Expert Reviews – Kasanka NP

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A Blizzard of Bats
Overall rating

Kasanka is a tiny park in northern Zambia that few people have heard about and even fewer visit. It has some lush river scenery, reasonable general game and a few elephants, as well as excellent birding, but it’s real claim to fame is bats! I also rolled my eyes when I heard this for the first time, but having been to Kasanka during late October and November when around 8 million straw-coloured fruit bats frequent the park, I can honestly say that this is a wildlife spectacle to rival the Mara-Serengeti wildebeest migration. As their numbers swell, the bats pack themselves into a tiny patch of just 10ha of swamp forest, occupying every branch on every tree. And, each dawn and dusk for six weeks, the sky is obscured by millions of bats on the wing, heading off or returning from a night of feeding on the regions prolific fruiting trees. It is an experience that cannot easily be reduced into words, but if you’ve seen the Big Five and want a wildlife experience that will quite literally blow you away, then Kasanka during bat season is the answer.

Bats galore and a laidback atmosphere
Overall rating

If I could rate this park for uniqueness, I’d give it top marks. Kasanka is not a classic safari destination – you rarely see elephants, lions or other large, charismatic animals here. But every year, in November and December, one small patch of forest within the park hosts a fascinating natural phenomenon: the temporary residence of an enormous gathering of straw-colored fruit bats, numbering several million.

Watching clouds of bats leave the colony to feed at sunset is pretty impressive, but that’s nothing compared to the thrill of climbing into a treetop hide at dawn to see them return. To do this, you have to set off from your rudimentary accommodation while it’s still dark and trudge along muddy paths, but I think it’s well worth the trouble.

Visit Kasanka at other times of the year and there will be antelopes and birds to watch, but if you have any interest in small mammals you’ll find yourself wishing you’d come during the bat season.

Off the beaten track park famous for sitatunga and the astonishing bat migration
Overall rating

This remote park won’t appeal for safari-goers expecting to see loads of plains game, but will certainly tick boxes for those seeking unusual species, good birding, and peaceful undisturbed bush. I really enjoyed a two-night stay here at rustic Wasa Lodge, where there were only another couple of guests and the friendly staff from the Kasanka Trust. Dinner was taken on the deck with views over the reed beds in a mosaic of watery channels, which quite delightfully proved to be great for spotting fish eagles, hippo, puku and sitatunga; the latter being a curious semi-aquatic antelope with a hunched back and splayed hooves, which I’ve rarely seen in other parks simply because of their normal shyness. Kasanka is also famous for its straw-coloured fruit bat migration – considered one of Africa’s largest mammal migrations. The density of millions is at its highest in November and December, but on my visit in early October I saw many hundreds of thousands starting to gather. Our guide led us up a rickety step ladder to a hide in the tree canopy, from where it was a marvellous sight watching these chirping creatures sweeping from the branches and across the vast orange sky at sunset.

Home of the world’s biggest mammal migration
Overall rating

Kasanka is one of the smallest parks in Zambia and if you’re in search of big game you are in the wrong place. While some staff at reception might try to tell you otherwise, my experience tells me you almost certainly won’t see any of the Big 5 here. You will, however, see some hippos, crocodiles and a few interesting antelope species, including the very rare and notoriously shy semi-aquatic situtunga.

The birdlife is more impressive, with more than 400 species found in the park. And it’s a pretty and tranquil park too, punctuated by swamplands, lagoons, rivers and dense forests. There are just 2 lodges in the park, and 3 basic but picturesque campsites, so you certainly won’t see a lot of traffic about the place.

But Kasanka’s primary draw card is the astonishing annual fruit bat migration that occurs roughly between late October and December. Somewhere between 5 and 10 million bats visit occupy a tiny 10 hectare area of the park and at sunrise and sunset you can watch them covering the skyline from one of the park’s tree hides. This is a truly strange and wonderful experience.

I visited the park in peak bat season and even then we shared the tree hide with just one other couple and had the campsite entirely to ourselves.

Wilderness Without the Crowds
Overall rating

Tiny Kasanka is one of Zambia’s least known parks; there are just two lodges and three basic campsites here and it receives few tourists. First things first, this isn’t the place to come for big game – you won’t find lion or buffalo here. What makes it special is the chance to experience the wilderness atmosphere with hardy another human being in sight.

Kasanka is famous for its swampland, and in particular for the situtanga, a shy, semi-aquatic antelope. Gliding down the forest-shrouded Luwombwa River in a canoe, you’ll see crocodile, hippo, otters and rare blue monkeys. If you’re lucky, you may spot one of the small number of elephant.

Birders love it here. There are more than 400 species, including a diverse and visible range of water birds, and in November and December five million fruit bats visit the area, blanketing the skies. It’s the largest such gathering anywhere in the world.

When I last went to Kasanka we were the only visitors in the park and had the rustic Pontoon campsite, overlooking hippo and crocodile filled lake, completely to ourselves. A highlight was getting up early in the morning to visit Fibwe Hide. A 20 metre climb up a ladder took me to a wooden platform at the top of an old mahogany tree from where I watched the endless swamps spread out below me come slowly to life with the dawn.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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