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Victoria Falls / Livingstone

The smoke that thunders

At 1708 metres wide, Victoria Falls is the most expansive curtain of water in the world and drops more than 100 metres into the sheer Zambezi Gorge. Located in the south-west corner of Zambia, these Falls and the Zambezi River are the central points in an area of spectacular scenic beauty: from the Falls themselves to the broad, picturesque course of the Zambezi River upstream, the rainforest adjacent and the stark jagged gorge downstream, the power and timelessness of nature's forces are evident throughout.

The Tonga and Makalolo peoples lived here for centuries before the Falls were 'discovered' by David Livingstone in 1855. He gave it the highest honour he could think of: naming it after his Queen. Its local name, Mosi-Oa-Tunya - "the Smoke that Thunders" - more accurately defines the essence of the place: the rising, shining spray that can be seen 30km away. This vapour has the effect of adding moisture in the form of humidity to the air in the "splash zone", so that a unique, small rainforest ecosystem clings to the edge of the Falls, providing a toehold for no less than 70 shrub and 150 herbaceous species, as well as trees such as pod and Natal mahogany, ebony, Cape and strangler fig and Transvaal red milkwood. Further away from the constant spray, the surrounding area comprises mopane and teak woodlands with luxuriant riverine forest along the banks of the Zambezi River. The presence of several protected areas in the vicinity, from the Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe to the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia, means that herds of big game such as elephant and buffalo, as well as smaller species and even predators such as lion persist in the area.

As mesmerising as the Falls are, the paths through the rainforest at their edge allow one to catch a glimpse of some of the mammals that live here: bushbuck stare shyly from behind a bush, banded mongoose scurry through the undergrowth, and vervet monkey and baboon flit through the trees; wailing Trumpeter Hornbills sail past in their characteristically undulating flight and the crimson-blazoned wings of the Schalow's Turaco can be seen by patient birders. Interestingly, there is a distinct difference in the fish species above and below the Falls, which clearly form a comprehensive barrier to fish movements upstream: 39 species are recorded from below and 84 above the Falls. Nile crocodile and hippo are common above the Falls.

Vic Falls, as it is affectionately known, straddles the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and both countries share its World Heritage Site status.





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