Straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum), flying over daytime roost. Kasanka National Park, Zambia, Africa

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Kasanka National Park


One of Zambia’s least-known wilderness areas, and a real highlight of a visit to this part of the country, Kasanka National Park is most famous for its fruit bat migration in November and December, which sees up to 10 million of the nocturnal creatures arrive. The park is also known for its swampland, which is home to the park’s shy and retiring star, the sitatunga, a semi-aquatic antelope distinguished by its long splayed hooves and oily coat.

At just 390 sq km, it’s pretty small compared to most African parks, it doesn’t have a huge range of facilities and it sees very few visitors. Here there are no queues of jeeps at leopard sightings, only great tracts of miombo woodland, evergreen thicket, open grassland and rivers fringed with emerald forest.

Kasanka is arguably the only national park in the world to offer guaranteed sightings of the sitatunga. Other common antelope species include bushbuck, duiker, reedbuck and puku. Between July and October you’ll most likely see sable antelopes and hartebeests, and may also be treated to a glimpse of roan antelopes. Hippos and crocodiles inhabit the lakes and rivers here and there’s a small population of elephants, though these aren’t as commonly seen. Night time brings out jackals, civets and porcupines, and during the months of November and December, the park is home to up to 10 million migratory fruit bats – the biggest mammal gathering anywhere in the world – which can blanket the sky for several minutes at dusk. Bird spotters will also love Kasanka. There are 463 species here, including the wattled crane, Ross’s turaco, Bohm's bee-eater and Pel's fishing owl.

Kasanka is a privately managed national park, run by the Kasanka Trust. Revenue is reinvested in the park, and the trust is also involved in conservation and local community projects.

Wildlife drives can be arranged at the main lodge for viewing in comfort. Drives cost US$35 per person (minimum two people), including night drives to find nocturnal animals. A guided tour to see the bats is US$35, or you can rent a mountain-bike and pedal out to its caves (US$25). They also arrange walking safaris (per person US$25), anything from a one-hour jaunt near the camp to a five-day extravaganza with an armed ranger, camping out in the bush. Gliding along the Luwombwa River in a canoe (US$10) or a motorboat (US$25) surrounded by bustling forest on either side is a wonderful way to get a different look at the park, and see crocodiles, otters and even the rare blue monkey. Fishing on the river can also be arranged.

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