Lavushi Manda on foot!
A recent addition to the portfolio of the Kasanka Trust is Lavushi Manda National Park, close to the town of Mpika. At roughly 1600km2 this Park is just about four times the size of Kasanka and consists of pristine miombo woodlands, wide open dambo’s and a rugged escarpment running along its eastern boundary. Noted as the last place Black Rhinoceros were found in Zambia, prior to their local extinction and reintroduction into North Luangwa NP by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, this beautiful Park is perhaps one of the least known and visited in the country.
Every so often I get to visit ‘Lavushi’, with tourists or for other reasons, and every second spent here is thoroughly enjoyed. Hiking the ridge which dominates the surrounding woodlands gives some of the most breathtaking views to be enjoyed in the country. The scarce and threatened high altitude vegetation – rare in Zambia – and steep cliffs almost always deliver sightings of Klipspringer, Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax and Smith’s Red Rock Rabbit, whereas Verreaux’ Eagles and Augur Buzzards patrol in the skies above. Game in the woodlands, although depleted in numbers and weary of people and vehicles, exists in good diversity and the patient visitor may be rewarded with sightings of some of the larger species that still occur in the Park.
At the moment, I am overseeing operations in the Park for two weeks or so, as the manager has taken his off-days. The solitude, although perhaps worrisome in the long run, is bliss when coming from the hub of activity which is Wasa Camp in Kasanka. As one is not spoilt for choice with large herds of Elephants, Buffalo and other plains game, or Lions behind every bush and Leopard up every tree, one tends to notice the little things more and pay attention to detail. For instance, a lifer for me, as an amateur but easily excitable birder, was marked by my first ever sighting of a Grass Owl! The early-burning teams had accidentally stumbled upon the nest of this rare bird and managed to keep its habitat of moist grassland from burning. A brief look (from a distance!) one late afternoon revealed the nocturnal resident and I managed to get a brief glimpse as it flushed and settled again a bit further on in the dambo. Tick!
Deploying scouts and putting the final touches at the campsites – fitting the drums for our eco-friendly toilets (my degree did not prepare me for this!) and marking short walking trails – allows me to explore the Park a bit, much to my content. Three basic campsites have now been constructed at Mumba Tuta and Kapanda Lupili Falls on the Lukulu River and at Chibembe Plain below the Lavushi ridge. Common Duiker (‘diver’ in Dutch) are still plentiful and may often be seen when driving through the Park, whereas Kinda Baboons shriek at my approach and make a run for it. Vervet Monkeys are often encountered when crossing the Lukulu and we recently observed a single male Sable Antelope when driving back from Chibembe Plain. The latter was not inclined to let us bask in its majesty and disappeared within seconds. A Side-striped Jackal, however, made up for this as we watched it for minutes, sniffing around an old campfire at Kapanda Lupili Campsite. My personal highlight, so far, has been a beautiful male Bushbuck crossing the road in front of me in a burnt and open patch of mwarra – a highly unusual habitat choice! I had a brief look if perhaps one of Lavushi’s remaining Lions was in tow, having caused it to break cover, but no such luck!
Speaking of Lions, a handful are still known to persist in the Park. Tractor driver Boxen (the same who fearlessly saved a Sitatunga lamb in the Fibwe swamps) spotted a female with cubs at the beginning of 2012 and several reports indicate that there might be a few more around still. The spoor of a large male may be found along the main road on occasion, but the mighty Lord Lavushi is still to reveal himself to us in the flesh.
A roadworks crew found fresh spoor in the soft sand close to the Lukulu bridge on the morning of the 13th of July. I investigated and found the spoor leading upstream along the river, crossing the main road before disappearing a few hundred metres along the Lavushi Peak Road, heading towards the mountain. Judging from the size of his spoor, this was one big boy! One of our staff, Chilekwa, later that day found a second set of spoor in our own tracks. It seems Lord Lavushi had doubled back to investigate those investigating him, and proceeded to within a few hundred metres of where the roadworks crew was busy filling potholes! They got quite the scare when Chilekwa broke the news to them!
Recent reports indicate that game numbers are increasing in the Park, or at the very least that the remaining wildlife is becoming less weary of people. Fast-breeding indicator species such as Warthog are sighted with increasing frequency, demonstrating that poaching in Lavushi Manda seems to be on the decrease with augmented efforts on the part of ZAWA and the KTL to bring it under control. Other species which I have personally encountered this year include Roan Antelope, Reedbuck, Bushpig and Civet, whereas a Leopard makes the occasional appearance on the camera trap close to Linda Camp and can be heard driving the local Baboon troop crazy! Tracks of two Elephant were found in the Park towards the end of May but the pachyderms have since taken their leave and nobody is quite sure where they have headed to or when next they might pay us a visit. Given a few years to stabilise and reproduce, animal populations should eventually produce rewarding game viewing. Perhaps Black Rhino will once again roam the Park in years to come?
Lavushi is an absolutely magnificent place with an immense potential for an alternative form of ‘outdoor’ tourism unique in Zambia. Few that have visited here have not been impressed by its magnificent scenery, pristine woodlands and pleasant sense of isolation in an unspoilt wilderness. Large animal sightings are a bonus and do not draw focus, therefore allowing the visitor to appreciate everything for what it is and pay attention to the Park’s other assets – whether they be the plentiful birdlife, Lavushi’s interesting geology or beautiful wildflowers – which may often been taken for granted when exploring the wilds of Zambia. I, for one, aim and hope to spend as much time as possible in Lavushi Manda and cannot wait to see what the future has to store for this, one of Africa’s forgotten parks!