Kissama Foundation proposes to do a further field survey of about two weeks in
the Cangandala National Park during August of 2003. This survey will involve
para-motors and/or microlight aircraft. The purpose of these surveys would be to
establish the distribution range and numbers of Giant Sable in the region. It is
further proposed to base a full-time graduate researcher from the University of
Pretoria in the study area to work together with a graduate student from the
Agostinho Neto University. A proposal to this effect has already been forwarded
to Dr Serodio at the Agostinho Neto University.
outside funding will be made available for the above projects, some logistical
support will be sourced in Angola. There are also proposals to start with an
eco-tourism lodge in the Malange Province.
is a report by Dr BJ Mincher, published in the United States of America in
November of 2002 concerning the above project. Wide and positive reports
concerning conservation by the Kissama Foundation and in particular the Giant
Sable antelope has appeared internationally in a number of newspapers, radio
broadcasts and television news.
as well as Operation Noah’s Ark, is creating wide and positive publicity for
the Republic of Angola and will certainly lead to the international community
viewing this country positively in terms of foreign investment and tourism.
B.J. Mincher, Ph.D.
Independence of a sort came for Angola in 1975. But as the Portuguese abruptly abandoned their richest colony, disparate and hostile political movements rushed in to fill the vacuum. Fuelled by super-power politics, money and hardware, the resulting civil war has lasted until today. The toll in human blood was at least four hundred thousand, and more than a million refugees were forced over the borders. Many times that displaced internally. Today, nearly a third of all children die before the age of five, and landmines are still scattered throughout the country. Angola has one of the highest levels of amputees per capita and the formerly plentiful wildlife of the baobab forests and miombo woodlands has fared no better. Elephants, rhino and buffalo were shot to extinction from the ground and the air. Ivory financed the war effort and wild game fed the soldiers. As one of the poorest nations on earth, even domestic animals are still rare in some areas. Much of the fiercest fighting between the UNITA rebels of Jonas Savimbi and the government of President Jose’ Eduardo dos Santos occurred in the central portion of the country, in Malange Province, in the habitat of the giant sable.
The Safari Club International Record Book of Trophy Animals contains only one entry for Hippotragus niger variani, the giant sable; that of George W. Parker, dated 1952. While science debates whether the giant sable is actually genetically distinct from their more common cousins to the east, the difference is obvious to hunters. The giant sable is giant not because of its body size but because of its horns. While the scimitars of an excellent typical sable might reach 50 inches, Parker’s SCI-entry is over 59 inches. They get bigger. In fact, they get so big that they were once considered a hoax.
By the first decade of the 1900s, Africa had been scoured by miners, sportsmen, railroad builders and slave traders. Dozens of amateur naturalists were sending heads, horns and skins to museums in Europe and America, and most professionals concurred that the world’s large mammals had all been accounted for. It was thought likely that no species were left undiscovered in Africa. Yet, intriguing reports were occasionally received of exceptional sable antelope from the central portions of the Portuguese colony of Angola. Mr. H. Frank Varian, big game hunter, naturalist and Benguela railroad engineer had reported of a sable taken by a hunter on the Cuanza River in 1906 measuring 54.5 inches. This was two inches longer than the Rowland Ward record-holder and the report was ridiculed. It would be prove to be only the first of many controversies surrounding the giant sable.
Experienced African hunters knew that any sable in excess of fifty inches was so remarkable that the measurement was probably made incorrectly. With the head lost in a river crossing, Varian couldn’t prove his case. But stung by criticism, he didn’t give up. In 1916 he would deliver head skins and horns from a bull and a cow that differed in facial markings and horn length from the conventional sable. The Zoological Society of London immediately proposed a new subspecies: Hippotragus niger variani, of which the 57-inch head supplied by Varian became the Type specimen. To this day it rests in London’s Natural History Museum. After World War I, Varian would return to Angola to alternate between guiding museum and sport hunters to the giant sable and protecting it from meat hunting and overexploitation.
To the Portuguese the antelope was palanca preta, but native Angolans had named the animal long before 1916, christening it sumbakaloko. According to Varian, the sumbakaloko was, “…the finest antelope in Africa, bearing the most magnificent horns of all.” Later, in this century, author John Frederick Walker would christen the giant sable a living masterpiece. As Angola’s national symbol, the giant sable graces postage, currency, and the tail fins of the national airline.
Varian’s efforts lead to protection from the colonial government and the giant sable could eventually only be shot under special license. The 9600 square kilometer Luando Integral Nature Reserve was created for the protection of the sable in 1938. Later came the 600 square kilometer Cangandala National Park to the north, for a combined 3200 square miles of prime habitat between the Cuanza and Luando rivers in Malange Province. The giant sable is known to live only that inter-riverine area of savannah woodlands, and was probably never common.
The only study of the giant sable population was done from 1968-1970, by IUCN antelope specialist Dr. Richard Estes. He followed the palanca preta through its annual cycle, foraging in meadows and grasslands in winter and migrating to miombo woodlands during the rainy season, and estimated the 1970 population at between 2000 to 3000. But no law designed by men could protect the black antelope from events unfolding in the faraway capitols of Lisbon, Moscow, Havana, Pretoria and Washington D.C. As the balance of power shifted between the Angolan government and the rebels, giant sable habitat traded hands again and again. The human population was extirpated, and the countryside strewn with landmines. The fate of the sumbakaloko was the subject of rumours only, and the 1987 SCI record book said simply and ominously, “The giant sable may be extinct.”
Rumours were inadequate for Bill and Anne Dodgson of SCI Utah. Concerned by the fate of the palanca preta, Anne said, “That single lone entry (in the record book) began to stir my imagination. I asked people who I thought should know about the status of these animals.” No one knew, and no one was optimistic. In South Africa, the Dodgson’s cut Anne’s 1997 birthday safari short to visit Professor Wouter Van Hoven of the University of Pretoria. Van Hoven, who is obsessed with restoring Angola’s war-ravaged wildlife, collaborated with influential Angolans and South Africans, and with President dos Santos as a patron, had established the Kissama Foundation to do just that two years earlier. That Pretoria meeting resulted in the Dodgsons personally accompanying van Hoven, at their own expense, on a helicopter tour of the Quiçama National Park. Following what appeared to be to be a peace agreement and the formation of a national government of unity in 1997, the Dodgson’s began fund raising. Their goal was to finance an expedition to be lead by Drs. Van Hoven and Estes to find out if the giant sable had survived the war. Utah and other SCI chapters raised $25,000. Yet some claimed that there was no hope that the giant sable persisted, and that the funds were better spent elsewhere. A new generation of “experts” doubted the existence of Varian’s giant. But one more time, peace in Angola was an illusion and the controversy became moot with the resumption of war. By March of 1998 Malange Province was once again a battleground. There would be no survey in 1998, 1999, 200 or even 2001. With all planning on hold, the money went into a special IUCN account, to await the time when it was less likely that a biological survey crew would be shot out of the air. The years ticked away, but SCI did not forget Angola.
In the spring of 2001, Italy Chapter president Massimo Bertoni visited the Madrid trophy room of SCI international director Nicola Franco. There, he saw the giant sable that Franco’s father had taken in the 1930s, while Spanish ambassador to Portugal. Bertoni says, “I was very impressed with this animal and wanted to know more.” History lent a hand. On February 22, 2002, rebel warlord Jonas Savimbi was shot to death by government troops on a bush road in eastern Angola. The next day, his bullet-riddled body was
displayed on national television. By April, a peace accord was signed, rebels were disarming at official assembly points, and President dos Santos had declared a national holiday. The time was ripe for the survey to finally determine if the giant sable had actually survived 26 years of one of the most brutal wars in history. Bertoni says, “ I called Professor van Hoven and he told me that during August he was going. The government of Angola was giving him transportation and guides. He needed somebody that would pay for all the other expenses”. The Italy Chapter board voted to provide $20,000 to support the expedition.
On August 18, 2002, van Hoven’s team crossed the Namibian border into Angola at Oshakango after the long drive from Pretoria. It was a long, cold drive in open Unimogs vehicles that were donated by the German chapter of CIC. Night time temperatures were near freezing across much of Botswana and Namibia. Accompanied by brigadier escort, they drove onto the tarmac at Onjiva airport, and loaded their gear, including a Unimog directly onto a waiting Antanov 125-cargo plane. They arrived at Malange after a two-hour flight to meet Dr. Estes and Walker, arriving by army Mi8 helicopter from Luanda. According to van Hoven, “It was clear that this was one of the hotspots of the war, the whole airport building had been bombed out. There was not a single window, door or piece of furniture in the building. No electricity, no water and no control tower.” Water came from buckets at the river, and cooking at the Kababy Hotel was done over a charcoal fire in the backyard. After the team donated 40 liters of diesel, the lights came on and running water was available. But after two days of helicopter surveys of the Luando Reserve, no sable were spotted. Little other wildlife was evident too, only the odd duiker, warthog or large birds were seen. Estes called it, “MAMBA- miles and miles of bloody Africa.” In disappointment, van Hoven decided that perhaps the problem was the helicopters themselves. “These are bloody noisy things,” he said, “and the animals had been shot from them.” Perhaps the giant sable had become nocturnal.
Switching tactics, they departed by road toward Cangandala. There, they were joined by interested government and military personnel, which when included with Angolan TV crews and park wardens had swelled the ranks to more than twenty. Road conditions were so bad in the bush that they averaged no more than 20 km/h. According to van Hoven, “Although the military said that it was fine, the thought of landmines did cross my mind occasionally.” Upon arrival in the bush town of Cazundo, they abandoned the vehicles. According to Estes, “The arrival of motor vehicles was an event sufficiently unusual to cause great excitement and our vehicles were quickly surrounded by over 100 villagers.” Having been told that one or more herds of giant sable lived within walking distance, they assembled bearers for their gear, and planned to hike at 5 AM the next morning. The goal was to arrive at the site before the antelope withdrew into the woodlands for the day. At 5:30 the next morning, the team began searching for their reluctant guides and it was nearly 6:30 before the walking began.
It quickly became apparent that they were in the right place. Many tracks and pellet groups were found, including those of subadults and juveniles, indicating to the biologists that a breeding population had somehow persisted. According to van Hoven, “Great excitement erupted when a group spotted two adult bulls about a hundred meters ahead. The shouting and waving of caps resulted in these two animals taking off before any cameras could be focused on them.” Later another group saw a bull, and another two subadults. Professor van Hoven concludes that, “From a scientific point of view, this expedition achieved its objective by proving that family groups of giant sable still occur in Cangandala National Park.” August 22, 2002 is the day that, beyond all hopes it was proven that the giant sable had survived. One wonders how they could. Many believe that as the symbol of Angola, even Savimbi gave the palanca preta his protection. Perhaps he envisioned an Angola governed by himself where the image of the sable still graced the postage and the sable itself still graced the miombo woodlands. Some claim that the local Songo tribesmen protected them. Perhaps the mere human depopulation of the land between the rivers provided the sable its ultimate protection. Fully 18,000 people were killed or forced to flee the reserves.
The sable persists but will peace in Angola be its undoing? People are now returning to what’s left of their homes and villages. With their country devoid of infrastructure, hungry eyes may turn to the giant antelope to survive. The Kissama Foundation will recommend ecotourism to the Angolan authorities, to be introduced as soon as possible so that the animal can pay for its own protection. With unknown populations and range, sustainable use is not an option at this point. The fact that hunting may be far in the future for the giant sable has not deterred the hunters of SCI from promoting their conservation. Conservation is its own goal. International director Uberto D’Entreves says, “The Italy Chapter members are all very glad and proud,” of the giant sable project that they have sponsored. And Anne Dodgson proudly says, “No moment in all my hunting was any better than that helicopter ride to start a conservation program for Angola.” Much more time and effort will be necessary to determine the status of the giant sable. Next winter there will be a project to do a complete census and distribution study, possibly using micro-light planes. Then it will be possible to develop a more comprehensive management and conservation plan. Two students, one from the University of Pretoria and one from the University of Luanda will be involved in the research, through which the answers may be found to protect the sable and its habitat without denying the needs of hungry Angolans. Financing is available from the Giant Sable Conservation Fund, established by the IUCN with the SCI donations.
Professor van Hoven concludes, “Conservation of wildlife is the foundation of sustainable use. The contribution of the Italy Chapter was very valuable and we remain thankful to them.” The message that Anne Dodgson would like to give to SCI is, “ Its amazing how a little bit of money can make such a big difference. The conservation department in Angola was so thrilled that we care. It shows that anybody can make a difference.” What a big difference it is to know that sumbakaloko, Angola’s living masterpiece, will accompany Angola into the future.
Visit to Angola and Giant Sable Survey
Arranged by the Managing Director, Gen. João Traguedo, and Prof. Wouter van Hoven, President of the Kissama Foundation. The plan was to drive two Mercedes Benz Unimogs (donated by the German chapter of the CIC) from Pretoria to Onjiva in southern Angola, the nearest town to the border with an usable airstrip. There the Angolan Army’s Antanov 12 cargo plane would pick up the Unimogs and deliver one to Malange, the staging area for the giant sable survey, and the other to Kissama NP. (The cost of this survey was covered by the Italian chapter of SCI.) An army helicopter was to meet our party in Malange and overfly the 9600 sq km Luando Reserve of the Giant Sable for three days looking for herds of sable. Then the Unimog would drive overland to Cangandala NP, the 600 sq km protected area, 50 km south of Malange.
The survey was originally scheduled to begin on 29 July but was postponed for three weeks at the request of the UNDP Biodiversity Advisor to the Ministry of Fisheries and Environment, who advised that the Ministry’s permission to undertake the survey was needed, and that the Ministry and the faculty of Agostinho Neto University should be invited to participate.
Van Hoven left Pretoria with the two Unimogs on 14 August accompanied by staff from Kissama’s Pretoria office and a film crew of Oracle Television Productions, which is doing a feature for National Geographic Discovery on the giant sable survey. As the Unimogs were open, protected only by a windshield and canvas top, the weather in Botswana and Namibia went down nearly to freezing at night, and it was necessary to drive at 80-90 kph to arrive on time at the rendezvous, John Walker and I were very thankful we elected to fly instead of driving to Angola.
Arriving in Luanda on a South African Airways flight from Johannesburg on the 17th, we stayed the night near the busy airport at the Forum Hotel, where we met Gen.(ret.) João Traguedo, the Foundation’s Managing Director. Through his Army connection, he had arranged to borrow a huge Russian Mi 8 helicopter to fly the giant sable survey for three days. He had personally extended invitations to the Ministry of Fisheries and the Environment and to Agostinho Neto University to send representatives on the survey. But only one person showed up at the airbase to take the flight to Malange on the 18th: an undergraduate from Agostinho Neto representing an environmental club. However, a three-man crew from Angolan TV, alerted by news reports of the survey, came along to record the operation. The flight to Malange took two hours. There, at mid-afternoon, we rendezvous with the overland party, who with their Unimog had been transported from Onjiva in the Antonov 12 cargo plane.
Luanda, Malange swarms with people who came into the city as refugees from the
war-ravaged countryside. Contrary
to reports that suggested widespread starvation, most people appeared healthy
enough – though fat individuals were conspicuously absent. Comparatively few
buildings had escaped damage, but most streets are still lined with shade trees
and there are still a few public gardens, recalling what an attractive town
Malange used to be. We stayed
at the Kabady Hotel. Although only
the third (top) floor is habitable, the rooms had comfortable beds, clean linen,
and came equipped with a can of insecticide, soap, and toilet paper.
After we supplied 40 liters of diesel, the lights came on and there was
even running water!
cold beer and wine at the restaurant across the street, situated on the banks of
the stream that runs through the town, where people bath and get their water in
buckets. This was also the
restaurant’s source of water for cooking and washing, and our meals were
cooked over a charcoal fire in the back yard.
Yet the staff managed to feed our party of a dozen and the food was
surprisingly good, including meat and vegetables, and eggs and sausages for
the best times to see sable in the open are early and late in the day,
early-morning fog kept us from leaving Malange before nine o’clock.
We made two flights totaling five hours.
On the first one, from 10:00 to 12:00, the helicopter was packed: our
group plus the Governor of Malange Province and assorted officials, in addition
to the helicopter crew of two pilots and several soldiers, a total of 18 people.
The flight took us over the north part of the Luando Reserve and
intervening country. The noise of
the helicopter was so loud that earplugs were necessary to avoid great
discomfort (fortunately John Walker had an extra pair).
at 300 feet we could see anything that moved within a kilometer or two of the
helicopter – except where trees with new foliage obscured the ground.
What we saw during the morning and three-hour afternoon flight was MAMBA
– “mile after mile of bloody Africa” -- virtually devoid of wildlife. The only animals anyone spotted were several gray duikers,
three warthogs, one reedbuck, and an occasional large bird (ground hornbills,
palm nut vulture, Egyptian geese). Most
of the country was woodland and burned, with virtually nothing for herbivores to
eat, although the “miombo spring” was progressing and some trees (mainly Julbernardia
paniculata) had already leafed
out. Most of the grassland was also
dry and the remaining unburned areas were still being set afire, as were plots
being cleared and burned preparatory to planting.
Both outside and inside the reserve the amount of woodland that has been
cleared and cultivated, mainly for manioc, is very extensive.
Old abandoned fields predominate but current and newly cleared
plantations surround every reoccupied village, where huts and houses are being
rebuilt. Also on the floodplains
considerable areas were being prepared for planting rice, which also entails
burning. At this time of year,
accordingly, the atmosphere is so full of smoke that the sun is reduced to a red
ball by three p.m.
likeliest places to see sable were on (before 9:00 and after 4:00) or in
proximity to aisles of green grassland, representing post-burn regrowth on
drainage-line grassland bordering watercourses (mulolos)
that retain enough moisture to support regrowth.
These islands were scattered in the sea of sere woodland and grassland,
but only some green flushes consisted of grass: dwarf shrubs with leaves much
like Brachystegia (notably Cryptosepalum
maraviense and Dolichus sp.) come up after burning and carpet many of the
larger anharas and fringing woodlands. Sable
do not appear to browse these species.
flew for three hours and 10 minutes, of which some two hours were inside the
Luando Reserve. In hopes of getting
an early start, we got to the airport at 0600.
But soon after, fog rolled in and only lifted at 9:30.
After flying for an hour and 20 minutes, we landed at Luquembo, a large
village on the eastern side of the Luando River floodplain opposite Capunda, an
administrative post of the district. Hundreds
of people came out to find out what was going on; our soldiers and Luquembo
police kept the crowd from surrounding the helicopter.
From the Chefe de Posto
(administrator) of Luquembo, we learned that a sizeable herd of sable was known
to inhabit a certain area between Quimbango and Mulundo.
He had picked up this information at a recent meeting of headmen (Sobas)
from all the surrounding villages. Using
his detailed military maps, Gen. Traguedo and the helicopter pilots plotted a
course that would take us over the area and we set off at 11:40 with high hopes.
But again we saw no sable or other wildlife apart from a couple of
duikers, Egyptian geese, and a flock of cranes near a lagoon on the floodplain.
to Cangandala NP
of a final helicopter flight the morning of the 21st were dashed when Gen.
Traguedo informed us that it was required to deliver relief supplies.
Accordingly, the planned overland trip to Cangandala NP was moved forward
and we departed Malange at 9:30, fully loaded with our party plus the three
Angola TV crew, several soldiers commanded by a major, and a Forester from the
Dept. of Agriculture who was responsible for the Park though stationed in
Malange. The road to the town of Cangandala, 30 km from Malange, was paved but
so riddled with potholes that getting onto a dirt road beyond the township was a
the relief was short-lived. A Land
Rover packed with officials and police and two of the Angolan TV cameramen was
dispatched by the Cangandala Chefe de
Posto to guide us to the Park. After
driving no more than 10 km, our guides turned off the road onto a footpath
which, after two hours of MYOR (make your own road) ended at the village of
Cazundo, on the west side of the Park, the nearest accessible settlement.
(Culamagia on the east side, where the park warden [Fiscal de Caça] formerly resided, was inaccessible for lack of a
ferry across an intervening river.) The
arrival of motor vehicles, especially a large truck, was an event sufficiently
unusual to cause great excitement and our vehicles were quickly surrounded by
over 100 villagers.
to information received from the authorities in Malange and Cangandala, one or
more herds of giant sable were within walking distance of Cazundo.
Now we were told that to reach a certain place inside the park where a
herd of sable came to feed every morning up until nine o’clock would entail a
four- or five-hour walk. The
remainder of the day was spent transferring everything needed for the night to
three abandoned old Portuguese buildings a kilometer from the village across a
medium-sized floodplain, assisted by an army of children volunteers.
Reluctantly, the village Soba
and guides agreed to come to our camp at five in the morning, so we could arrive
at the anhara before the sable withdrew into the woodland for the day.
But after getting up at 4:30 and waiting nearly an hour, we had to go to
the village to look for our guides, only to find them sound asleep in their
huts. It was nearly 6:30 before we
finally started walking – with a party that had grown to about 30 people, led
at a rapid pace by the Soba and
several other villagers, followed
by the two film crews, military and police escort, with our group mostly
bringing up the rear.
walking down the main footpath (over which there was considerable traffic of
people carrying possessions and apparently relocating), our guides turned off
onto a smaller path that had once been the main road (picada)
into the Park. Fortunately, the
time needed to reach the sable pasture was an over-estimate and we got there in
two hours. Tracks, droppings, and
cropped green grass proved that both adult and young sable were using the area,
and over the next two hours five animals, including two subadult males, one
single adult bull, and two other adults (reportedly also males), were seen by
members of the different groups into which our party had divided.
Apart from the two subadults seen by one of the Oracle crew (David
Allen), who had begun walking alone back to camp, the other sable were running
away from the disturbance created by the many people.
No pictures were obtained, but at least it was possible to affirm that
giant sable still survive in Cangandala NP, within 50 km of Malange, despite the
lack of any real protection for at least the last 20 years.
the paucity of wildlife seen during the helicopter flights suggested that giant
sable and other large mammals have been drastically reduced – along with
livestock -- during the long civil war, several factors argue against jumping to
The flights covered a very small fraction of the 9600 sq km Luando Reserve.
Most of the flights were during the hot hours when sable and other game stay in
Visibility of the ground under the trees was partially obscured by foliage,
sometimes almost completely.
Though the sight and sound of the helicopter would be expected to flush any game
near its path, the possibility that survivors of the war have learned to lie low
instead of fleeing cannot be dismissed; or alternatively, the noise of the giant
helicopter was so loud that the game was forewarned in time to flee beyond
Population density in the miombo woodland is naturally low and even before the
war began, sighting sable from the air was not easy, as pointed out in my 1971
Summary Report and Recommendations:
aerial reconnaissances each of an hour’s duration were made in July and August
, from the airstrip at Capunda, to determine the feasibility of aerial
counting, and to gain a bird’s eye view of the reserve.
As only five sable were seen from the air, and even the study herd could
not be located, we concluded that probably nothing less than a systematic count
by low-flying helicopter* would yield an accurate count of the sable.”
more time and effort will be required to determine the current status of the
giant sable. Probably a systematic survey with a small helicopter – or better
yet, a Microlite airplane – would yield more sightings, provided flights were
made early and late in the day, preferably during the months of June/July when
the sable feed out in the open. This is assuming that reports of sightings of
sable herds in the Luando Reserve and Cangandala NP are true – as I believe.
Alternatively or in addition, trained observers should be sent into the
giant sable reserves, accompanied by local guides, to find herds (and bring back
photographic proof). Whole or
partial funding for these efforts is available from the Giant Sable Conservation
Fund, which was raised by the Utah Chapter of Safari Club International, through
the efforts of Anne Dodgson.
flight to the cities of Angola’s rural population during the civil war
presents a limited window of opportunity,
with the return of peace, to restrict resettlement in the national parks and
other protected areas such as the Luando Reserve.
Displaced persons in their thousands are now returning home, while
probably many thousands of others are relocating.
If the population of the Luando Reserve reaches and passes pre-war levels
(>18,000), then the longterm survival of the giant sable population and other
large mammals will again be put in jeopardy. Unfortunately, the prospects of the Government being able to
act in time to restrict settlement even to former residents seem very dim.
Richard D. Estes, Chairman
IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group
Our survey party was picked up at Malange airport at noon on August 22nd, together with the Unimog, and flown to Kissama by the same Antonov cargo plane that brought it to Malange. Landing at Cabo Ledo Commando Base inside the National Park after a one-hour flight, we were met by the second Unimog. We then drove in convoy to Kawa Camp, 39 km from the paved coastal highway over sandy roads.
Most of the habitat types found in the coastal lowland that makes an apron between the ramparts of the Plan Alto and the Atlantic Ocean are represented in the 1.2 million ha Kissama NP: 120 km of seashore, with beautiful beaches below spectacular sandstone cliffs; mangrove swamps; the broad emerald-green floodplain of the Quanza River; dense thickets on the east side of the park; extensive open grassland and tree savanna. But the most unusual feature of the eco region is the baobab-euphorbia (Adansonia digitata, Euphorbia conspicua) woodland which is dominant over much of the coastal plain. As noted during the helicopter flight from Luanda to Malange, which followed the coastal plain north before turning east, there are thousands upon thousands of baobabs, their gray trunks whitened by an associated lichen, many of enormous size.
Considering the habitat diversity of the park, there is surprisingly little variety of indigenous large mammals, especially large herbivores. The ungulate roster included elephant, red buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus), eland, roan, reedbuck, bushbuck, common and blue duiker, warthog, bushpig, and hippo. Within 200-300 km there are a number of other ungulates which might be expected to occur but don’t: kudu, waterbuck, and steenbok. Others from further away that presumably could live in Kissama include common zebra, black rhinoceros, giraffe, impala, and wildebeest (B. Huntley in lit, July 2002).
When my wife (Runi) and I first visited the park in 1969, the roan, of which there were an estimated 2000 (Huntley in lit, July 2002) lived out in the open grassland and was the most visible large mammal. On a return visit in 1982, the roan were long gone but there were still elephants (which were hammering some of the great baobabs) and red buffaloes. Now one drives through an empty landscape, though tracks on the roads show that bushbuck, reedbuck, and common duiker, as well as various small mammals (wildcat, serval, various rodents) and birds are still present.
Between 12,000 and 15,000 ha in the northern part of the park have been fenced off and designated as a Special Conservation Area (SCA), where restocking of Kissama started in September, 2000 with the airlifting of 15 elephants from an overpopulated South African reserve (Madikwe). More elephants and hoofed stock were introduced in 2001. There are presently 35 elephants (including three newborn), 12 zebras, 12 wildebeests, 10 kudus, 4 giraffes, plus 15 ostriches. To date none of the introduced animals has gone over, under or through the two-meter electrified fence. Next year another 300 elephants and more ungulates will be shipped to Angola, with great fanfare, in Operation Noah, and released in the park. All animals except the elephants are planned to be released in the SCA.
The only tourist facility in the park lies inside the SCA. Kawa Rest Camp, a collection of bungalows (rondavels) and cottages with thatched roofs, commands a spectacular view of the Cuanza floodplain. Popular in pre-war times, it fell into disrepair during the war but has recently been restored and looks much as it did when Runi and I stayed there in 1969. (It was still habitable when I visited in 1982.) Each of the 10 two-person units and one seven-person unit is air-conditioned and contains a bathroom; cashew trees lining the access drive provide welcome shade. Although game-viewing is still hit or miss, the rest camp is fully booked on weekends by foreign and other residents of Luanda, who drive three hours to get away from it all (literally). (Only 4x4 vehicles can get through the stretches of deep sand on the park roads.
In 2000 the Ministry of Fisheries and Environment made the Kissama Foundation responsible for developing and managing the park and all tourist facilities, adding to the foundation’s mandate to “preserve, conserve the biodiversity and organize studies and research of the natural heritage pertaining to the Kissama National Park.” Responsibilities also include dealing with the park’s 6000-8000 residents of the Kissama tribe, which has lived in the area for a century or more.
Although funding from NGO’s and corporations (notably oil companies operating in Angola) has paid for development up to now, the park is expected to become self-supporting by 2005 as the country’s number-one tourist destination. Part of the plan calls for construction of a major resort on the coast at the mouth of the Cuanza River. Outstanding fishing, sunbathing, river tours, and game drives will be the main attractions. Although these and other plans are already in the works, the Foundation’s control over development of the park is incomplete. Thus, a large and rather unsightly restaurant is presently under construction at Kawa, siting and design of which were done without consulting the Foundation.
With more animals, game-viewing will become more rewarding; the elephants and other animals presently in the SCA are hard to find and approach. Both Unimogs were hired out to take tourists on game drives the day after our party arrived from Malange, but with disappointing results. But the introduced animals are intended for more than just a tourist attraction. The Special Conservation Area is also intended to serve in the training of game rangers; for studies of habitat preferences and impact that will be applied to the management of the rest of the park; to give Angolans – especially schoolchildren – the opportunity to learn about and appreciate their wildlife heritage; and to serve as a breeding facility for producing animals to reintroduce to Angola’s other parks. These objectives are given as justification for introducing species that do not naturally occur in Kissama. Though contrary to IUCN guidelines for introductions to protected areas, the Kissama Executive Council argues that no other suitable, safe location was available, that only species that occur in Angola are involved, and that ones foreign to Kissama will be kept confined in the SCA, which takes up scarcely one percent of the park.
Research and Management
Ecological studies of the park were carried out by faculty and students of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Wildlife Management for four years preparatory to the introductions. Based on investigations of habitat types, soils, vegetation, water resources, socio-ecology of the human population, etc., a comprehensive management plan was produced and is being applied. Research is ongoing, notably by Manfred Tanner, a German veterinarian who is doing a PhD at Pretoria under Prof. van Hoven. He is studying the impact of the introduced elephants on the vegetation of the SCA, by recording data on 75 transects through the different habitats. His estimate of the carrying capacity (in stock units) of the fenced area is 400 grazers and 600 browsers, and no more than 100 elephants. Tanner also monitors the health of all the introduced animals. Most of the elephants to be introduced next year will be released in the main area of the park south of the SCA. By then, the Park Warden, Roland Goetz, and the Managing Director of the Kissama Foundation in Angola, Gen. João Traguedo, expect to complete the deployment of game guards to safeguard the rest of the park.
Two students from American universities are pursuing community conservation objectives, which are to gain the cooperation of the park’s residents by providing jobs and other benefits. Tyra Zeman (Colorado State University), spent three months following graduation assisting Tanner and teaching English to restaurant employees before beginning employment with Colorado State Fish and Game Dept. She also studied the night-time activity of wildlife near Kawa and started an inventory of species based on tracks. Leon Malan, who teaches ecology at Colby College and is pursuing a PhD at Antioch New England Graduate School (both in New Hampshire), has begun a community-conservation study. In addition, during a month-long visit, two Portuguese students from University of Lisbon made observations of the black monkey, a distinctive subspecies(?) of Cercopithecus mitis that inhabits riverine forest bordering the Cuanza.
In short, research is being pursued but is still at an early stage. As research is a primary goal of the management plan, project proposals that contribute to knowledge of the ecosystem will be welcomed.
Warden Roland Goetz has already made considerable progress since beginning work in March, 2002,. His qualifications are impressive, including 12 years with Natal Parks, a two-year stint (1990-92) as Director of the Wilderness Leadership School founded by Ian Player, and as founder and managing director of Msinsi Holdings Ltd., a Natal foundation involved in community conservation. Experienced in every aspect of wildlife conservation, including setting up six wildlife parks, Goetz considers biodiversity, financial management, and community involvement all equally important for the successful operation of a park. He has adapted the renowned Natal Parks management model to Kissama. The park is divided into six sections, each of roughly 200,000 ha. Each section will be managed as a small game reserve, with a warden, tourist facilities, and management plan of its own, functioning completely independent and self-sufficient from the others. To be more centrally located, he plans to move park headquarters from Kawa to an old Portuguese farm on the Sangano River near the coast. He has also produced an 18-page document covering Standard Operating Procedures, “to explain all activities, procedures and systems in the Kissama National Park. This will ensure that all staff members will know how their sections will function to prevent confusion.” The procedures have already gone into effect, and I was impressed by the smart appearance and disciplined bearing of the rangers at Kawa.
Goetz’s second in command, Augusto Gois, is an Angolan who immigrated to Namibia at age 13, later joined the South African Army and served under Captain Goetz in the Special Forces. He is in charge of anti-poaching, will head the ranger-training school to be established at Sangano headquarters, and also is actively involved with the community conservation effort.
With the very limited resources presently available, plans for developing the rest of the park can only proceed very slowly. But the plans are there and include setting aside wilderness areas following IUCN guidelines. The state of the park’s grasslands makes visitors want to burn extensive areas of tall, rank growth. But Goetz insists that more study is first necessary; only after the necessary planning has been completed will a burning program be put in place. As this deliberate approach indicates, his plans are long-range, which is surely a necessary outlook considering how much needs to be done to restore even one of Angola’s national parks to its pre-war condition.