Rehabilitating Zambia’s Kasanka National Park
Bastiaan Boon reports on the reintroduction of zebra to Kasanka National Park as work to rehabilitate Kasanka intensify
As the pulsating beeps of our VHF-receiver grow louder and clearer, our anticipation grows stronger. Finally, after an hour or so of searching, the twitch of an ear gives away the presence of a large creature standing in the Miombo woodlands to the left of our vehicle. Perfectly camouflaged, their striped patterns breaking up their body shapes amongst the vegetation, a further eight animals are revealed, grazing casually on the fresh green growth the rains have brought us. After many early rises to feed and water our new arrivals in their temporary enclosures, I can hardly contain my excitement at my first sighting of these magnificent animals in their new home in the woodlands surrounding the Wasa Lakes.
November of 2012 saw the reintroduction of a total of nineteen Plains Zebra (Equus burchelli crawshayi) into Kasanka National Park in Northern Zambia, joining a remnant population which almost certainly numbered less than ten individuals. Prone to being caught in snares, and with their attractive coats fetching high prices from buyers ignorant of their origins, Zebra were hard hit during the years of heavy poaching that preceded the Kasanka Trust Ltd reaching an agreement with the Zambian Wildlife Authority to assume management of the once troubled park.
Rhino, Eland & Wild dog all disappeared
Kasanka has already lost the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), Eland (Taurotragus oryx) and African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus), with many other species only occurring as vagrants or in heavily reduced numbers. It suffices to say that having this iconic species once again roam the park in viable numbers is a great boost to the confidence of those intimately involved with its management.
A total of twenty Zebra were transported up north from the Mazabuka area in Zambia’s Southern Province. Although hailing from across the country, these animals belong to the same crawshayi subspecies that call Kasanka home, a prerequisite for reintroduction. Comprising thirteen mares and seven stallions of all ages, the group was divided over two holding boma’s on the shores of Lake Wasa. Sadly, not soon after their arrival, a rather distressed caretaker discovered a foal deceased of injuries sustained during transport. After three weeks the decision was made to release the more restless of the herds to avoid further injuries. The second, calmer and rather habituated herd was kept in holding until one of the adult mares could be fitted with a VHF-transmitter to be tracked in the field – more easily said than done in this remote corner of the African wilderness!
Hard to locate
Upon opening the gate to the first enclosure, two males immediately took their leave – no doubt itching to get away from the rather aggressive dominant stallion. The remaining eight individuals disappeared overnight, not to be seen for several days. Distressing reports from the other side of the Mulembo River indicated that perhaps the animals had left the relative safety of the Park. Fortunately the herd was found grazing in the vicinity of Wasa Lodge later that week, and has since taken up residence in the Maombe area in the north-east of the park, joined by our resident ‘lonesome George’ , a stallion from Chililabola, by the airstrip. The six animals reported from across the river might represent animals still present in the Park prior to the reintroduction, although follow-up with scouts revealed no concrete evidence of their presence in the Nsofu area.
Volunteers are tasked with tracking both herds on a daily basis and both seem to be faring well. The VHF-collar is proving useful in finding the ‘Wasa II Group’ in the vast Miombo Woodlands where the Park boundaries are not defined by rivers or geographical features other than the chitemene farmlands of the surrounding community. The ‘Maombe Group’ has since surprised us with the birth of a foal to one of the adult mares, the first recorded Zebra birth in the park in at least three years! It is hoped that the reintroduction of these two herds of Zebra will stimulate herding and breeding behavior amongst the remaining animals and help form a sizeable nucleus from which the population may grow and the species once again thrive in this unique corner of Zambia.
Sitatunga hotspot and home to elephant, sable, roan, buffalo and 5 million bats
Kasanka National Park is located in Northern Zambia and more than two decades ago became the first National Park in Zambia to come under private management. At roughly 400 km2 this small national park displays one of the greatest variations of habitats and biodiversity in the country. It is perhaps the best place in the world to see the shy Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei), boasts some of the highest densities of Puku (Kobus vardoni)on the continent and is home to growing numbers of Elephant, Hippo and Buffalo and a wide range of other ungulates such as Sable and Roan Antelope as well as many smaller creatures. No less than 467 species of birds have been recorded and the Park is home to the amazing annual congregation of Straw-coloured Fruitbats of BBC-fame.
Lavushi Manda National Park – Lions
More recently, the Kasanka Trust Ltd. has assumed management responsibilities of Lavushi Manda National Park – roughly four times the size of Kasanka. This Park once boasted one of the highest densities of Black Rhinoceros in the country and protects several habitats unique in Zambia. A year of active management and intensified anti-poaching measures has seen game sightings increase: Kinda, Baboon, Common Duiker, Reedbuck, Bushpig and the magnificent Sable Antelope are commonly encountered by scouts, with sightings of Warthog, Hartebeest and Roan Antelope less frequent.
Below towering Mt Lavushi or along the Chiundaponde Road the roar of the Lords of Lavushi – the last few Lions of the area – may still be heard at night and we can only hope that the future will once again bring them healthy herds of Zebra to satisfy their appetite as well.