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Protected Area Bangweulu Game Reserve

ID: w149306 View large map

Located in Zambia :: Great North
Category: Protected Areas :: Protected Area


The Great Bangweulu Basin consists of Lake Bangweulu and its adjacent wetlands and floodplains. The basin is a shallow depression fed by several rivers which fill the lake between November and March - when most of the annual rainfall’s 1 200 mm falls. Water is slowly released from the lake through a series of lagoons and channels which prevent flooding of the Luapula Valley during heavy rains; the floodplains are located on the lake’s northern and eastern edge. Although the water level only rises and falls by about a meter, the lake’s edge can advance and retreat over the grass plains by as much as 45 kilometres during the season.

The lake covers more than 15 000 km2 and stretches out towards the horizon, where its blue-grey waters seem to touch the sky. It’s from this apparent mingling of earth and sky that Bangweulu gets its name, the word means ‘where the water meets the sky’. Approximately 50 000 people live in the area, subsisting from fishing the lake. Fish are prolific and commercial fishing takes place.

The Bangweulu Game Reserve is located in the wetlands southeast of the lake, and is managed by African Parks, a non-profit organization which delivers long-term management and rehabilitation with support from government and the local community. Since signing an agreement in 2008, African Parks has worked with the community to ensure both the survival of endangered species and fishing sustainability.

There’s been a remarkable increase in fish stocks since the implementation of an annual 3-month fishing ban during the spawning season - this has been well supported by the community. Poaching has been curbed and the number of endangered black lechwe has increased from 35 000 to well over 50 000. Since 2017, ten men from the local community actively guard the nests of shoebill storks to prevent poaching of eggs and chicks. The park, with its focus on conservation and sustainable harvesting, is the largest employer in the region and provides healthcare and education to people living here.

Traveller Description

It’s worth noting that the Game Reserve (wetlands) can only be accessed from the south, while the lake is accessed from the west & north. The lake is a distinctly different environment to the wetlands and care should be taken not to conflate the two.

The lake is home to 83 species of fish, including bream and tiger fish, while the wetlands (swamps) provide shelter and food for water-loving mammals such as elephant, buffalo, sitatunga and the tiny oribi. While red lechwe (Kobus leche leche) are common to the wetlands of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia, the Bangweulu region is the only area where you’ll find vast herds of the endangered black lechwe (Kobus leche smithemani).

If this isn’t enough to make you pack your bags, the birding will. The wetlands have been recognized as one of the most important wetland regions in the world by the Ramsar Convention and is categorised as an ‘Important Birding Area’ by Birdlife International. It’s home to more than 400 bird species, including both water- and plains-birds.

Many a keen birder has visited the region to see the rare shoebill stork which breeds in the papyrus swamps along the river between July and October. The Bangweulu Game Reserve is one of the best areas to see this species which has been classified as vulnerable due to human disturbance and habitat destruction. Other noteworthy sightings include the white-cheeked bee-eater, Common Bittern, Swamp Flycatchers and Katanga Weavers, as well as European Marsh, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers.

The British explorer, David Livingstone, was the first European to visit Lake Bangweulu in 1868; he succumbed to malaria on the edge of the swamp plains in 1873. His loyal attendants buried his heart at the foot of a Mupundu tree, and the place was marked in 1902 by the Livingstone Memorial. A young Mupundu tree has been planted at the memorial too.

Lavushi Manda National Park
Declared a national park in 1972, Lavushi Manda sits quietly between the Lavushi Manda Hills in the southeast, and the floodplains of Lake Bangweulu in the northwest. Rising more than 500 metres above the surrounding lowlands, the Lavushi Manda Hills form an enormous escarpment in the east of the park. From this plateau numerous seasonal and perennial rivers flow down the escarpment, through the park into the low-lying valley, draining into the Bangweulu Wetlands and eventually Lake Bangweulu.

Vegetation is mostly miombo woodland interspersed with grassland, and riparian forests along the perennial rivers. The vegetation is pristine, and the combination of high altitude hills and low altitude floodplains attract a high variety of game species to the park, though in low numbers.

Identified as an IBA (Important Birding Area) in 2001, the park is host to more than 270 species, including Palmnut Vulture, African Finfoot, Red-capped Crombec, Pale-billed Hornbill and Anchieta’s Sunbird.

The park’s road infrastructure is limited and often overgrown, so an off-road vehicle is required to travel here. The exception is the main gravel road from the highway to Bangweulu which is well maintained as it’s the primary access route from Mpika to the inner villages. Exploring the park on foot is recommended but take reasonable care. Hiking in such a pristine environment is very rewarding with beautiful views over the rivers and valleys from the top of the hills. Climbing to the top of Mount Lavushi offers magnificent views over the Malauzi Valley, while the dramatic landscape offers excellent photographic opportunities.

Fishing is allowed in the rivers so bring your gear. Approximately 30 species of fish occur here including tilapia, yellowfish, tigerfish and the Bangweulu Killifish, endemic to Zambia. The Congo Yellowfish occurs in the Lukulu River, and is known for its spirited fighting when hooked.

At the turn-off to Lavushi Manda National Park, about 50 km south of Mpika, you’ll find Nachikufu Caves (entry US$15pp - Aug 19) where there’s some interesting rock paintings which date back to the Stone Age. Mutinondo Wilderness is nearby, this private reserve sits on the edge of the Luangwa escarpment and offers pristine vegetation, sparkling-clean rivers and beautiful waterfalls (see page xxx).

Address :  Zambia
Postal :  Bangweulu Wetlands Project, African Parks Network, P.O. Box 450098, Mpika, Zambia.
Contact :  Bangweulu Wetlands Project
Cell :  +260(0)97 160 5960
Email :  Click Here
Website :  Click Here
Cellphone Reception :  Intermittent

Time Information
Best Time to Visit :  April to July
Gate Opening and Closing Times :  05:00-18:00
Subject to Seasonal Operation. :  It is supposed to be all year but in reality it becomes inaccessible from December to April.

Rates and Payment
Updated for :  2019
Comments :  Conservation Levy: ZMW50pp (Updated Feb-19)
Fee/s :  Conservation Levy: ZMW50pp (Updated Feb-19)

Destination Information
Lodging Camping Airstrip

Game Viewing Tours and Excursions Guided Walks Fishing Bird Watching
Game to View :  Black Leckwe. Rare sitatunga. Elephant. Buffalo. Zebra and leopard.

Travelling Information

Self Drive Access :  Yes
Vehicle Type :  4WD

Accommodation in Bangweulu Game Reserve is limited to a tented lodge at Shoebill Camp and a basic but well-run community campsite at Nsobe; just outside the park towards Kasanka you’ll find Waka Waka campsite but this is dilapidated and thus, not recommended. Also consider Nkondo Tented Camp at camp HQ. Only Shoebill and Nkondo can be booked via African parks.

There are two campsites in Lavushi Manda National Park, Kapandalupili and Mumbatuta. The first-mentioned has a long drop but no water, whereas Mumbatuta has no facilities and no piped water so one needs to be self-sufficient at this one. In its defence, Mumbatuta campsite offers shade and the river is nice to swim in. Campers visiting this park must be self-sufficient as both camps are so neglected that you should consider them as having no facilities. Mumbatuta Camp is inaccessible during the rainy season and other periods of high rainfall. Both camps are quite run down so manage your expectations!

During the rainy season (November to March), when the floodplains are covered in water, access to Bangweulu Game Reserve is limited to boat or plane. The rains bring with them an increase in insect activity but keen birders will persevere in order to see the vast numbers of summer migrants which flock to the area. Road access is only possible with an off-road vehicle after the water has subsided, usually by late April or early May. Water levels are at their lowest in October and November, just before the start of the rainy season.

Bangweulu is accessed via two different gravel roads along the Great North highway; the D733 to the north is the one which is maintained. We assume this is due to the fact that most people living in the area would travel to Mpika; thus, this route, via the Lavushi Manda park, is normally the quickest to access Bangweulu Game Reserve.

As the area is ecologically very sensitive, care should be taken when driving around the floodplains. Stay on the tracks and drive with caution so that you don’t destroy or damage these tracks. To minimize vehicle pollution consider taking a guided walk from Shoebill Island Camp. Payment for Nsobe Campsite is made at the Bangweulu Wetlands Office where you can also arrange a guided walk to see the Shoebill Storks (K300 per person - 2019).

Park fees are payable in cash, so be sure to bring the right amount.

There’s no fuel or other facilities in the park so travellers are advised to refuel in the villages of Mpika (northeast), Serenje (southeast) or Samfya (northwest) before entering. Mpika and Serenje only have small convenience stores for shopping. If you’re travelling through South-Luangwa National Park to Bangweulu, the last fuel station and shops along your route are found at Mfuwe. If you’re worried about fuel range, it may be worthwhile detouring north to Mpika to top up.

You can also stock up on supplies in the towns with larger supermarkets, such as Kapiri Mposhi or Kabwe.

If you’re exploring the lake, the fishing village of Samfya on its southwestern edge, is the largest town on this body of water. Facilities include a post office, clinic, fuel station, basic supplies and yes, fresh fish sold at the harbour!

There are no tow-in services in the park.

You can find tow-in services based in Lusaka: Try: +27(0)97 473 7848 / +260(0)96 676 1647.

 Travel Tip!

The dry winter months offer comfortable daytime temperatures but because you’re surrounded by water, the nights can be freezing - come prepared.

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