It is home to almost every animal one can find on African soil but its dominance and beauty has not received the attention it deserves from local and foreign tourists.
The Kafue National Park is named after the river that runs through it – dominating everything on its 250-kilometre stretch but the splendour has not been enhanced by water alone.
The wild sanctuary encloses an area of 22,400 square kilometres – the size of Wales in the United Kingdom – and offers a variety of animals and birds that have enriched its status as the biggest wildlife park in Africa.
It was declared a protected area in 1924 when British colonialists decided to reserve it as a park from the Nkoya hunters in the western part before the Kaondes were equally driven out from the Busanga swamps in the north.
About 160 Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) scouts are deployed there to curb poaching and intervene in animal-human conflict although this number has proved to be inadequate considering the immensity of the national park.
Today Kafue National Park is the biggest animal sanctuary in Africa stretching its presence in three provinces – Central, Western and Southern – with hundreds of species of birds and animals.
|Fast facts: Kafue National Park|
|Area||22 400 sq.km (second largest in Africa)|
|Established as a national park||1950’s by the legendary Norman Carr|
|Wildlife||Over 55 different species of animals|
|Zambian Provinces that it covers||North-Western, Central and Southern Zambia|
However, despite all the rich history and the gorgeous physical outlook, the park lacks the precision to attract a reasonable number of tourists that can reverberate its rich history after visiting it.
The seemingly struggling country’s tourism sector has not helped matters in attracting more foreign tourists to the national park.
On the other hand, the story about wildlife has not been told positively – in many cases only when animals tamper with people’s fields and residential areas in game management areas (GMA).
With the tourism sector ranked only third after mining and agriculture in the importance of country’s economy, the Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB) is hopeful that sites like Kafue National Park can change the status quo.
“Kafue National Park is one of the forgotten places in Zambian tourism,” acknowledges ZTB director for marketing Mato Shimabale.
“This is the biggest park in Africa and second largest in the world, so we need to continue to tell that story.”
Mr Shimabale added: “We believe that with the Kafue National Park, the Victoria Falls, South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi National Parks, we have all the ingredients to make Zambia become a tourism destination.”
Comparisons with similar big parks on the continent do not make any good reading for Zambia as far as income generation is concerned. For instance, it is estimated that South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which is almost as big as the Kafue, attracts a million tourists per year.
Amazingly, the country’s vast park only boasts of a paltry 10,000 per annum. To put it more cruelly, the one million figure generated by Kruger equals the number Zambia has strived in vain to achieve for its entire tourism attractions.
This is besides the country’s natural resources which include one of the world’s seven wonders – the Victoria Falls, the world heritage.
Additionally, Zambia enjoys peace with beautiful environment, climate, as well as friendly people that could be a key in promoting tourism to unprecedented levels.
“If you look at South Africa, it earns US$9 billion from tourism alone per annum while Zambia earns US$6 billion per annum from copper exports,” Mr Shimabale said.
“So this shows that if we put our efforts together on tourism we can actually begin to earn more money from tourism as a country than what we are earning from copper today.”
The Kafue National Park apparently remains one of the keys to make a tangible change of economic fortunes for the country by becoming more attractive to both local and foreign tourists.
Nevertheless, this might not be good enough if tourism players such as safari operators in this vast wilderness are left out in every activity aimed at promoting tourism.
A drive through the Kafue National Park would evidently reveal the significance of these players but until very recently, they had been used to welcome foreign tourists while local travelers remain skeptical in visiting such areas.
Mukambi Safari Lodge is one of the institutions that have added the beauty of the Kafue National Park but admit that there is more for tourists to be explored in the cosmic park.
For 17 years now, the lodge, which is just along the Mongu Road, has offered safari drive and accommodation particularly to the foreign holiday makers who have taken pleasure to view the animals and experience the tranquility of the park.
Mukambi Safari Lodge proprietor Linda Van Heerden said 60 per cent of people visiting the area were now local tourists unlike in the past when they constituted only 40 per cent.
“In the past we targeted the international market but we have had our statistics recently where we have discovered that Zambia is topping the chat and it is a very good market we have,” Mrs Van Heerden said in an interview.
“We used to be 60 per cent international and 40 per cent local, but it is the other way round now.”
Her husband Jacques is an avid fan of tourism development and his wish is to have Kafue National Park zoned to encompass hotels and lodges on one part and enhance exclusive animals on the other.
“This is a great National Park and if we can have hotels and lodges on one side of the park, this can help to attract more tourists at very affordable rates,” said Mr Heerden, who is co-proprietor of the Mukambi Safari Lodge.
Like his business partner, Mr Heerden noted that Kafue had been unexplored despite the huge economic potential that it had continued to enjoy over the years.
“It is still virgin and untouched and that brings interest and appeal to many people,” he said. “If you go out, you will be alone for 40 to 45 minutes in the bush enjoying the true Africa on your own.”
“And I think this is what people should try to experience. It must be said that these parks are not dangerous to people but provide a tremendous resting environment.”
Phil Jeffery, proprietor of Jeffery and McKeith, also operating in the park said Zambia has had a reputation for tourism with a broader experience than other neighbouring countries which, gave the country an upper hand to boost its economy.
He noted that apart from the wildlife, Zambia had great cultural diversity such as traditional ceremonies that could be used as an important tourism attraction.
“From my own experience I think we are improving as a country and the Kafue National Park has seen a steady increase in the number visiting although we still have a long way to go,” he said.
In addition to animals and birds, the park boasts of types of trees that are rare to find in Africa.
Victor Shibomba is a game guide who has been in the park for 19 years and he has seen and witnessed both local and foreign tourists visiting the area as well as studied through interaction the behaviour of most animals.
“It has been a great experience living in this area because I have met with different personalities,” Mr Shibomba said. “However, I have discovered that Zambians are not keen to be tourists in their own country.”
The story about the Kafue National Park might have been told on several fora, but unless it is retold it will be difficult for people around the world to realise its significance and what it has to offer.
In the same way, as the country strives to make tourism more significant to the national economy, it would be important for all the stakeholders, including the ZTB, to aim at promoting local tourism and encourage Zambians to visit national parks.
Knowing that tourism is arguably more sustainable than copper which is currently the country’s economic mainstay, the launch by the ZTB of the domestic tourism would come at a opportune time.
Despite these efforts by the safari lodges in the mighty Kafue National Park, it is evident that more still needs to be done by stakeholders in the country to ensure tourism earns more for the country.
After all tourism is arguably a better resource in that it cannot be depleted unlike copper, a wasting asset which could run out at a time when you need it most.
Date: 6 October 2013