Truly off-the-beaten-track and relatively inaccessible for much of the year, the Kasanka National Park and Bangweulu Wetlands provide distinctive wildlife experiences that attract dedicated nature lovers. In Zambia’s little visited north, the small Kasanka National Park is privately managed by the Kasanka Trust, which ploughs tourism proceeds directly into conservation. Dominated by miombo woodland, the park is a delight for bird lovers and there are diverse antelope species, including the rare sitatunga. Elephants pass through and there are small, rarely seen populations of lion, leopard and hyena. The undoubted highlight occurs at the beginning of the November rains, when over 5 million straw-coloured fruit bats converge on the trees to enjoy ripening fruit, before taking off en masse at sunset. An awesome spectacle, this unvarnished nature show can be enjoyed on special interest safaris.
A larger area north west of Kasanka, the Bangweulu Wetlands surround peaceful Lake Bangweulu. There are two major wildlife highlights: the virtually endemic black lechwe and the bizarre shoebill stork. Black lechwe are darker versions of the far more common red lechwe prominent in Kafue, and there are very healthy numbers in the Bangweulu swamps. The shoebill stork is an intriguing sight, a very large, arguably ugly bird that is extremely rare and sometimes compared to the dodo. The shoebill doesn’t migrate and is only found elsewhere in Sudan and Uganda, so the 500 or so specimens here are highly prized. Although access to Kasanka and Bangweulu is difficult and pricey, the remote scenery and unique wildlife are well worth it!