Zambian court stops land clearing in Kasanka National Park, where 10 million bats roost annually

Every year, African straw-coloured fruit bats migrate to the park from the Congo and act as pollinators

By Susan Chacko
Published: Wednesday 16 February 2022
The African straw-coloured fruit bat. Photo: iStock
The African straw-coloured fruit bat. Photo: iStock The African straw-coloured fruit bat. Photo: iStock

The High Court of Zambia in Lusaka put a temporary stop to the cutting of trees, agriculture and water extraction within the Kasanka National Park and its buffer zone, the Kafinda Game Management Area (GMA) January 25, 2022, according to a non-profit that manages the park.

It is a reprieve for the area that is a stopover on the largest mammal migration in the world. Some 8-10 million African straw-coloured fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) migrate every year from October to December to the park, from the rainforests of the Congo and roost in an area of 25 hectares of evergreen swamp forest.

This species is the second-largest fruit bat in Africa. It can have a wingspan of up to a metre and adults can weigh up to 350 grams.

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Every evening, they leave the roost to forage in the surrounding countryside. Their foraging excursions take them into the Kafinda GMA, outside the park boundaries. 

The fruit bats act as pollinators and seed dispersers. The bat migration plays a leading role in the reforestation and regeneration of areas during the animals’ journey.  

Deforestation and degradation of the Kafinda GMA would pose a direct threat to the bats and damage the park’s ecosystem and wildlife that are a major source of food security for local communities, according to park officials.

The activities were being carried out by Lake Agro Industries and Gulf Adventures Ltd. Lake Agro Industries is a subsidiary of the Tanzanian-owned Lake Group, according to media reports.

The Kasanka National Park is one of Zambia’s smallest (39,000 ha) but ecologically significant national parks.

The ruling also prevents the extraction of water from the Luwombwa river beyond limits prescribed in the water permit granted by Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA), which has since expired, according to the Kasanka Trust, a non-profit.

The Kasanka Trust co-manages the park located in the Chitambo District with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW).

The Mapepala and Nabowa Community Forest Management Groups, together with the Kasanka Trust, had filed the application in court against destructive and illegal land clearing operations taking place in and around the Kasanka National Park.

The order passed by Charles Kafunda, the High Court judge, read:

Lake Agro Industries and Gulf Adventures Ltd are hereby restrained from any further cutting of trees, clearing vegetation, further construction works, fencing of or any other further activities or development on the land and abstraction of water from the Luombwa river exceeding amounts stated in the water permit.

Conservationists have hailed the high court injunction and said the ruling was a step forward in protecting the world’s biggest bat migration.

Lake Agro Industries first cleared 560 ha of area in the south west corner of Kafinda GMA in 2019. The clearing was briefly stopped in August 2019 by an order from the Department of Forestry. However, the clearing was resumed in September.

A second order to stop the work was issued by the Ministry of Tourism and Arts in November 2019. But it was ignored and Lake Agro Industries proceeded to plant soybean and maize into three of the seven clearings made in the 560 hectare-area.

A third stop order was issued in March 2020 by DNPW and the farm was closed. In the same month, DNPW gave permission to Lake Agro to harvest their crops and then stop any further activities. This agreement was ignored and the clearing of land continued.

In May 2021, Lake Agro submitted an Environmental and Social Impact Statement to the Zambian Environmental Management Agency. They requested permission for an integrated farming project over 3,000 hectares of arable land plus associated infrastructure, within the protected Kafinda Game Management Area and less than three kilometres from the Kasanka National Park.

The company has also requested to take water from the Luwombwa river, which flows into the west of the park.

In July 2021, DNPW issued a fourth stop order, allowing Lake Agro Industries to farm the cleared 560 hectares but to get the relevant water abstraction permits from WARMA and prohibiting any further clearance.

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