The Kafue National Park is Zambia’s oldest and largest national park and one of the continent’s wildest. Mass tourism does not exist here and the bush is still pure and unexplored, Sarah Kingdom recently discovered.
• You need a 4×4 if travelling from Livingstone. After 120km of good tar road, turn off onto gravel at Kalomo for 74km to the park’s south gate. 240km into the park you will reach the Hook Bridge over the Kafue River in the centre of the park. The Busanga Plains are 120km from here, but the journey takes about four hours.
• If travelling from Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, it is a comfortable three-hour drive on tar to the Hook Bridge. Then follow the directions as above.
• Catch a charter flight directly to the Busanga Plains from Lusaka.
The Busanga Swamps, with their adjacent flood plains in the far north-west of the park, are the highlight of Kafue. Much of this northern sector is permanently waterlogged, but in the dry season (May to November) the water recedes, leaving vast expanses of lush grazing, irresistible to the array of wildlife found here.
With the coming of the rains and the subsequent flooding of the plains, the camps on the Busanga Plains close. Due to chronic underfunding and poor accessibility there are no anti-poaching measures undertaken by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) during this time. This led to widespread poaching.
Research by DNPW into illegal hunting and the bush meat trade estimates that between 4 000 and 6 000 poachers live in Game Management Areas adjacent to the park. Of these poachers, 75% use military firearms (obtained both legally and illegally), while 13% use snares. DNPW also uncovered illegal hunting by licensed hunters ‘harvesting’ as much as double their quota.
Over the last few years Mukambi Safaris, Wilderness Safaris and J&M Safaris have provided transport and other logistics for DNPW anti-poaching teams. They were not sure how effective the patrols were, but they did know that although poaching had reduced, it was ongoing.
Knowing they had to protect the area more effectively, operators came up with a new approach. An anti-poaching project was instigated, in which the ground operators would fund and support a constant DNPW patrol-team presence on the Busanga Plains. In addition, as the plains flood annually, air surveillance and the deployment of teams by helicopter would be introduced. The geography of the plains is ideal for air surveillance and offers a distinct lack of hiding places for poachers. A two-seater spotter plane (provided at cost price by Ntengu Safaris based in the Game Management Area) would do aerial surveillance and, if poachers were spotted, a helicopter and patrol team would be dispatched to where illegal activities had been seen, within about 15 minutes.
So far the results are promising. “We have noticed hardly any poaching activities, since the poachers know they cannot escape from a helicopter,” says Edjan van der Heide of Mukambi. A number of poachers have been arrested, poaching camps have been destroyed and weapons and other equipment have been confiscated. An aerial population survey was carried out after the scheme had been in operation for a while. The results showed a promising increase in a number of species, including red lechwe that has increased in number by 487%, puku by 103%, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest 78%, and blue wildebeest 113%.
The aerial-patrol scheme is not a viable long-term solution, though. While operators are happy to contribute to the costs of this project, it ultimately needs to be the responsibility of the DNPW to monitor the park and to control poaching, but limited funding makes this difficult.
Where to stay
• MUKAMBI SAFARIS have a beautiful Busanga Plains Camp www.mukambi.com
• J&M SAFARIS have an intimate seasonal ‘fly camp’ on the southern edge of the plains.
• WILDERNESS SAFARIS have two high-end camps on the Busanga Plains www.wilderness-safaris.com
Written by Sarah Kingdom
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