Sunday, August 19, 2012

Waterfalls, Rapids, Rivers, Streams and Lakes of the Kundelungu Ecosystem


In my last BLOG entitled: Landscape Ecology of DAMBOS in Kundelungu I said there would be another post to further illustrate the key aquatic Biotopes that help define the Landscape Ecology of the High Katanga Plateau in Kundelungu (KNP) and Upemba National Park (UNP) (see more HERE) and downstream into the valleys and basins.   

Note again the map produced by the  Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren Belgium--Carte d’Occupation du Sol (small version below and larger PDF MAP HERE).  Now, here is the second post on the aquatic sub-types.

In simple terms, the high plateaus of KNP and UNP act like a massive sponge or WATER TOWER IN THE SKY that collects water in the wet season, stores it in DAMBOS and other small wetlands/ponds discussed earlier.  But a lot more goes underground into PERCHED AQUIFERS--groundwater held in hydro-geological formations that are topographically located above the surrounding valleys and lower plateaus.  The water resurfaces in many SPRINGS and STREAMS that become major tributaries to the CONGO RIVER such as the Lualaba.   

From a TOURISM perspective, some of these RAPIDS and WATERFALLS are among the most spectacular I’ve seen anywhere in Africa or the world.  The Lofoi Falls is the highest in all of Africa at 384 meters in height (photos below).   Note the beautiful Miombo woodland on the plateau above the falls, and the RIPARIAN WOODLANDS and GALLERY FORESTS below the falls in the canyon as well as along the Lofoi River above the falls (see photo above).

Lofoi Falls in Kundelungu--highest falls in Africa (384 meters)

Smaller Falls on the grounds of Kiubo Lodge (on a tributary to the Lufira river)
Masanza Falls within Kundelungu National Park--one of its most scenic spots

But the waterfalls are much more important than just for their beauty!   The larger falls such as Kiubo Falls (below) are important BIOLOGICAL BARRIERS that affect the migration and reproduction of fish species.  For instance, Kiubo impedes the famous NILE PERCH from going upstream, while some species of river BASS (see photo below) which remain upstream within the ZONE ANNEX of Kundelungu.  

And, of course, these falls are important sources of HYDRO-POWER that are just starting to be tapped for tourist facilities such as KIUBO LODGE;  water from a year-round SPRING at the LUSINGA STATION also provides electrical power for the UNP headquarters.  And, of course, the rivers and streams create the conditions for the much of the diversity in aquatic and forest/savanna vegetation we see in the parks.

Bass caught on fishing trip on the Lufira River (left) above Kiubo Falls (right)

Many of the most important villages and towns below the Kundelungu Escarpement such as LUKAFU owe their existence to the year-round flowing streams and associated GALLERY FORESTS and SPRINGS that provide water for agriculture and other human uses (see photos above).  See Google Image above of some of the streams leading to a deeply eroded canyon on the  Upemba  Plateau and and its escapement.  See also the Google Earth Image of the KATWE Station and the surrounding Dambo and patch forests, etc.  Recall as well the photo from Katwe Station in KNP and the PATCH FOREST located there. 
A bridge over a small creek coming off the
Kundelungu Escarpment near Lukafu (see below)
  The Kundelungu Escarpment near Lukafu seen to
the east from the Mission Guest House

Lukafu Mission and some of the large trees of the
Gallery Forest found there (see below)
The dense Gallery Forest located around Lukafu Mission in late dry season--
note water still in the creek and many trees have large buttresses and leaves are green


Eventually, further downstream these streams and rivers create the conditions for a thriving RIVER and LAKE FISHING INDUSTRY in Katanga--some of it legal and some illegal.  See lakes and wetlands in the Tervuren map discussed earlier-see PDF Map HERE).  In fact, monitoring and protecting the watersheds, wetlands, lakes, rivers, springs, and the fishing in these basins is crucial to the environmental, economic and social well-being of Katanga.  See photos below of some of the FISHING CHANNELS cut through wetlands of various types, to access LAKE UPEMBA--which is supposed to be protected--in the northwestern region of UNP.

Illegal fishing trap system within the Kundelungu Zone Annex--capturing ALL fish 

coming out of a small tributary of the Lufira River (courtesy of Alan Deverell, FZS)

The Lufira River just upstream from the Kiubo Bridge and Falls and Illegal Net Fishing
being done openly 
from the the embankment by the bridge.

Fishermen at work along the Lufira River within the Kundelungu Annex and a 

Fishing Settlement with Agriculture along the River Bank

One of the most fascinating views of fishing (legal and illegal) in the region is to see the FISHING CHANNELS cut through wetlands from along the lakes in both the Kundelungu Annex and in what is supposed to be protected Lake Upemba (see Google Earth Image below) of fishing channels.  In this case they take an almost surreal shape through the floating weeds/water plants in one of the bays of Lake Upemba.  See also the map produced by our team showing some of the channels from villages to reach OPEN WATER for lake fishing.
Fishing channels cut through floating waterplants on Lake Upemba--note the FLOODED
SWAMP FOREST on the right edge of the photo and open water in the upper left (more below)  
Fishing channels cut through lake shore wetlands to reach Lake Upemba--
see YELLOW lines from villages


What is in fact the most unique of Biotopes within the parks, in my view, are some of the WETLANDS (see again the discussion of aquatic Biotopes found on the website--Biodiversité Végétale du Katanga)--specifically see these sub-types below


In my view, these are truly unique and likely important fish nursery/hatchery areas (that is what locals say as well as specialists on fisheries).   There is a lot we don't know yet about this particular aquatic habitat type though it is quite easy to pick out on Google Earth (see below):

Floating Islands (some 50-100 meters or more across) which drift with wind and currents toward northern edges of Lake Upemba.  These are _non-fixed wetland (waterplants) and are quite unique here in DRC


There are several sub-types  of these as well--that is where the aquatic plants are fixed to the bottom.  Many sub-types occur in small areas throughout the region often with the common WATER LILY and other typical species (see below); differentiation by the specialists looks at plant types but also water quality, e.g. clarity, sedimentation, whether there are moving currents, amount of oxygen, etc.   Again there is a lot of research needed on all these aquatic habitats and the flora and fauna associated with them is vast and also needs better study.  One of the more famous fixed water plants is the PAPYRUS--associated with the NILE RIVER drainage.


An area of heavy FLOODED FOREST outside UNP (northwest region) where the remaining
ELEPHANTS in UNP are thought to be.  See Photos on Google Earth of the forest and elephants.

It is suspected that the flooded forests of northwest UNP are where most of the remaining ELEPHANTS are located--some say as many as 300 but  most likely a lot fewer.  Unfortunately, most of them now reside outside the park--we think-- where frequent reports of elephant depredation to agriculture and villagers occur.  Originally the elephant participated in an annual migration down the Lufira River valley via the lakes and wetlands in the Zone Annex of KNP that then connected them with elephant across the border from Katanga in Zambia within the Zambezi Basin.  Whether that BIOLOGICAL CORRIDOR can be reestablished is an open question and one which often comes up for discussion.  Further collaboration with scientists studying elephant migration in areas to the south would be very useful--hopefully those links can be reestablished.


The wetlands, lakes, rivers, streams, springs and Dambos of KNP and UNP are among the most precious and diverse of natural resources that need protection.  And there is so much we don’t know about their biogeography, biodiversity, hydrology and how best to manage them in a sustainable manner.  And, much of the existing flora and fauna of the parks tends to be concentrated close to these aquatic habitats--in fact, most park guards in both parks use the local names of SPRINGS and STREAMS to locate themselves.  

Unfortunately, these wetland habitats are also near where some of the highest concentrations of humans are to be found near these aquatic habitats--therein is the major challenge for park management. And even more disturbing potential is that these basins have been LET OUT FOR GAS/PETROLEUM another arm of the DRC government.  Whether that will be done or should be done, is a major point of discussion that will greatly determine whether these aquatic habitats survive for the next generation.

Coming Next:

Robert Ford, Rockville Utah, August 19, 2012

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