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Longing for Liuwa

I finally got to the Liuwa Plains in December 2012 after twenty years of yearning. My friend Robin Pope had carved himself out a niche guiding in this ancient kingdom and regaled me with tales of miniature forests and humongous hyenas. Being the last place you get to is somewhat like meeting your hero; with expectations so high the danger is that you'll be underwhelmed. Fortunately Liuwa does not do underwhelming, this is big-sky country at its best.

With a migration to rival the Serengeti’s, yet only a couple of hundred visitors a year, the Liuwa Plains are unquestionably one of the most amazing wildlife reserves in Africa.

Spread across 3,660 square kilometres of western Zambia in the kingdom of Barotseland, the park has at its heart a vast sea of golden grassland. With the onset of the rains tens of thousands of blue wildebeest, along with tsessebe and zebra, converge on these endless plains – joining the resident red lechwe, buffalo, roan, eland, reedbuck and oribi.

Although remote and little known, those who make the trek will find a unique and genuine wilderness. While we were there the skies were alive with birds and our three year-old daughter lost herself in an infinite meadow of wild-flowers – only temporarily I should add, she is back.

There is definitely something surreal about Barotseland, with its endless horizons, suffrutex woodlands and admiral-attired Regent who makes his own biannual migration in a zebra-striped barge propelled by 99 oarsmen.

The Liuwa Plains National Park is one of Africa’s oldest conservation areas, originally proclaimed by the Litunga (Lozi King) in early 1880’s. Since 2003 it has been receiving the support of African Parks - the gold-standard for interesting places worth protecting. With better protection the mammal populations have burgeoned impressively – the wildebeest have trebled in 10 years and in turn the predators are enjoying the bounty, so much so that all the Wild Dog footage in Attenborough’s recent “The Hunt” series was captured here. Talk to Rod Tether about this.

Posted by: Rod Tether

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