May 2023 has been a bumper month for the carnivores of Liuwa Plain National Park, with some fantastic sightings that show how nature can bounce back, given the chance.
The alpha female of the wild dog pack has likely given birth as she was heavily pregnant in May 2023 and the group is already denning in the Matiamanene area. Wild dogs were only reintroduced into Liuwa Plain in April 2022 so puppies just over a year later is a sign that the individuals have really bonded as a unit and are hunting successfully.
Cheetah are seemingly doing well with a pregnant female being spotted, and 10 of the 13 known hyena clans were located during the month.
Lions on the move
Lions – including around 10 cubs – are leaving Matiamanene on their way north to joining migrating wildebeest herds heading that way. Lion have a poignant connection to Liuwa Plain: by 2022, only one remained. ‘Lady Liuwa’ was believed to be the reincarnation of a Lozi woman named Mambeti who was a relative of many people living in the park. In 2003, African Parks joined the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, and the Barotse Royal Establishment to administer Liuwa Plain and in 2005 the area was declared a Lion Conservation Unit and now has a dedicated lion boma.
After a few fits and starts, from 2008 onwards the population has stabilised and will hopefully grow especially as the number of wildebeest seem to be increasing (in 2021, an aerial survey revealed around 34 000, making this the second largest wildebeest migration on the continent – although admittedly far off the mega-herds that traverse the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem!).
Although not one of Zambia’s most-visited parks, Liuwa Plain is definitely sought-after by safari lovers who want a truly wild, deeply authentic Zambian safari. But conservation is about more than saving big cats and preserving habitats – it is about showing communities the benefits of doing so. In addition to basic infrastructure projects like Matiamanene Bridge, there are regular outreach programmes for the five schools in the area, vaccination rollouts to control rabies and, heartening of all, game drives for villagers who can, for the first time in their lives, can appreciate an elephant rather than fear it.
From about June onwards is the best time to go as the water starts drying up and more land is accessible by vehicle. Liuwa Plain offers rich reward for birders, nature photographers and those who eschew the crowds in favour of authentic wildlife experiences.