Kafue National Park

Kafue National Park is the largest and oldest national park in Zambia. Kafue gained national park status in 1950 and covers a total of 22, 400 sq km. Despite the Park’s proximity to both Lusaka and the Copperbelt, it has remained underdeveloped until the most recent years. Despite the depravations of poaching and lack of management, Kafue National Park is still a raw and diverse slice of African wilderness with excellent game viewing, bird watching and fishing opportunities.

From the astounding Busanga Plains in the North-western of Kafue National Park to the tree-choked wilderness and the lush dambos of the south, fed by the emerald green Lunga, Lufupa and Kafue River, the park sustains huge herds of a great diversity of wildlife. One can expect to see any number of species from the thousands of red lechwe on the plains, the ubiquitous puku, the stately sable and roan antelopes in the woodland to the diminutive oribi and duiker. The solid-rumped defassa waterbuck, herds of tsessebe, hartebeest, zebra and buffalo make for a full menu of antelope. Large prides of lion, solitary leopards and cheetahs are the prime predators. There is a host of smaller carnivores from the side-striped jackal, civet, genet and various mongoose.

The spectacular Busanga Plains in northern Kafue National Park is a vast flat expanse that stretches in all directions as far as the eye can see – one of Zambia’s most significant wetland resources and one of the few untouched by development or human activity. This vast watery wilderness, flooded in the wet season by several rivers and streams covers an enormous 750 square kilometers. It drains into the Lufupa River, a tributary of the Kafue River. The floods reach their height from March to May, after the rains and large herds of hippo are stranded in the shallow pools left as the water recedes in the dry season.

The lush grasslands are grazed by red lechwe, which can be seen in the thousands. Fifty years ago, lechwe were almost extinct in this area. The establishment of the national park has seen a phenomenal recovery in their numbers and it is a sight of great beauty to see them wandering in such vast herds across the golden plains. During the wet season they splash about in the shallow waters, and, interestingly enough, lion, who usually dislike water, can be seen chasing them through water at least a half a meter deep. Other antelope found here are blue wildebeest, Liechtenstein’s hartebeest, buffalo, zebra, reedbuck, oribi, puku and impala. Bushpig and warthog are also inhabitants of the plains. The shy swamp-dwelling sitatunga is found here, its widespread hooves enabling it to walk on the floating reed mats. Roan antelope are seen regularly in the northern sector as well as big herds of sable 30-40 strong.

The wealth of game on the plains of Kafue National Park are a big attraction for lions and prides of up to twenty are spotted regularly. Cheetah and leopard also roam the plains, the cheetah being able to exercise their famous turn of speed, reaching up to 125 kilometers an hour. They are often seen on the plains. In the south the Kafue runs into the Itezhi Tezhi Dam covering an area of 370 sq km. This vast inland sea is surrounded in parts by grassy plains, often ‘mowed’ by hippos. Rocky bays and stretches of submerged trees provide perfect perches for the many waterbirds inhabiting the area – fish eagles, cormorants, spoonbills, and the stately goliath heron. In addition, elephant, buffalo, zebra, and wildebeest frequent the dam. Itezhi is also an angling paradise and home to an annual fishing competition. The waters of the Kafue River are home to large numbers of hippopotamus, crocodiles, and water monitors.

Other species found in Kafue National Park include the rare and secretive yellow-backed duiker, common duiker, kudu, grysbok, warthog, bushpig, serval, hyena, jackal, baboon, vervet monkey, porcupine, civet, genet, and many species of mongoose. Unusual features are the termite mounds scattered across the plains. There are teak forests; large numbers of the striking ‘candelabra’ tree, and many large black boulders often looking deceptively like a herd of elephant. Much of the park is covered by ‘Miombo’ Woodland opening out into large grassy dambos. Hartebeest, wildebeest, buffalo, and zebra are often found frequenting these areas as well.

Map of Kafue National Park