Zambezi National Park

by Mike Cadman

Zambezi National Park

The Zambezi National Park has for years lived in the shadow of the Victoria Falls National Park, its justifiably famous neighbour, despite the two areas sharing some 56 000 hectares (110 000 acres) of unfenced, game-rich bush, not to mention the Zambezi River itself.

The overwhelming splendour of “The Falls” is the focal point of the region, but the Zambezi National Park itself plays an important role in conserving 40 km (25 miles) of the southern bank of the Zambezi upstream from “The Falls,” and a large swathe of wild bush to the south-west and west.

Although listed separately on official websites, these parks are contiguous and effectively part of the same conservation landscape, and it is only for administrative purposes that authorities differentiate between the two.

Most visitors to the Zambezi N.P visit “The Falls” without realising they have passed from one park to another.

Situated as they are, in north-west Zimbabwe, these parks are important components of the planned Kavango-Okavango Transfrontier Conservation Area – KAZA – which will reach across vast parts of Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Angola. The Zambian side of the waterfall is also a national park.

There are hunting concessions to the south and east of the park.

(More information on the Victoria Falls National Park and the proposed KAZA transfrontier conservation area is in separate articles).

Much of the Zambezi National Park, and the area to south extending to the Hwange National Park’s northern boundary, about 80 km (50 miles) away, is dominated by mopane woodland savanna, although there are areas of miombo woodland where Zambezi teak is common.

There are a few small rivers, most of which usually only flow after heavy rain, and also some springs and natural pans (waterholes) which help provide enough water to sustain wildlife throughout the dry season.

The wildlife of the area is similar that that of Hwange National Park to the south and Chobe National Park to the west in Botswana.

The region has a large elephant population and buffalo, lion, leopard, African wild dogs, giraffe, many species of antelope occur here. The savanna woodlands are prime habitat for sable, Zimbabwe’s national antelope, and the 280 kg (616 lbs.) roan antelope, the fourth-largest antelope in the world.

Klipspringer, small antelope with sharp pointed hooves that are designed to help the animal climb steep rock faces, live on some of the ridges found to the south and west.

To the north, dense riverine forest lines the banks of the Zambezi and common trees here include the huge nyala-tree, sycamore fig, jackal-berry, ilala palm and the apple-ring tree, so called because its seed pods resemble a spiral of dried apple (this tree is also known in Zimbabwe as the winter-thorn).

Pels’ Fishing owls shelter in the dense foliage along the river, and African Skimmers hunt out on the water during the summer months. Other birds which are uncommon elsewhere in Zimbabwe include Lillian’s lovebird, Rock pratincole, Collared palm thrush and Ross’s turaco. More than 400 other species of birds occur in the park.

There are several islands along this 40 km stretch of the Zambezi, the largest of which is Chundu Island. (See sperate article on Seolo’s Chundu Island Lodge) Hippo and crocodiles are common and elephants, which regularly cross rivers, sometimes visit the islands. Some elephants even cross the river to Zambia.

It is often forgotten that rivers are important protected areas and also support a wide range of creatures including birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, crustacea, and fish.

Over 75 species of fish are found along the 2 574 km (1599 miles) length of the Zambezi and here the predatory tiger-fish, tilapia, barbel (catfish), are common. Limited catch-and-release sport fishing for tigerfish is permitted .

There are a number of self-drive routes within the park and a broad network of tracks used by lodge operators and tour companies. Most lodges are spread along the banks of the Zambezi.

Zimbabwe National Parks offers some accommodation and campsites near the entrance to the park just outside of Victoria Falls town.

The park is crossed from east to west by the road running from Victoria Falls to Kasane, (Botswana), road. Wildlife, including elephants, regularly crosses this road, offering easy game viewing.

Rural communities live in some areas near the unfenced eastern and southern boundaries of the park which sometimes leads to human-wildlife conflict. Farmers crops are sometimes eaten by elephants and cattle and goats are killed by lions. This represents a significant loss to farmers and various liaison committees have been established by authorities to try and find amicable resolutions to this conflict.

As in many other areas of Zimbabwe, lodge owners and tour operators contribute to community upliftment programmers and some help fund anti-poaching operations.

Mike Cadman

Mike has worked as a journalist for a variety of international and local media organisations as well as environmental NGO’s for the past 38 years and is the author of five books. During his career, he has covered all major news developments in southern Africa and has travelled extensively throughout many parts of the continent. He spends as much time as possible in the bush and has extensive knowledge of broader environmental issues as well as the creatures that live there.