Looking on the map, Zambia has a host of National Parks, reserves and game management areas. Many of the smaller national parks are relatively unknown and have poorly developed infrastructure. South Luangwa, on the other hand, is well known as one of Africa’s great parks and is easily accessible by air charter from Lusaka. Less well known and more remote are North Laungwa and Kafue National Parks, the latter one of Africa’s biggest national parks. Most visitors to Zambia will pass through South Luangwa during their travels, and will be privy to some spectacular game viewing, particularly in the dry season when the shrunken Luangwa River supports one of the densest Hippo populations on the continent. Visitors to the other parks will however be rewarded with some incredible game viewing, often under conditions of incredible exclusivity, with few other human beings within hundreds of square kilometers.
Zambia’s main wildlife region is the Luangwa River Valley in the east of the country. South Luangwa National Park is the most well developed, with a range of camps and safari lodges operating both within the park and on the eastern bank of the Luangwa River, which technically falls outside the borders of the park. Although game does cross the river from the west, most game drives take place within the park, where certain safari operators are allowed to conduct night drives. Highlights of South Luangwa include fantastic Leopard sightings, the massive Hippo and Nile Crocodile population (when the river is at its lowest in late winter the remaining pools are literally packed solid with Hippo’s), superb Elephant encounters, large Lion prides and Thornicoft’s Giraffe and Cookson’s Wildebeest, two subspecies which are endemic to the valley. North Luangwa National Park is a less developed version of South Luangwa, with very few safari operators and plenty of untamed wilderness. The walking safari was pioneered in the Luangwa Valley and both North and South Luangwa National Parks offer superb walking opportunities.
In the west of the park the mighty Kafue covers some 22 500 km², as such one of the continent’s biggest national parks. Much of the park floods in the summer months, with the inundated floodplains attracting vast numbers of waterbirds. In the north are the Busanga Plains, a region of open grasslands that can provide some spectacular game viewing. Mammal diversity in Kafue is higher than in the Luangwa Valley and species to be seen include Lion (the Busanga Plains highly rated for sightings of this apex predator), Leopard, Cheetah, Wild Dog, Roan, Oribi and Red Lechwe in addition to the more usual African savannah species.
Other wildlife highlights in Zambia include the huge herds of endemic Black Lechwe on the margins of the Bangweulu Swamps, the wildebeest migration of Liuwa Plains, and the great general game viewing of Lower Zambezi National Park.