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26 Travel Zambia May 2007 KIERAN DODDS NORTHERN EXPOSURE

May 2007 Travel Zambia 27 Zambia undiscovered Kasanka and Bangweulu Kasanka National Park, at a mere 420km2, is a fraction of the size of Luangwa or Kafue. Yet this gem of a reserve hosts perhaps the greatest concentration of mammal biomass on earth. Every October almost eight million straw-coloured fruit bats arrive overnight to spend two months gorging themselves on the abundant fruit that grows in the reserve. The colony’s combined weight of 2,500 tonnes is the equivalent of 500 elephants strung across 15 football pitches of forest. The straw-coloured fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) is a migratory species that lives in large colonies on the edge of forests and towns across Africa. The Kasanka colony lies at the southern extreme of its range and is the largest known. It is no surprise the bats come so far and in such numbers. Lastone Mwagaila was a nine-year-old when his family was one of many removed from Kasanka as it became a game reserve in 1945. “Kasanka means place where people come to harvest,” he explained, recalling how Zambians would travel the entire region for its meat, fish and fruit. Wasa Lodge, on the shore of Lake Wasa, is the park headquarters and lies about 20 minutes from the main road. Here you can enjoy a hearty meal after an evening spent witnessing bats dispersing to every horizon. Reassuringly, although fruit bat is served in hotels in Nigeria, it is off the menu here. The chefs refused to cook one of these “dirty animals”. The bats are not Kasanka’s only wildlife attraction. Among an abundance of antelope species is the shy sitatunga, with dawn views of this semi-aquatic species from a tree hide being another unique highlight. Crocodiles and hippos frequent the various rivers that flow through the reserve, while among 412 recorded bird species are such sought-after specials as Pel’s fishing owl, wattled crane and Ross’s lourie. Kasanka is Zambia’s flagship reserve in the World Tourism handbook on conservation, with manager Edmund Farmer and his wife Kim expanding the not-for-profit work with evangelistic zeal, and happy to share their experiences late into the night. Clean and comfortable rondavels are available with full catering, and there are campsites for the more intrepid, with all profits going into the running of the park. Wetland wonders The Farmers’ other venture is Shoebill Island, 50km or so to the north, which offers the best access point to the enormous Bangweulu Swamps. This wetland wilderness, formed by the lake of the same name, offers treasures to rival the Okavango Delta. Every year Lake Bangweulu quadruples in size, peaking around April at about 15,000 km2. As with Kasanka, its rich avifauna leaves birdwatchers reeling, with pride of place going to the rare and charismatic shoebill. The camp, as its name suggests, affords perhaps Africa’s most reliable views of this bizarre, heavy-beaked water bird. Although shoebills can be elusive, it is not unknown for individuals to wander across the island – much to the delight of campers. Equally impressive are the massive herds of the endemic black lechwe, which pass close by in their tens of thousands. A dugout canoe directed by a local guide will take you through the watery terrain, flushing out tsessebe, reedbuck and even occasional fishermen. Bangweulu is a not a national park, and local people subsist from So you’ve gasped at the falls, canoed the Zambezi, tracked game in Luangwa and Kafue, and now you’re wondering what else Zambia has to offer. You could do worse than head northeast out of Lusaka on the T2, or – as locals know it – the Great North Road. Zambia’s northern reaches hold some of the country’s most intriguing destinations. Three enterprising travellers told Travel Zambia about their favourite haunts. The primeval wilderness of Kasanka (opposite) is home to Africa’s largest roost of straw-coloured fruit bats (below). KIERAN DODDS “Reassuringly, although fruit bat is served in hotels in Nigeria, it is off the menu here.” >>