Upemba National Park was the largest national park in Africa covering about 17,730 square kilometers before it was further reduced in 1975. The Park now covers a surface area of 10,000 square kilometers with an annex of a further 3,000 square kilometers thus being the largest in Katanga region of Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is so adventurous and it is mostly surrounded by a lot of water bodies such as lakes, swamps, wetlands, streams and Rivers and the lower section of the Park is found in the ‘’Upemba depression’’ which is a lush area of lakes and marshes including the eponymous Lake Upemba and bordered by the Lualaba River well as the higher section is located in the dryer Kibara Plateau Mountains.
Upemba depression is a large marshy bowl area within Upemba Park in Haut-Lomami district consisting of some fifty lakes including 22 of relatively large size such as Lake Upemba covering 530 square kilometers and Lake Kisale which also covers 300 square kilometers. The Upemba depression comprises of numerous archaeological sites and is on the tentative list for UNESCO world heritage site. The depression is so large and thus it has delivered the largest known cemetery in the sub-Saharan Africa and more than 40 archaeological sites have been identified though only six have been partially excavated as per now.
The study of the archaeological sites allows tracing the complete sequence of the occupation of the region over two millennia and thus rebuilding the history of a major ethnic group of Central Africa known as ‘’the Luba’’ and chronology based on over 55 radiocarbon dating and thermo-luminescence shows periods of occupation since the Stone Age.
Some of the major lakes in the Upemba include; Lake Upemba, Lake Kisale, Lake Kabamba, Lake zimbambo, Lake Tungwe, Lake Kabele, Lake Kange, Lake Kayumba, Lake Kalondo, Lake Lunde, Lake Mulenda and many more.
The Kibara Mountains within the Park were once part of a continuous plateau in the northern Katanga that also included the Mitumba and Kundelungu blocks though it has currently been divided by deep valleys. The Upemba depression is nestled in the west of Kibara Mountains and the Lufira River separates them from the Mitumba Mountains to the east. The Kibara Mountains have an average elevation of 1,750 meters above sea level and a highest elevation of 1,889 meters. Above 1,500 meters the soil is generally poor, sandy and becomes very dry in the dry season. Vegetation is low grassland or steppe with few trees or bushes.
The mountains have a Northeast-Southwest trend of which they are folded and intruded and have been strongly uplifted. The fragmented surface from the end of the Cretaceous at Lumbele occurs at an elevation of 1,890 meters above the Mid-Cenozoic pediplain and at Mkana at an elevation of 1,800 meters. The mountains give their name to the Kibaran orogeny. In 1931 Robert studied the mountains and introduced the terms “Complexe des Kibara” and “Système des Kibara” to describe his theory of their origins, a mountain-building process that followed a geo-syncline episode. Upemba national park is thus an ideal destination for learning many things as you enjoy ranging from various water bodies, mountains, wildlife species, bird species and many others.
Lualaba River is the greatest river source (head stream) of Congo River by volume of water and due to the various water bodies within the Park, there are numerous fish fauna in the Park. The habitat of the park varies from Afro-montane grasslands and forests at higher altitudes in the Kibara Mountains through Miombo woodlands and tropical rain forest to marshes, wetlands, lakes, and streams with riparian zones at the lower altitudes. It is home to some 1,800 different species. Lake Upemba consists of a maximum depth of only 3.2 meters (10 ft) and it is a site of intense algae growth. The watercourses of the region fluctuate according to the season and the water level in the lakes is high from March to June and low from October to January. Many of the bodies of the water in the area are characterized by extensive swamps, with papyrus, Nile lettuce and water caltrop among other species.
The system of lakes, rivers, swamps and wetlands supports a variety of fish fauna. This includes over 30 species of Cyprinidae, Mormyridae (also known as freshwater elephant fish), Barbus, Alestidae, Mochokidae and Cichlidae and the bird species in the Park include numerous endangered species including; shoe bills, wattled cranes and spotted ground-thrush plus the Schmidt’s snouted frogs which are only known from the park. A variety of activities exist in the Park such as; game viewing where you will spot animals like; buffaloes, elephants, zebras, Oribis, baboons, lions, and cheetahs plus various antelope species including the Impalas. The Park is the only place in Congo for viewing cheetahs and zebras.
Other activities in the Park include; bird watching where you will view various bird species such as; Sparrow Weaver’s, bee-eaters, paradise, fire finch, Chestnut owlet, Dickinson’s kestrel, wattle cranes, racket tailed rollers, the rare shoe bills, Angola Larks, Cisticola, miombo rock thrushes, flycatchers, Nicators, honey guide green buls, Souza shrike, spotted ground thrush and barbet among others. Other activities are; fishing, hiking, boat cruise, cultural encounters. The best time for visiting the Park is from October to January in the dry season when the grass is short and the vegetation is not very thick making it easy to see animals and the water points are always filled with wildlife.