Most of this national park is covered in dense evergreen forests which are mainly made up of Cryptosepalum trees, locally known as Mukwa. Almost exclusive to Zambia, Cryptosepalum forests are distinctive dry evergreen forests which occur in the area of the Kabompo River.
West Lunga Development Trust was set up to help conserve this pristine and relatively sparsely area. Despite poaching and the absence of protection, the forest is believed to be still fairly rich in wildlife
Visitors are advised to be completely self-reliant as the park currently lacks facilities and infrastructure.
Located in the North Western Province of Zambia, between the West Lungu and Kabompo Rivers, West Lunga National Park is a remote wildlife haven. West Lunga National Park was declared a protectorate in the 1940s for the sake of the population of yellow-backed duiker.
West Lungu National Park has attracted very little interest since then. It is one of Zambia’s least visited parks as it lacks facilities and infrastructures such as roads and accommodation, and has very little management. Visitors to the park must be completely self-reliant.
Other trees often found here include the much-exploited rosewood, Guibourtia coleosperma. Further south, the character of these forests gradually changes and they become dominated by Zambezi teak trees and Baikiaea plurijuga. A few patches of Miombo woodland and grassland also exist in the park.
Although the rainfall in the area is quite high (above 1,000 mm per year), the soils are sandy and well drained. So, apart from the rivers, there is a lack of surface water.
The lack of water and thickness of the forest has kept the human population low in the region. Small forest mammals such as bush pig and duiker, as well as puku, hippo, crocodiles, monkeys and baboons, inhabit the park.
In mid-2004, Dorian Tilbury (a first-class guide with a long history of working in Zambia’s more remote areas) reported confirmed sightings of vervet monkey and yellow baboon. She also documented numerous excellent sightings of samango monkey, plus spoor of bushbuck, bush pig, cane rat, thick-tailed bushbaby, civet and genet. The game guards report that there are buffalo, roan antelopes, sable antelopes, Lichtenstein’s hartebeests, impalas, elands, and elephants, though sightings are rare.
Birding is best done by boat due to the thick almost impenetrable vegetation. Sightings include half-collared kingfishers, African finfoots, Zambia’s turacos (Schalow’s and Lady Ross’s) and large numbers of black saw-wing swallows, amongst many more common species.
West Lungu National Park is famous amongst ornithologists for the controversy surrounding the only endemic bird species, the white-chested tinkerbird. In 1964 the single specimen of this bird species was found. Avid birders have made numerous unsuccessful attempts to find more, making some think that the species was named after an aberrant golden-rumped tinkerbird.
Apart from the amazing birdlife and some wildlife, West Lunga has numerous rapids, stunning waterfalls, limestone caves, underground rivers, hot springs, the Kabompo Gorge, a sunken lake, and the source of the famous Zambezi River, making this hidden corner of Zambia well worth exploring. There are two rivers that border the park, the Kabombo River which is the deepest river in Zambia, and the Lungu River, with its unusually transparent water. Both are excellent for fishing and canoeing.
Local communities have been mobilised into Village Action Groups, and Community Resource Boards are being set up to sustainably manage the natural resources here. A game counting programme has also been started. Hopefully with more controls, West Lunga will see a rise in wildlife encouraging more visitors to the park in the future.