The Bangweulu Wetlands, located in the upper Congo River basin in northern Zambia, consists of Lake Bagweulu, the adjacent Lake Walilupe, floodplains, seasonally flooded grasslands, woodlands and permanent swamps fed by seventeen rivers. Roughly the size of the US state of Connecticut, the wetlands provide a home to 400 bird species, including the amazing shoebill stork, at least 80 species of fish, and a large number of other animals, including the endemic and threatened type of antelope known as the black lechwe. Lake Bangweulu and the surrounding wetlands have been identified as one of the world’s most important wetlands by the Ramsar Convention and as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International.
These globally important and stunning wetlands are also important to the local population, many who depend on the fabulous fishery the lake has provided for their food or livelihood. As often happens when people’s needs expand, the lake was becoming overfished and wildlife populations were dropping. In 2008, six Community Resource Boards (CRBs) who own the land entered into a long-term agreement with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), coming together to sustainably manage and protect their natural assets in a way that would also provide long-term sustainability for people. Bangweulu is now a community-owned protected wetland made up of Game Management Areas and is legally home to 50,000 people who retain the right to sustainably harvest its natural resources. Under the watchful communal management system, fish stocks have rebounded in Lake Bangweulu, bushmeat poaching has been strongly reduced, and the population of black lechwe has risen from 35,000 to 50,000. The beauty and diversity of the ecosystem, along with increasing populations of birds and animals, has strengthened ecotourism, adding to the economy and welfare of the people of the region.
On May 7, 2021, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on board NASA’s Terra satellite acquired a true-color image of Lake Bangweulu and surrounding flood plains and wetlands. The gray smudge to the west of Lake Bangweulu is the city of Mansa, the capital of the Luapula Province of Zambia.