Nsobe Sitatunga Experience: ‘Bangweulu-Kasanka Eco-Tourism Route’


The Nsobe Sitatunga Experience is located in a section of the vast southern headwaters of the Congo River. Nsobe is the local name for the sitatunga, a shy antelope that inhabits the swampy papyrus reeds spread across the wetlands of this region. The route hosts a considerable population of the endemic black lechwe, migratory straw-coloured fruit bats and the endangered shoebill stork. It is home to the Bangweulu swamp that is a breeding area for the vulnerable papyrus yellow warbler and wattle crane that occurs in the swamps along the Luapula River.

The route is located within a set of protected areas concentrated in swamps, flood plains and Miombo woodlands. These include Kasanka (390km²), Lavushi-Manda (1,500km²), Isangano (840km²) and Mweru-Wantipa (3134km²). Although these parks are severely depleted of large mammals, with the exception of Kasanka National Park, visitors to Nsobe Sitatunga Experience are guaranteed an exceptional 4×4 adventure and cultural tours to Chief Chitambo’s Palace and Nakapalayo Cultural Village. Among the activities alongside birding and game viewing is a visit to the Livingstone Memorial, a heritage site erected in memory of the Scottish explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone.

The route also has a rich cultural heritage and the major ethnic groupings in the area include the Lala, Bisa and Bemba. Serenje district is inhabited by the Lala people, and further north of Serenje town, in Chief Chitambo’s and the Chiundaponde areas it is inhabited by the Bisa speaking people. The area around the Bangwelu Wetlands is inhabited by the Bemba people and affiliated tribes who also speak Chibemba. The Lala, Bemba and Bisa languages are a dialect of the Bantu language and they migrated from the Luba-Lunda Kingdom in present day Southern Democratic Republic of Congo around 17th century. These groups have a rich cultural heritage that is transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to the next. Very little folklore has been written down. Traditional music is part of daily life, from initiation rites, cultural and marriage ceremonies to hunting parties.

Getting around Nsobe: Sitatunga Experience Route:

When approaching from Lusaka, the main access is the Great North Road, turning left at Kapiri-Mposhi through Serenje towards Mpika. A stopover at Forest Inn, between Mkushi and Kapiri Mposhi, is a convenient place to sample Zambia’s hospitality. It offers a variety of thatched, en-suite mosquito proof chalets. Still on the Great North Road, turn left at the Samfya/Mansa road after Serenje. This road will take you to Kasanka National Park, a good base from which to explore the route. This will take you approximately six hours covering a distance of 540km. To reach Bangweulu wetlands turn right 10km after the Kasanka gate, towards the Livingstone memorial and remain on this track. Keep right at the memorial fork, for approximately 70km, towards Chiundaponde village. You can sample the Bisa culture at Nakapalayo Cultural Village en-route to Chiundaponde.  From the Kasanka National Park gate it takes another six hours to reach Shoebill Island and Nsobe Camp. Another access route is to take the Great North Road straight after Serenje turning left at the Lavushi Manda turn off. This goes direct to Chiundaponde village and further to Chikuni Island or Nsobe camp to the left. Consult local operators for information about the roads as they can be inaccessible during the rainy season. Book for your accommodation well in advance.
Before setting out on your 4×4 adventure, ensure your fuel tank is full and pack enough supplies. Filling stations in Kapiri Mposhi and Serenje often run out of fuel. A road map, GPS and guide books are useful for directions. When driving a foreign vehicle ensure your permits and insurance are up to date as the Zambian traffic officers will stop and ask for your documentation. Driving during the dry season is easier, although Kasanka National Park is accessible all year round. Have enough spares and notify operators when you are leaving and arriving because the area is remote especially the route to Bangweulu Wetlands.  If you intend to continue further north, please ensure that you carry enough supplies for your onward journey.

Because the route passes through villages, you may encounter village children asking for sweets and money. It is strongly advisable not to throw anything out of your vehicle it is only a matter of time before they start throwing stones back! As you drive through these villages it is well worth taking the time to getting to know the local people and how they make their living by visiting the local schools or staying at a cultural village such as the Nakapalayo Tourism Project (See participant information)

This route is in a malaria area, which is transmitted by the nocturnal Anopheles mosquito. Contact your doctor or pharmacist about appropriate medicine, always use a mosquito repellent at night and sleep under a mosquito net.

National Parks:

The three parks within the Nsobe:

Sitatunga Experience includes Kasanka National Park, Lavushi Manda National Park and the proposed Chikuni Community Park (Bangweulu Wetlands).  Vast open areas that are often waterlogged and limited road infrastructure give a sense of adventure, reminiscent of wild Africa. These parks bring together a rich biodiversity habitat, conserving a significant proportion of the Central Zambian Miombo Woodlands. Current conservation initiatives are showing tangible community benefits, from improved resource management and access to education, health, and livelihood support. 

Kasanka National Park is one of Zambia’s smallest parks with diverse attractive landscapes and a variety of wildlife. It is the first public-private partnership managed park within Zambia, run by Kasanka Trust Ltd, a wildlife and community development charity, which was founded by David Lloyd over twenty years ago. 

During the 1980’s, the park was on the verge of collapse, due to heavy resource depletion and wildlife poaching which drastically reduced the number of animals within the park.  With the approval from the Zambian Government the Trust was given the authority to revitalize the park and to develop tourism with the local community. Today, the park is seen as a dynamic success story with its conservation and tourism initiatives being acknowledged as one of the most successful NGO wildlife conservation projects in Zambia. This success has also been acknowledged by the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) as the Trust has been asked to also take on the management of the neighbouring Lavushi Manda National Park.

Kasanka National Park covers only 420km², but includes a wide variety of vegetation, from dry evergreen forests to permanent papyrus swamps. It is situated on the southern fringes of the Bangweulu Wetlands and is just 30km from the DRC border. Being almost completely flat, it lies at an altitude of approximately 1.200m. During the rainy season (December to April) it receives approximately 1.200mm of rainfall, resulting in lush vegetation. 

The Park offers one of the opportunities in Africa to view the shy, aquatic sitatunga antelope which spends its days in the thick papyrus swamps.  Within the Park, the best place to view these beautiful antelopes is from the Fibwe Hide – a viewing platform, perched 15m high in an African mahogany tree, which gives panoramic views over the Kapabi swamps.

Puku are the most common species of antelope within the park, with numbers having grown to over 3 000, giving Kasanka the highest density of Puku in the world.  Other wildlife includes four of the big five – elephant, leopard, lion and buffalo, as well as black lechwe, reed and water buck, roan and sable antelope, bushbuck, spotted hyena, blue monkey, baboon, otter, crocodile and hippos.  

Currently the park’s official bird list numbers over 450 species – an exceptionally high number in relation to the size of the park.  Rare species include Ross’ turaco (Loerie); Pel’s fishing owl and the African finfoot.

Proposed Chikuni Community Park:

The proposed area for the establishment of Chikuni Community Partnership Park is situated in Bangweulu Wetlands. Bangweulu is a local word meaning “where the water meets the sky” reflecting the flat open landscape of this huge wetlands system. The wetlands are often described as Africa’s last great wilderness, similar in size to Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Situated about 40km to the north of Kasanka National Park, the Bangweulu ecosystem stretches northwards to include Lake Bangweulu and other adjoining smaller lakes, floodplains as well as islands and woodlands above flood levels.

The Bangweulu Wetlands is the only place in Africa where the black lechwe (Kobus leche smithemani) still occurs in significant numbers. The population at the present time is estimated to be about 100 000 strong, and it is thus one of the major assemblages of wildlife left on earth. The area also supports a population of the swamp-dwelling sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei) and at least 1 000 tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus). Bangweulu is classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International as part of its efforts to identify a network of sites that are critical for the conservation of the world’s birds. The Chikuni area was also designated as a Ramsar Site, a wetland of international importance. Bangweulu is especially well known as a stronghold of the enigmatic shoebill stork (Balaeniceps rex), and a large population of wattled crane (Grus carunculatus).

Lavushi Manda National Park:

For the really intrepid explorer Lavushi Manda National Park is a huge untouched wilderness of woodlands, rocky outcrops and mountains. It is situated to the north east of Kasanka National Park and is an important corridor, linking Kasanka to the Luangwa Valley, with a high, but fragile, biodiversity ecosystem. In recent years it has had no tourism development and received little anti-poaching protection. The Kasanka Trust Ltd has been invited by the World Bank to implement management activities and to develop tourism within the park.

With an area of over 1 500km², miombo woodland covers most of the park, with some areas of riparian forest nearer the larger streams. To the north the land slopes away and the streams all drain into the Lulimala, Lukulu and Lumbatwa rivers and then into the Bangweulu Basin. The park is regarded to be depleted of wildlife.

A visit to Lavushi Manda is offered through Kasanka Trust Ltd.

Community and Conservation projects in the area:

The Kasanka Trust Community Project:

The Kasanka Trust Community Project is involved in anti-poaching activities, natural resource management and education support. 

The anti-poaching activities are aimed at reducing poaching in Kasanka National Park by providing sustainable livelihood alternatives to the community. At the core of the trust’s anti poaching are field patrols and law enforcement. Other interventions that have been promoted in the past include the promotion of sustainable forms of agriculture such as agroforestry over shifting cultivation and encouraging   alternatives to increase the amount of protein available. Income generating activities such as craft making, vegetable gardening, chicken, rabbit and goat rearing are also being encouraged in communities. The trust also works with local conservation groups and women’s clubs to enhance conservation awareness.  Schoolchildren are participating by revamping their ‘Chongologo’ conservation clubs.  These clubs educate the students about natural resources and they enjoy various opportunities to share their knowledge with other community members. Educational drama tours are also conducted to carry the message to all areas. 

The natural resource management component encourages the development of income generating activities through sustainable natural resource utilisation including wildlife, fish, timber and other forest products through community-based natural resource management. This is being done in the Game Management Areas (GMA’s) through the Chalilo Community Resources Board (CRB). Kasanka Trust contributes 5% of its tourism revenue from the Kasanka National Park to the Community Resource Board ensuring tangible benefits from conservation efforts in the area.

The education support program seeks support from the local community to secure the long term future of Kasanka National Park. The program is seen as a basic tool to increase the community’s awareness of conservation and promote economic development. The program initiated the Chitambo Education Project.

The Kasanka Community Project has also initiated several projects such as the Kasanka Conservation Centre, Kapepa Community Center and Kafinda Health project.

Game Management Areas (GMA):

GMA’s surround the National Park and it’s in these were the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) programmes are advocated with the view to co-manage the wildlife resources. GMA’s are an important cornerstone in the implementation of the various strategies in wildlife management including community participation in wildlife resource management.

Areas surrounding Nsobe Sitatunga Experience Route:
A greater proportion of this route lies in the Serenje district of the Central province of Zambia.  In 2000 the total population in Serenje district was over 1,000,000 (Central Statistics Census). The main industry is subsistence agriculture.  

Serenje district is constituted by a number of Chiefdoms, which are: 

  • Chisomo;
  • Serenje;
  • Kabamba;
  • Mailo;
  • Chibale; and
  • Chitambo.

Other areas with significant habitation are areas surrounding Bangweulu wetlands which include Samfya town, the principle administrative center of Samfya district. The town lies on the south western shore of Lake Bangweulu. It is the principal base for tourism with road and water transport. Several islands on Lake Bangweulu are inhabited by the local Bemba people who have engaged in fishing activities on the lake for many generations.


Serenje district is inhabited by the Lala and, further north in Chief Chitambo’s area and Chiundaponde by the Bisa speaking people. The Lala and Bisa languages are a dialect of the Bantu language and therefore they are said to have descended from the Luba-Lunda Kingdom in present day Democratic Republic of Congo. The area around the Bangwelu Wetlands is inhabited by the Bemba people and affiliated tribes who also speak Chibemba and are believed to have migrated from the present day Democratic Republic of Congo.

Where to go for game-viewing and birding:

Game-viewing and birding can be experienced on game drives or walking safaris. Game drives are a popular way to see the parks and usually reveal a variety of wildlife. At Kasanka National Park and the Bangweulu Wetlands, guided drives can be arranged. Visitors with their own 4×4 vehicles can drive themselves, but please be aware of the parks rules and regulations. Walking is perhaps the best way to experience all aspects of the wilderness at Kasanka National Park and the Bangweulu Wetlands. It gives you the chance to explore and listen to the sounds of the bush.  Walks can be arranged from a short one hour stroll to a five day walking trail. The terrain and vegetation in these areas make for easy walking.
At Luwombwa River canoes and motorboats can be hired with guides for bird-watching, fishing and wildlife viewing. Regular sightings include monitor lizards, crocodiles, otters, vervet monkeys and the rare blue monkey as well as many water birds. The river offers some excellent angling (under special permits), including the fierce tiger fish, several tilapia species and catfish. Lodge staff will willingly cook your catch of the day.

Shoebill Island is the best place to stay when looking for the rare shoebill stork and to explore the surrounding area. Travelling to Shoebill Island either involves an interesting but bumpy five hour 4×4 drive through villages or a 20 minute charter flight directly into Chimbwi airstrip, which is close to the camp. Flying in (or out) has the additional advantage of aerial game viewing.

Fibwe hide, a 15m high platform nestling in a large Red Mahogany tree is probably the best place in Africa to view the world’s most visible population of the shy sitatunga antelope. At Fibwe hide spectacular views of the papyrus swamps gives one an opportunity to see other many bird species confined to the Mushitu forests including African crowned eagle and the enigmatic Pel’s fishing owl.

The BBC hide was constructed by the British Broadcasting Co-operation (BBC) to film the spectacular Straw Colored fruit bats migration and it’s a recommended spot to witness the migration which occurs from around November and December.

Cultural village tours and traditional life:

Communities within Nsobe Sitatunga Experience have been dependent on farming and over utilization of wildlife resources. This has resulted in the over exploitation of natural resources by poaching and deforestation.  With the involvement of conservation organizations such as the Kasanka Trust, Bangweulu Wetlands Management Board and the Zambian Wildlife Authority there has been a shift in community attitudes to participate in tourism and conservation as a way of earning sustainable livelihood. Community projects have been initiated with local involvement has resulted in the opening of several projects, including the Nakapulayo Tourism Project, Chamfubu/Chinyangale Fishing Camps and the Lake Waka Waka Campsite.   

Emphasis has been placed on the promotion of resource conservation and the local traditional Bisa culture. Traditionally, the Bisa culture is rich in dance and song with a unique diet of nshima (cooked maize) served with vegetables, chicken, beans, or Chikanda, a local delicacy prepared from wild orchids. Tours on this route usually include a visit to a cultural village, the chief’s palace where you can learn about the history of the area and its people a tour of the remote Chalilo Chiefdom. Nakapalayo (see participant information) offers you the opportunity to experience traditional Bisa hospitality with night-time entertainment.

Driving tips:

The Nsobe Sitatunga Experience is accessible by 2×4 vehicles up to the Kasanka National Park gate. 4X4 Vehicles are recommended for the roads that link Kasanka National Park to Lavushi Manda, Bangwelu Wetlands and other local attractions. Remember that the Nsobe Sitatunga Experience is predominately on rural communal land and you may come across goats, people and cattle on the roads, so take care whilst driving. Travel with great care on the dust roads (maximum 80km/h) as these roads are often very bumpy with potholes and can be slippery.

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