Lake Bangweulu, Zambia

Lake Locations:

Zambia -

“Where The Water Meets The Sky” is an apt description of Lake Bangweulu in northern Zambia. The lake and wetland area is one of the most interesting water systems in the world. Consisting of more than the permanent lake, adjacent floodplains are inundated every rainy season to cover 5,830 square miles. The lake itself covers more than 740,000 acres and is divided by sand ridges into three smaller sections called Lake Chifunabuli, Lake Walilupe, and the main Lake Bangweulu. The sand ridge islands are Mbalala Island and Chilubi Island with two associated peninsulas, Lifunge Peninsula and Kapata Peninsula. Over 90,000 people live in the wetlands on ‘islands’ of dry land, cultivating some basic crops like cassava and maize and by fishing. It is here the famed explorer Dr. David Livingston died; a monument in his honor stands about 60 miles from the lake.

The vast wetland system is fed by 17 rivers; flooding occurs between October and April each year. The waters support vast stands of papyrus and reeds and over 80 species of fish. The aquatic inhabitants are primarily types of tilapia and catfish, usually small and rapidly reproducing. As the human population continues to grow in the area, there are concerns that overfishing could easily occur. Travel during the wet season is mostly by canoe or dugout, with a few more modern personal boats sharing the waters. A few commercial ‘banana boats’ take passengers from place to place but have never become a major source of transportation. Today, rough roads connect some of these settlements. The largest village on the lakeshore is Samfya, along the southwest portion of the shore. Eco-scientists are developing a strong interest in the unique hydrology of the area and the unusual flora and fauna it supports.

The wetland is one of the few places where the wetland antelope-the black lechwe-thrives. There are no longer any large cats in the area, having been exterminated by humans. The black lechwe exists in this watery world due to a natural coating on their legs that sheds water and allows them to travel quickly through swamps. Although they graze primarily on the dry ‘islands’ throughout the wetlands, the entire area is filled with lagoons, bays, small lakes, ponds and channels between them. The black lechwe join oribi, reedbuck, African buffalo, tsessebe, elephant, sitatunga, hippopotamus and crocodile in the wetland and rivers. Huge numbers of waterfowl and shore birds, some extremely rare, nest here and include sacred ibis, saddle-billed stork, pelican, flamingo, spoonbill, spur-winged goose, glossy ibis, Denham’s bustard, black-crowned night heron and many others.

The Bangweulu Wetland is one of the few breeding grounds of the increasingly rare shoebill. This large bird nests on the ground and has only two chicks a year, only one of which will ordinarily grow to adulthood. Because the shoebill is disappearing at a rapid pace, a rescue reserve has been set up by Kasanka National Park within the wetland at Shoebill Island Camp in an effort to monitor and protect the shoebill and provide visitors with a chance to see these rare birds. This area is the closest thing to a real protected area within the wetland. Although a part of the Bangweulu Wetlands have been declared a RAMSAR wetland, further action has not so far been possible due to the large numbers of people who draw their livelihood from Lake Bangweulu and the wetlands. Efforts are underway to gain National Park status for at least part of the wetland, but increasing numbers of people have arrived here as copper mining undergoes reorganization in Zambia, leaving them without a means of feeding their families. The government of Zambia is also soliciting applications for fish farming operations in the area; the possible ramifications of such an industry are unknown.

In an effort to preserve this valuable wetland without depriving the native people of their livelihood, the Bangweulu Wetlands ‘Park’ is attempting to stop poaching of the animals in the park for food and working with local village chiefs to build eco-tourism as a viable alternative economic system. The Bangweulu Wetlands Project is a partnership between the Zambia Wildlife Authority, African Parks, and six local chieftains whose lands fall within the wetland. The Nsobe Community Camp Site was constructed to provide a base for visitors to enjoy the wetland within proscribed guidelines, The communities share half of the profits from the camp, and staff have trained park rangers to patrol and stop poaching whenever possible. Several small eco-tourism organizations provide birding, wildlife viewing and trekking opportunities to visitors. One of the newest activities in 2013 was a mountain bike challenge/tour across parts of the wetland during the dry season. This grueling trek was tightly limited to a few participants and may be repeated in coming years.

Lodgings in the area are limited. At least one ‘safari-resort’ is located on Lake Bangweulu, but repeated warnings to travelers suggest the site may not be safe from violence against foreign visitors. The Nsobe Community Camp Site and the few eco-tourism camps within the wetlands are likely a far safer option for travelers from outside the area. Getting to Lake Bangweulu is somewhat difficult. The lake is about 60 miles from Mansa, the nearest sizable city. Road conditions are less than ideal. Probably the best way to arrange a trip to view Lake Bangweulu and the Bangweulu Wetlands is to book an eco-tour directly through the proprietors themselves as they will be able to arrange the best travel arrangements and the safest lodgings. How long the wetlands and their unique environment will remain depends on creating a thriving eco-tourism base and accompanying protections enforced by the Zambia government. In the meantime, there is a shoebill waiting to meet you!

*Statistics are rough estimates as the lake’s shorelines are not well defined and change throughout the year. Water volume is an estimate for the entire wetland area.

Things to do at Lake Bangweulu

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Camping
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Bangweulu

  • Catfish
  • Tilapia

Lake Bangweulu Photo Gallery

Lake Bangweulu Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 741,316 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,740 feet

Water Volume: 4,053,565 acre-feet

Lake Area-Population: 90,000

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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