outside the equatorial zone.
Dominating these forests is the mukwe tree, Cryptosepalum pseudotaxus
, which grows on relatively infertile Kalahari sand, where there is no permanent surface water. This lack of water means that these areas remain relatively uninhabited. Other trees often found here include the much-exploited rosewood, Guibourtia coleosperma
, and, further south, the character of these forests gradually changes and they become dominated by Zambezi teak trees, Baikiaea plurijuga
. Hence logging is a serious threat to them.
The understorey in Cryptosepalum
forests is usually dense and tangled, including Liana
and Combretum species which form impenetrable thickets. Epiphytic lichens are common, and the forest floor is mainly covered in mosses. It's very difficult to walk through unless a path has already been cleared.
The avifauna is usually particularly rich, with a mixture of bird species which frequent moist evergreen forests, woodlands and riverine forests. Amongst specials found in these forests are gorgeous bush shrikes, crested guineafowls, purple-throated cuckoo-shrikes, Margaret's batises, and square-tailed drongos. However, the area is famous amongst ornithologists for the controversy surrounding its one and only endemic species: the white-chested tinkerbird. Only one of these birds has ever been found, and that was the 'type specimen' netted in 1964. Numerous subsequent attempts to find more have failed.
Some feel that they have simply been defeated by the dense foliage, and that a population of these birds exists deep within the thickets. Others argue that the one specimen fund was probably an aberrant individual of the similar golden-rumped tinkerbird, which also occurs in these forests. Whatever the truth, it makes these forests a magnet for birdwatchers, all keen to catch a glimpse of the world's second white-chested tinkerbird!