Zambia’s Kasanka National Park provides a key “refueling” stopover site for some 8 – 10 million straw-colored fruit bats, the world’s largest remaining mammal migration. It also supports an unusually diverse assortment of habitats, including a wide variety of woodlands and riparian forests interspersed with papyrus swamps, lakes and grassy floodplains. In addition to the amazing fruit bats, the park includes nearly 40 additional bat species, with a total of 123 mammal species, close to 500 bird species, and many reptiles and amphibians. Even without the bats, the park is a biological treasure.
Straw-colored fruit bats come from thousands of kilometers around to spend two to three months annually feasting on the area’s extraordinary abundance of native fruits. Loss of their continent-wide seed dispersal and pollination services could spell widespread disaster, both ecologically and economically. While at Kasanka they roost in just a single hectare of the 470 square kilometer park, but the area required for foraging is much larger. Protecting both the park and surrounding feeding habitat is essential to these bats’ survival. On average, each bat consumes approximately twice its body weight nightly in native fruit. And that amounts to thousands of tons of critically important seed dispersal!
When the park was created it was further protected by a buffer zone, called the Kafinda Game Management Area (GMA) which is managed through the Kasanka Trust partnership with the Zambian government, and via the establishment of Community Forest Management Areas (CFMA). Unfortunately, this key refuge is so remote that it is easily neglected, especially during a travel-halting pandemic. For example, over the past several years the research camp fell into disrepair, lacking funds from visitation.
The GMA, and even the park itself, are being illegally invaded. Over five thousand hectares of habitat within the game management area have already been lost and forest clearing continues. If proposed projects are permitted, they could easily divert most of the dry season water from the Luwombwa River, water that is essential to the park’s exceptionally rich habitat diversity. Furthermore, introductions of exotic game and a proposed wind farm in the bats’ flight path may pose even greater threats.
Thanks to generous support from our members, we were able to organize two back-to-back workshops at the park, one in October and another in November 2022.
Kasanka Trust organizes conservation agriculture and sustainable projects to develop and support livelihoods for community members in the CFMAs. They also participate in legislative protection of the park and its resources. Until attitudes and ways of life change, law enforcement and community outreach combined will be essential for park protection. Our workshop participation fees were used to support Kasanka Trust and their activities, including rebuilding the park’s Kinda Research and Education Camp.
Participants were able to capture and record 19 of the park’s 40 bat species, learn research techniques, and share their knowledge with park employees and Zambian biologists. Having this data allows them to better understand and conserve their bats and related habitats.
Images from MTBC’s workshops in Zambia’s Kasanka National Park
Merlin’s bat talks to nearby school children and park visitors and staff were enthusiastically received. But nothing could top the spectacular emergences and returns of millions of migrating fruit bats with nearly three-foot wingspans, a never to be forgotten experience.
Much of our trip’s success was made possible by key volunteer assistance. Daniel Hargreaves again played a special role in organizing, promoting, and leading both trips. His contributions were invaluable as always. Joey Chapman and Matt Gove shot invaluable video footage documenting this wonder of nature, including the bats’ extraordinary value and special needs for improved protection. Participants also provided much appreciated assistance that enabled Merlin to obtain important new portraits and the first ever photos of a woolly bat entering and exiting its roost in an abandoned weaverbird nest. A final video will be edited by Joey and made available for use by the Kasanka Trust in its ongoing efforts to save Kasanka National Park and its invaluable residents.
What's Next for Kasanka and MTBC...
While visiting, Merlin discovered that one of the best bat viewing platforms needs repair, and Kasanka Park will rebuild it and name it in honor of Merlin Tuttle. The safety and availability of quality bat viewing platforms is absolutely critical for the park’s ecotourism and conservation efforts and for sharing the beauty and values of this unique spectacle. This requires speedy funding before the cost of materials rises. If you’re in a position to help, please donate here!
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Keep up with the latest news on the park and ongoing efforts through Kasanka Trust.
As always, a huge thank you to our members and donors for the essntial support of MTBC field workshops. These are only possible through the generous support of many. Join MTBC as a member to get first notificaitons of field workshop opportunities!