Ecology & Wildlife

    Zimbabwe is cradled between two great African rivers - the myth-shrouded perennial Zambezi and the "great grey green greasy" seasonal Limpopo - between which two majestic watercourses lies a wealth of scenic landscapes, remnants of ancient civilisations and incredible wildlife. Spectacular granite landscapes rise up out of miombo woodland and mopane savannah in the south-west, while on the central plateau are extensive moist grasslands and broad-leaved woodland; to the south-east lie the dry woodlands and bushveld of the lowveld while in the north-west corner the Zambezi River pours over the world-famous Victoria Falls.

    Biogeographically Zimbabwe sits at the crossroads of the northern tropics of Central Africa and the southern temperate zone of South Africa. Its more than 5 000 species of flowering plants and ferns are testament to the diversity that is possible in a relatively small country at such a meeting place. It is bisected by a well-defined east-west watershed where the northern half of the country drains into the Zambezi River while in the southern reaches of Zimbabwe, rivers wind their way southwards, flowing into the Limpopo or its eventual tributaries such as the Savé or Nuanetsi. The Zambezi zigzags through the Batoka Gorges below Victoria Falls before it carves a giant arc around the north of the country, great cliffs sliding down into riverine forest and wide floodplains. The river traces the northern border of the country flowing into Lake Kariba and then onward through the hot low-lying Zambezi Valley and the World Heritage Site of Mana Pools National Park.

    The Limpopo is a very different river, as it ploughs its way between Zimbabwe and South Africa providing a corridor between Gonarezhou National Park and South Africa's Kruger in the south-west and forming the nucleus of another transfrontier park between Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa in the south-west. Both the Zambezi and the Limpopo reach the Indian Ocean on the coastal plain of Mozambique.

    In the east, a range of rugged mountains forms the border with Mozambique. Known as the Eastern Highlands, this area is home to heath and rolling grasslands interspersed with Afro-montane forest - a complete contrast to the low-lying valleys of the lower Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. This region is an extension of a series of relict isolated forest patches that stretch down the eastern seaboard of Africa and play host to an array of highly restricted plant and animal species such as Swynnerton's Robin-Chat. The western regions of Zimbabwe see the dramatic eastern ramparts replaced with the rounded and impossibly balanced boulders and granite domes of the Matobo Hills. The hills are also famously a stronghold for birds of prey, providing a refuge for more than 50 species including the characteristic Verreauxs' (black) eagle.

    Along the Botswana border the easternmost tongues of the Kalahari sands creep into the country and mix with the teak forests of the interior. Here Zimbabwe's largest national park, Hwange, is home to some of southern Africa's last great elephant, buffalo and sable herds and plays an integral role in a network of southern African conservation areas. Likewise the mopane woodlands of the south-eastern lowveld, whose elephant herds continue to migrate between here and neighbouring Mozambique and South Africa. For these and other reasons, this beautiful river-bounded country is a vital link in the broad sweep of intact wilderness areas across the southern half of the African continent.

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