Field Trip to Bangweulu Wetlands & Lavushi Manda National Park

This week I have been visiting Lavushi Manda National Park and the Bangweulu Wetlands. Lavushi Manda is a park in a similar situation to Kasanka’s in the mid-eighties. The area (about 1500km2, approximately three times the size of Kasanka) is nominally a national park, but the support and protection it has received over the years has been basically nil. The Kasanka Trust is now in charge of revamping the park, including the construction of roads and campsites. The idea is that the Kasanka Trust will be able to use the same model to find success with Lavushi Manda. I decided that this would be a great opportunity to see the “before” and hopefully I will have a chance in a few years to come back and see the “after”.

 I caught a ride from Kasanka with Lavushi Manda’s manager, Simon. We drove across the countryside to Chiundaponde and to the Bangweulu Wetlands Project/African Parks headquarters at Nkondo. Along the drive, we stopped at Lake Waka Waka, which is about 40 kilometers from the park, and is also another attraction on the Nsobe Sitatunga Route. The lake is really beautiful: clear, blue water in a tranquil setting. Supposedly the water is bilharzia-free and safe from hippos and crocs, which makes it ideal for swimming. Unfortunately, there has been very little development in the way of a campsite or other ablutions, besides a couple of long-drop toilets.  This site definitely has potential, particularly if the restoration of Lavushi Manda is successful. The location, besides being beautiful, is also about halfway between the two parks.

Nkondo is home to the Bangweulu Wetlands project headquarters. This project is community run and organized, with the help of African Parks. I was able to stay in one of their guest tents. This tent was incredibly nice, and came complete with running water (HOT running water!) and electricity. The electricity was especially appreciated since there has been some sort of ongoing problem with the solar power at the Kasanka Conservation Centre. The lack of electricity has definitely made getting work done a lot harder. The problem is that I had just gotten used to having electricity, and then it was gone. Hopefully this problem will be solved soon. Anyway, this tent was definitely an upgrade from my usual home.

One day I was able to take a day trip up to Chikuni, on the edge of the Bangweulu Wetlands. Chikuni is home to another Bangweulu Wetlands Project office, and also serves as a research station for several researchers. It was about a two and half hour drive from Nkondo, over bumpy and wet roads. It was a little bit like being in a parade – there were crowds of children all along the road, waving and yelling at the vehicle. We arrived at Chikuni mid-morning and I got my first sight of the thousands of black lechwe that make the plain their home. Throughout the day I was able to spot three of the five “flagship species” of the Nsobe Sitatunga Route (wattled crane, shoebill, and black lechwe).  I went for a walk across the plain with two of the research field assistants and we were able to get pretty close to the lechwes. We also saw three zebras, and a number of different birds (I’m sure I’m missing several from the following list). We were also able to go on a short boat tour but because of time limitations we were not able to go far. Right now the plain is starting to get flooded, and pretty soon the only way to get around will be by boat.

                Another day we went on a day trip into Lavushi Manda National Park (LMNP). We planned to take a couple of scouts and go on a day patrol up to the top of Lavushi Mountain. LMNP is a similar to Kasanka, but a lot bigger, with more woodland and less dambos and plains. We parked near the bottom of the mountain and began the climb. It was pretty steep, and I was out of breath almost immediately. We climbed for about half an hour before reaching a really nice viewpoint. We then climbed on for another 15 minutes until we reached the very top of the mountain. Apparently the elevation of the mountain is about 1800 meters (just over a mile). We were able to see across the park in every direction. It was really beautiful at the top, even though it was still a little cloudy.  There is a small camp for two scouts at the top of the mountain. When we got there they were both out, but while we waited for them to return we discovered two small bags of bushmeat and also a large marijuana plant near the tent. Needless to say they were in a bit of trouble. So, instead of walking around and exploring more, we headed back to Nkondo to sort out the situation with the scouts.

                It was a great week, and I really appreciated the opportunity to explore the area around Kasanka a little more. Special thanks to Simon and Craig for showing me around and feeding me during the week!


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