Liuwa Plain National Park

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Lady Liuwa, Liuwa Plain National Park, November 2012

Liuwa Plain National Park lies in Western Province, Zambia, west of the Barotse Floodplain of the Zambezi River near the border with Angola. The Park is governed by African Parks (Zambia), which is a partnership between African Parks, the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and the Barotse Royal Establishment, the traditional government of the Lozi people. [1].

History[edit]

Liuwa Plain National Park was designated as a game reserve of Barotseland by the king, Lewanika, in the nineteenth century and became a national park in 1972. Liuwa Plain is situated on the upper Zambezi floodplains of western Zambia and is bounded by the Luambimba and Luanginga Rivers. Liuwa is characterised by seasonally flooded grassy plains dotted with woodland islands. Originally proclaimed by the King of Barotseland in the early 1880s, it was historically used as a royal hunting ground and was protected by the Lozi people. [2]

Location and access[edit]

The park has no road access and no facilities, and is situated in one of most out-of-the way and least-populated areas of the country. The nearest settlement is the small town of Kalabo, about 40 km south which normally can only be reached from the provincial capital Mongu by dirt tracks and a pontoon ferry over the Zambezi. Visitors need an off-road vehicle, and have to be completely self-sufficient. There is a camp ground in Kalabo, but no rest houses and no facilities in the park. As a consequence of all this it is rarely visited; according to the Bradt guide to Zambia, it received only fifty visitors in 2000 and 121 in 2002. UPDATE: The Park is difficult to almost impossible to traverse in the rains, when the plains are inundated. However for the rest of the year, there is a network of good sand roads within the Park itself. There are, at present, very few signs, so it is best to travel with a working knowledge of a GPS. From Kalobo, there is a very good community campsite, with cold showers. Safe and great for bird watching. You have to take the hand drawn pontoon over the Luanginga River and travel about 2km to get there. Ask the local people for directions. The Lozi people are friendly and honest.The road from there and into the park is acceptable in the dry season (4x4 only), and again no road signs. Liuwa is well worth the trip. A remote and beautiful location.

Wildlife[edit]

Situated in the Western Zambezian grasslands ecoregion, it is bounded by the Luambimba and Luanginga Rivers and consists of a grassy plain with numerous pans. Liuwa hosts the second largest wildebeest migration in Africa, offering spectacular sights of thousands of animals. Liuwa also supports globally important bird populations, with more than 330 bird species recorded. [3]

Predators include African wild dogs, spotted hyenas and lions, one of which is the famous lioness known as Lady Liuwa.

In 2003 African Parks (Zambia) assumed responsibility for the park, undertaking an aggressive approach to reestablishing native wildlife populations and relocating extinct species. The most notable example of this is the astonishing increase in wildebeest (Connochaetus taurinus) numbers from approximately 15,000 animals in 2003 to almost 43,000 individuals in 2011. Other species that have shown clear increases in population numbers are zebra (Equus quagga), from some 2,800 in 2005 to around 4,500 in 2011, and red lechwe (Kobus leche) which increased from a counted 966 in 2005 to a counted 1,272 in 2011. Tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus) doubled in number between 2007 and 2011 with the current count at 872 individuals. [4]

The Zambian Carnivore Programme is active in Liuwa Plain National Park, conducting collaborative, long-term studies of both the predatory and prey animals, in order to provide management and conservation insight's for the park's recovery. [5]

Some other species thought to be extinct in the park started to make their appearance in 2008. A breeding pack of wild dog (Lycaon pictus) started to be seen frequently and a herd of about 20 roan antelope (Hippotragus equinus) often made an appearance. Wild dog are considered apex predators and their return to Liuwa is a sign of a recovering ecosystem. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) have also been frequently spotted around Matamene Camp. The hyena population at Liuwa is very healthy with large numbers congregating at dens. In 2008, the park was visited by four elephant bulls (Loxodonta africana) from a park more than 300km away. [6]

For centuries, the eland (Tragelaphus oryx) has been an important cultural symbol to the Lozi people that live around Liuwa Plain. In 2007 African Parks, with financial backing from the Dutch Government (DGIS), successfully relocated 49 eland to Liuwa and within one year the herd was strengthened through the birth of five calves. During 2008, 16 buffalo (Syncerus caffer) were introduced back to the park with the herd having grown to 23 animals by 2011. In August 2011 the herd was further supplemented with another 12 animals, The herd currently stands at 53 individuals due to a further introduction and births of calves in 2012. [7]

Liuwa plain supports globally important populations of storks, cranes and other water birds. The vulnerable crowned crane (Balearica regulorum) and wattled crane (Grus carunculatus) are abundant, sometimes forming flocks numbering several hundred. Wattled cranes are the most wetland dependent of Africa's cranes and are therefore considered an excellent flagship species for wetland conservation. Globally, Liuwa is considered to be the fourth most important breeding site for wattled cranes. The arrival of the annual floods marks the arrival of a wealth of water birds and the spectacle of massive migrating flocks is not uncommon in Liuwa. These water birds include the vulnerable slaty egret (Egretta vinaceigula) and the whiskered tern (Chlidonias hybrida) for which Liuwa provides the only breeding area in Zambia. [8]

A notable migrant, arriving on the plain in summer, is the near threatened black winged pratincole (Glareola nordmanni) often numbering in the tens of thousands. Grassland species are also well represented in Liuwa. The eastern clapper lark (Mirafra fasciolate jappi) and the pink billed lark (Spizocorys conirostris makawai) reach their northern limit here with both these subspecies considered to be endemic to Liuwa. [9]

Lady Liuwa[edit]

Lady Liuwa, November 2012

Liuwa Plain National Park is home to Lady Liuwa, the subject of Aquavision's documentary, “The Last Lioness." Following the Angolan civil war, trophy hunting and poaching decimated the lion population in the park; leaving but one, Lady Liuwa. [10] For years Lady Liuwa lived alone, roaming Liuwa Plain without a pride. While on assignment documenting spotted hyenas in 2005, filmmaker Herbert Brauer developed a relationship with the isolated lioness.

African Parks, who maintain Liuwa Plain National Park, decided to re-establish the lion population and bring an end to Lady Liuwa’s solitude. The first attempt to bring a single male lion from nearby Kafue National Park to Liuwa Plain resulted in tragedy, with the male dying after chocking on regurgitated vomit. In May of 2009, two male lions were successfully relocated from Kafue National Park to Liuwa Plain. [11]

Lady Liuwa and the two young male brothers quickly developed a close and amorous relationship. For two years the trio were observed mating. Despite the frequent mating, no cubs were produced. It was initially suspected that Lady was holding off on becoming pregnant until she was certain the males were there to stay. As time passed it became clear that Lady Liuwa was likely sterile and unable to produce offspring. It is unknown if Lady ever had a litter of cubs prior to the slaughter of her pride. [12]

In October 2011, two young female lions were successfully translocated from Kafue National Park. In June 2012, tragedy once again struck on Liuwa Plain. One of the young lionesses was killed in a poacher's snare. In November 2012, one of the two male lions was killed outside of the park in Angola. Lady Liuwa was then placed in a holding boma with the surviving female and released together in October 2012. Since that time the remaining lions have formed a pride. While the male had been observed mating with the two females, no cubs were produced. [13]

In January of 2014, African Parks announced that two cubs were observed, making them the first in over a decade. [14] In February of 2014 the Zambian Carnivore Programme confirmed that three cubs were produced. [15]

On February 4, 2014, the sequel to The Last Lioness, The Real Lion Queen, aired on Animal Planet in the United Kingdom. [16]

Notes[edit]

This park is considered for inclusion in the 5 Nation Kavango - Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Coordinates: 14°30′S 22°30′E / 14.500°S 22.500°E / -14.500; 22.500