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Bangweulu Wetlands

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Visit Bengweulu Wetlands

Bangweulu is a globally significant wetland ecosystem adjacent to Lake Bangweulu in northeastern Zambia. The wetlands support 50,000 local residents and a wide variety of wildlife—from the endemic black lechwe to hundreds of globally significant bird species. Bangweulu means ‘where water meets the sky,’ which perfectly describes the stunning site. Uniquely, Bangweulu is community-owned: locals need the wetlands to survive and are permitted to sustainably harvest its natural resources. In the past, unsustainable human pressure compromised biodiversity, however, since taking on joint management responsibilities in 2008, African Parks has helped restore the area’s exceptional wildlife, which includes 28 mammal and over 400 types of bird species.

Flora

Bangweulu's incredible floral diversity.

The Bangweulu Wetlands spread across 6,000 km2 of a 9,850 km2 region. The ecosystem consists of floodplains, seasonally flooded grasslands, miombo woodlands, and permanent swamps fed by the Chambeshi, Luapula, Lukulu, and Lulimala rivers. Swamp areas are dominated by extensive stands of Cyperus papyrus, floating grasses, and Phragmites reeds, which create a vast and lush wetland landscape.

Fauna

Since African Parks took over joint management of the park in 2008, populations of many species, including the iconic sitatunga, black lechwe, and shoebill, have recovered. Translocations have repopulated areas that experienced depletions of wildlife: serval, puku, impala, zebra, buffalo and waterbuck have all been released into the wetlands in recent years.

Predators: Bangweulu is home to spotted hyaena, side-striped jackal, and serval.

Herbivores: Mammal censuses have revealed healthy populations of black lechwe, as well as sitatunga, southern reedbuck, tsessebe, and oribi. Hippopotamus are also found in the area. Decades of poaching and unsustainable land use reduced large mammal populations; however Bangweulu contains remnant populations of elephant, roan, and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. Populations of puku, waterbuck, zebra, impala and buffalo have been established in the Nkondo area.

Notably, Bangweulu is home to a significant population of endemic black lechwe, which is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The population has increased from 35,000 in 2010 to about 50,000 today.

Avifauna

Bangweulu is home to more than 400 bird species, including cormorants, ducks, egrets, geese, herons, ibises, pygmy goose, and waders. Its most famous resident is the elusive shoebill stork, a vulnerable species threatened by habitat loss, competition with fisheries, wildlife trade, and other disturbances. But the globally significant wetlands also contain over 10 percent of the planet’s wattled cranes. When it comes to smaller avian species, the highly specialised papyrus yellow warbler is considered vulnerable, and collared pratincoles, blue-throated bee-eaters, and several species of flufftails also find refuge in the wetlands. Bangweulu’s unique avifauna has led to several international designations: Bangweulu is a “Wetlands of International Importance” under the RAMSAR Convention and an “Important Bird Area” (Birdlife International).

Conserving shoebill storks: Bangweulu is famous for its shoebill population, and several programmes have been implemented to conserve the enigmatic species. A Shoebill Guard Programme employs local fisherman to ensure the safety of shoebill nests while researchers utilise camera traps to monitor the progress of eggs, chicks, and fledglings. Community cooperation and enhanced awareness have resulted in a marked improvement in the number of nests producing fledglings over the years.

Translocations

In 2019, 95 buffalo were translocated to Bangweulu.

Before African Parks took over Bangweulu’s management, heavy poaching decimated the park’s large mammals. Some species were completely wiped out: lion, cheetah, and black rhino all suffered this fate. Others clung on through small remnant populations. Recent translocations bolstered these populations: in 2017, 250 animals that included impala and zebra were released into the wetlands, and in 2019, we translocated 95 buffalo from another Zambian park to increase genetic diversity in Bangweulu. In the future, once conditions become sufficiently favourable, we hope to restore the full suite of large mammal species to Bangweulu.

Community Involvement

Bangweulu is a community-owned protected wetland, jointly managed by African Parks since 2008. The protected area is home to 50,000 people who retain the right to sustainably harvest natural resources from it. However, for decades, unsustainable human pressure depleted Bangweulu’s wildlife and fish stocks. To preserve the wetlands for the benefit of people and wildlife, we work with communities to sustainably manage Bangweulu’s resources. Through implementing health and education programmes and community development projects to enhance local livelihoods, we position Bangweulu as the nucleus of a growing conservation-led economy.

Tourism

Shoebill Island Camp in Bangweulu.

Sustainable development and good management of tourism will be a critical revenue generator for the Bangweulu, and the surrounding communities. Well-run tourism can provide for an increase in jobs, and help create a conservation-led economy, increasing the value and buy-in of maintaining the wetlands as a protected area long into the future. Communities receive a 15% share of all commercial income generated in Bangweulu.

5 Reasons to Visit Bangweulu

  1. The park is one of the best places to view the rare and prehistoric-looking shoebill as well as hundreds of other bird species.
  2. Meet the local communities, who migrate seasonally with the water levels and depend on the marshlands to sustain their traditional way of life.
  3. View the only black lechwe in the world, with over 50,000 living in the park.
  4. See the burial spot of Dr David Livingstone, who died in Bangweulu.
  5. Visit the local villages and fishing camps to see sustainable livelihood programmes in action, such as traditional fishing methods and bee-keeping.

Bangweulu Travel Information

When to Visit

During the wet season, from February to April, the park comes alive with birdlife and is a birdwatcher’s paradise. As the plains are wet, sightings can be done by boat, while a number of walks are also available. Please note that Nsobe campsite is closed at this time because of high water levels.

From May to July, the plains are drier and the weather is much cooler. This is the perfect time to see lechwe and shoebills while walking and driving in the park. Nsobe campsite is open at this time, and opportunities for boating are dependent on the water level.

From August to December is the real dry season, and during this period the conditions are ideal for game drives and camping. The dry season is also the best time to see shoebill nests.

Just a short flight from the Luangwa Valley, the park makes an ideal day trip for those on a big game safari in the area. Our guides and boats are available from February to June, and we can organise shoebill nest visits between August and October by prior arrangement.

Need to Know

  • The park is open from 05h00 to 18h00 for day visitors.
  • Fees for day visitors are:
  • Conservation Levy per day: ZMW50 per person
  • Landing Fees: ZMW100