North Luangwa: Hope for Zambia’s Rhinos

Roughly 40 years ago, Zambia had one of Africa’s highest rhino populations, with about 4,000 of a total population of 12,000 being found in the beautiful and wildlife-rich Luangwa Valley region.

By 1998, thanks to rampant poaching, rhinos were declared extinct in Zambia.

Despite this loss, South Luangwa National Park has remained one of Zambia’s and Africa’s greatest national parks, often referred to as one of the continent’s “last great wildernesses” and teeming with elephants, lions, leopards and much much more.

South Luangwa tends to hog the spotlight when compared to it’s quieter and even wilder sibling, North Luangwa National Park.  But if anything, this rather suits the latter’s important and very noble conservation crusade.

Since 2003, the North Luangwa Conservation Program (NLCP) has managed to reintroduce a population of 34 black rhino into the park, thanks to incredible dedication on the part of the staff and the strict vigilance of the anti-poaching unit deployed there.

Black rhino are the rarer of the two rhino sub-species found in Africa, and particularly at risk of continent-wide extinction in the face of ever-growing demand for rhino horn and incidences of poaching across Southern Africa.

The hope is that the NLCP will expand its horizons in Zambia in the near future, with rhinos to potentially be reintroduced to South Luangwa and also to Kafue National Park to the west of Lusaka.

For now though, Zambia’s rhino population remains constrained to North Luangwa, where there are no permanent tourism camps, no roads and no real tourism infrastructure to speak of in general. The bigger and more tourist-friendly parks will be a  very different predicament. But back in the present North Luangwa is quietly and tentatively becoming a real source of hope for one of Africa’s most-revered and most-threatened creatures. Best of luck to them.

To find out more about what is going on in North Luangwa National Park, read this recent Newsweek dispatch

Photo credit: A pair of black rhinoceros PHILIMON BULAWAYO/REUTERS