A Natural Wonder
Ecology of the Victoria Falls
Formation of the Victoria Falls
People of the Victoria Falls
Enter the Ndebele
Discovery of the Victoria Falls
In Livingstone's Footsteps
Development of the Rhodesias
Development of the Railway
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Development of Victoria Falls Town
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To The Victoria Falls

Ecology of the Victoria Falls

The Mammals of the Victoria Falls

Please note page is in development...

Introduction

The area surrounding the Victoria Falls supports many species of mammals, large and small, and they regularly find their way into the areas surrounding the town and its developments, notably along the Zambezi Drive and Big Tree area, and between the Victoria Falls Hotel and Bridge. Any walkers unfamiliar with these areas should take care, not only from the dangers posed by buffalo and elephant, but also snakes and, unfortunately, the unwarranted attention of other people.

Since the small area Falls Park was fenced off in 1951, many of the larger mammals have been excluded, although elephant have become intermittent tresspassers. The exclusion of these larger species shows the impact they have on the vegetation outside the Park, especially the elephant, as can be seen by comparing the scrub/woodland habitats inside and outside the park.

The descriptions below relate to the southern Zimbabwe side of the river, where the large Zambezi National Park, and surrounding wildlife areas including Hwange National Park, offer a safe haven for wildlife.

Larger Mammals

Elephant (Loxodonta africana) are regular visitors on both sides of the river, small herds frequently encountered. They freely cross from either bank to the islands as the water level drops to feed on the fresh island vegetation, being particularly fond of the fruits of the vegetable ivory palms (Hyphaene ventricosa).

The Zambezi itself supports large numbers of hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious), which can often be seen and heard upstream of the Falls along the Zambezi as they wallow in the waters of the river.

Also to be noted are the buffalo (Syncerus caffer), thirsty grazers which appreciate water available along the river. A large heard is often seen in the area around Safari Lodge, Elephant Hills Hotel and Zambezi Drive, crashing down to the water to drink.

Antelope

The well watered grass of the Elephant Hills golf course provides excellent grazing for impala (Aepyceros melampus) and waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), the commonest of the Falls antelope, and which often spend the day in the surrounding bush and riverene fringes. The golf course is a safe place to walk and observe mammals and birds, but give way to golfers and watch out for golf balls!

Kudu (Tragelaphus stepsiceros) also occur in the open bush areas behind Safari Lodge and into the Zambezi National Park. Eland (Tauratragus oryx) are now scarce in the immediate vicinity of the Falls, but there used to be a small herd to be found in the woodlands along the road towards Kazungula.

Inside the Falls Park, bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) are commonly found, with a small breeding population sustaining itself on the rich grazing inside the fenced area. These medium sized, reddish brown antelope are often seen in small family groups feeding in the grassy areas or rainforest under-story. They are also common along the upstream riverene fringes.

Common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia) are also occasionally seen, as are steenbok (Raphicerus compestris) and Sharpe's grysbok (Raphicerus sharpei). Reedbuck (Redunca arundinum) were historically common in the area, but are now rare. Klipspringer can sometimes be found in suitable rocky habitat above and in the groges.

Within the Zambezi National Park sable (Hippotragus niger) can be found, and Kazuma Pan National Park has been a stronghold for roan (Hippotragus equinus). Other antelope species which occur in the region include tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus) and oribi (Ourebia ourebi).

Carnivores

Lion (Panthera leo) occur in the surrounding area and are occasionally seen. They are much more common in the Hwange National Park. Leopard (Panthera pardus) used to be quiet common in the Falls area and gorges and along the southern river bank upstream of the big tree, although are not often seen due to their elusive habits. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) are rare in the vicinity of the Victoria Falls, although they are occasionally seen in the Zambezi NP on the southern side of the river.

Spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) can often be heard, and sometimes seen, at night and even occasional sightings of wild dog (Lycaon pictus) are reported on the Zimbabwe side. More often seen is the diurnal side-striped jackal (Canis adustus), which although common in Hwange NP is rarer towards the Falls.

The nocturnal genet (Genetta rubignosa) is sometimes seen, as is the much rarer civet (Viverra civetta), hunting at night and occasionally seen crossing roads ahead of oncoming traffic.

Smaller cats, such as the caracal (Felis caracal) and serval (Felis serval ) are rare, although the wildcat (Felis libyca) is more common.

Primates

Baboon (Papio ursinus) are common in Victoria Falls where they have found an easy living off the scraps left by their messy relative, man. They can quickly become pests if they become too tame and should under no circumstances be deliberately fed. Be careful if carrying food shopping as they have learnt that plastic bags are easily torn and the contents spilt to their advantage. The vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops) is more timid but again widespread, and both are likely to be seen inside the Falls Park.

Also to be found is the lesser bushbaby (Galago moholi) which can sometimes be found in gardens.

Smaller Mammals

Warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus) and the banded grey mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon), two cheeky characters of the African bush, are present and common outside and occasionally inside the Falls Park, often to be found in the well watered gardens of hotels and lodges. The shy slender mongoose (Herpestes sanguineus) is also to be occasionally found in quieter areas.

Making its home amongst the rocks inside the gorge the yellow-spotted dassie (Heterohyraz brucei) can sometimes be seen as it basks in the sun or scampers across impossibly steep rocks and slopes.

Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis) can sometimes be glimpsed in the river above and below the Falls.

Several other species of mongoose are present, as well as many smaller species of rodents and bats.

Species Accounts

African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

The region supports one of the largest populations in Africa, with high densities in NW Zimbabwe and in Chobe National Park. (Cotterill, 2004)

Ansell (1990) recorded:

Comparison with the observations of F C Selous and other hunters and traders who visited the area in the second half of the nineteenth century leaves no doubt that, at least south of the Zambezi, there has been an increase in the numbers of elephant. Control measures have in fact had to be exercised to retain numbers within the carrying capacity of their habitat. Overpopulations of elephants can have a disastrous effect on their habitat. Within recent years the riverine forests of the Chobe and Zambezi rivers west of the Falls have suffered severely in this respect. (Ansell, 1990)

Smithers, in Clark (1952) records:

Elephants are regular visitors to the Victoria Falls area... These elephants move with a rhythmical migration from the north-east section of Bechuanaland [Botswana] leaving this area as it dries up and splitting (roughly) into two separate groups, one of which moves to the area between the Falls and Kazungula and the other a more southerly direction to the Wankie Game Reserve [Hwange National Park]. While control measures have to be exercised from time to time to keep these animals out of occupied areas in the vicinity there is no danger that the elephant will be exterminated, in fact they seem to be on the increase in numbers... The size of the herd seems to vary with the favourability of the environment and, in the vicinity of the Falls, no very large herds are met with, the usual numbers being 6-30.

In the Falls area they are fond of the fruit of the vegetable ivory palm and the mungongo (Ricinodendron rautanenii); the kernels of these fruits with their un-digestible cover can commonly be seen in their droppings. From July to September they are often seen under camel thorn trees (Acacia giraffae) feeding on nutritive grey seed pods. (Ansell, 1990)

Elephant are often to be found round the outskirts of Victoria Falls Town during the day, resting in small groups under the shade of larger trees, and in the actual suburbs during the night, where they use roads and drives to access well-watered gardens. Locals have to be careful growing anything which elephants find tasty, as they have recently learnt that a wall is no barrier to the weight of an elephant, and they often lean against and tumble over walls to get into gardens, causing considerable damage in the process. Care should be taken walking at night on roads on the fringes of town, and even the town centre, as elephant can easily be encountered. They can be extremely dangerous and should not be approached - if an elephant takes a dislike to your presence he will let you know in an often fatal attack of trampling and stamping. They can cover short distances fast, and will give chase easily if you run.

Elephants may be encountered during the day in the area between town and the Victoria Falls Park, but are unlikely to be encountered along Zambezi Drive, perferring the more secluded sections of riverine fringe upstream from Big Tree and around the golf course as well as other less frequented areas.

Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious)

Smithers, writing in Clark (1952):

Hippo are becoming scarcer perceptibly in the Zambesi between the Falls and Kazungula. They may still be seen within the vicinity of Princess Christian, Long and Kandahar Islands, and as near the brink of the Falls as Cataract and Livingstone Islands... They are not recorded from the Gorge area below the Falls, no doubt on account of the absence of the rush and swamp grasses on the banks which form their favourite food and the strong rush of the water which they dislike.

Hippo are still found along the length of the Zambezi above the Falls, in good numbers and are almost guarenteed to be seen on a boat trip or cruise on the Zambezi. During the night they come out to feed on the bank margins and may walk a considerable distance from the river to feed and are often still active at dawn – something the early morning walker or jogger should be aware of!

White Rhinoceros

Although extinct from the region many years ago, White rhino had previously been widespread, certainly in W Zimbabwe (Selous 1908, Oates 1971, Herbert & Austen 1972) and across Botswana and Namibia.

The species may have been present at one time in south western Zambia but this has never definitely been established.

Herbert & Austin (1972) lists last recorded sightings, of both species, by Selous in Dete Vlei in 1873 (Selous 1908). When Davison arrived in 1928 there were no rhino in Park, although records of an unspecified species from 1925. The species was reintroduced into the northeast of Hwange NP in 1966 and 1967, and the population had increased to 32 individuals by 1972. There was some dispersal out of this protected area; at least six individuals moved great distances (Cotterill, 2004).

Smithers, writing in Clark (1952):

The Rhino is only a rare visitor to the Falls area but is included in the list as one individual was reported in the vicinity of ‘Nampini’ during the latter part of 1948.

A small group of white rhino have been introduced to the Mosi-au-Tunya National Park on the Zambian side, where they are guarded around the clock by Park rangers. (In fact the present group were introduced recently after poachers killed the previous animals.) Specialised tours allow you to track and follow the rhino on foot with the rangers.

Black Rhinoceros

Historically, the black rhino was widespread in Zimbabwe, including in the northwest. Selous (1908) recorded it in the Deka valley and also, alongside White rhino, in the Dete vlei. A very few individuals persisted in the northern region of Hwange NP into the late 1950s. These were complemented by translocations of individuals from the Middle Zambezi, beginning in 1962 (Herbert & Austen 1972).

A handfull of black rhino have been redintroduced to the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve on the southern side of the river. These animals have been de-horned to prevent attracting the unwanted attentions of poachers and are also guarded 24 hours a day.

Giraffe (Girafa camelopardalis)

Rarely found within the immediate vicinity of the Falls on the southern side and only occasionally seen within the Zambezi National Park.

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Only odd individuals visit the area but it may be seen near Kazungula by the fortunate visitor.

Present in low densities in the Zambezi National Park on the south bank, but rarely seen nearer the Falls. They do not occur naturally in the Falls area on the Zambian side of the river, put have been introduced into the Mosi-au-Tunya National Park.

Common in areas of Hwange National Park.

Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

Widely distributed from Hwange National Park into Botswana and Chobe area. The Kazuma depression is an important movement corridor in this landscape, and vehicle strikes on these animals are significant along the Kasane-Francistown road. This is an important species sold in trophy hunts, especially in Zambia and Zimbabwe. (Cotterill, 2004)

Smithers, writing in Clark (1952) recorded:

Two small herds of Buffalo may be seen in the Kazungula area on the Southern Rhodesia bank of the Zambesi. They have not been reported nearer to the Falls in recent years. Thomas Baines who visited the Falls in 1861, reported large herds and one of his paintings depicts a herd driven by hunters right to the edge of the Rain Forest. Since then the activities of hunters have driven them far back.

Several healthy herds of buffalo roam the local area surrounding the Falls, including between town and the Victoria Falls Park, along Zambezi Drive and often outwards and seen from Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.

Again care must be taken with these animals, which can be very dangerous. If walking along the Zambezi Drive or other areas around town be very wary of these animals and retreat if you become aware of them. At night times they come into the town itself, often grazing the tall grasses along the roadsides after the rains.

Can also be found in the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve and the Wild Horizons Sanctuary.

Present in Hwange National Park.

Eland

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Eland... are now very scarce in the immediate vicinity of the of the Falls but there is still a small herd near Kazungula on the Southern Rhodesia side of the river.

It is believed there is still a small population in the region along the Kazungula (Botsawana) road, but they are shy and not often encountered.

Thinly distributed in the Hwange region. The decline in this species in the region should be of conservation concern.

Sable

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

This magnificent antelope seldom, if ever, is seen nearer than 5 miles from the Falls but is present in the area between the Falls and Kazungula in fair numbers.

Frequently seen in the Zambezi National Park, although not as common, and out towards the Maswe river as well as Kazungula road. Commonly encountered at Hwange National Park.

Roan

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Several small herds move in the area between the Falls and Kazungula, where they seem to prefer thinner bush than sable and in the dry season are often found in the open plains.

Occassionally seen in the Zambezi National Park, and out towards the Maswe river as well as Kazungula road. Present, although not common, in Hwange National Park.

Kudu

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Kudu are very common in the area and in the early morning or late evening may be seen feeding in the vicinity of the Big Tree on the Southern Rhodesia side of the river and on the immediate outskirts of the occupied areas.

Kudu can still often be fond along the Zambezi Drive and Big Tree, and are also frequently seen at the golf course and from Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, as well as withing the Zambezi National Park. Common in Hwange National Park.

Waterbuck

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Waterbuck were, until recently, common visitors to the Rain Forest but have not been seen here for some time. They are, however, present within approximately five miles of the Falls and may be seen upstream.

The fence surrounding the Rain Forest excludes this species from the Victoria Falls Park, but they may occasionally be found along the Zambezi Drive section of the river, and more frequently at the golf course and surrounding riverine fringe up into the Zambezi National Park. Present also in Hwange National Park.

Tsessebe

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

While these antelope have not been recorded recently from the Falls area they undoubtedly make their way into it from time to time on the Southern Rhodesia side of the Zambesi.

It is not known when the last tsessebe was recorded in the region surrounding the Victoria Falls. They are occassioanly recorded in the Hwange National Park region.

Impala

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

While not recently recorded from the Southern Rhodesia side of the Zambezi they are fairly plentiful on the Northern side.

Small populations surivive on both sides of the river, and the situation is probabaly reversed, with more on the southern, Zimbabwean side. Often found along Zambezi Drive, Big Tree, the golf course and from Safari Lodge as well as into the Zambezi National Park.

Commom in Hwange National Park.

Bushbuck

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Bushbuck are common in the Falls area and the visitor who does not see one can count himself unlucky.

Common along the riverine fringe woodland, including inside the Victoria Falls Park and Rain Forest, Zambezi Drive and upstream into the Zambezi National Park, as well as on some of the larger islands upstream of the Falls.

Present in locations in Hwange National Park.

Klipspringer

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Klipspringers are found in the rocky kopjes below the Falls and come out onto the grassy areas in the vicinity of these in the evening and early morning to graze.

Rarely encountered, restricted to the wildreness areas amongst the gorges downstream of the Falls.

Not found upstream of the Falls. Recorded locally within Hwange National Park.

Zebra

Burchell's zebra is widespread in the wider region, and large populations have persisted in NW Zimbabwe and NE Botswana.

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Zebra... are rare visitors to the Falls area but may occasionally to be seen between Chamunzi Farm and Kazungula.

Can be seen at the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve. Present in verylow densities in the Zambezi National Park. Common in areas of Hwange National Park.

A small captive group are kept in the grounds of the Hotel on the Zambian side of the Falls.

Reedbuck

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

A few Reedbuck are still found in the area near Chamunzi Farm and they are comparatively common near Nampini.

Historical reedbuck were recorded as common in the Falls region and Hwange National Park, ut have declined significantly and ar now only very occassionally seen. The reasons for their decline are unknown.

Duiker

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

This buck is still common round the Victoria Falls and may sometimes be seen in the vicinity of the Rain Forest where pairs are usually found feeding in the early morning, on leaves of shrubs or grass.

Steenbok

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

In colour the Steenbok of the Falls area is an even rich reddish colour with white underparts.

Warthog

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

It is unfortunate that there are not more in the vicinity of the Falls but they are still common between this and Kazungula and may often be seen near the BOAC Offices and on the Island in the Zambezi.

Bushpig

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

The bushpig, while relatively common in the Falls area, is rarely seen as it is nocturnal animal and lies up during the day in thick grass along the river.

Lion

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

It is unlikely that visitors to the Falls will either see of hear lion as they are only occasionally reported from the outlying parts in the direction of Kazungula. Man eaters are unknown in the district.

Leopard

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Seldom seen, except occasionally at night in the lights of the car, Leopards are quite common in the gorge areas of the Falls and roam from here at night over a large area in search of food.

Cheetah

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Although comparatively rare in the vicinity of the Victoria Falls they are occasionally seen.

Wild Dog

Baboons, Monkeys and Night Apes

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Baboons abound in the areas where they have become very tame. These animals will be seen by all visitors to the Victoria Falls. It has been necessary to exercise control measures on the adults as they do become increasingly familiar and will snatch parcels or other accoutrements from visitors in the hope that they contain something to eat. Their barking may be heard any morning or evening in the Falls area. The Grey Monkey, C p, is more timid and may be seen in the trees along the River, especially in the Gorge.

Night Ape

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

Common in the trees on the River banks they are seldom seen during the day as they hide asleep in holes in the tree trunks or in forked branches.

Otter

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

The clawless otter is common in the area and although predominantly nocturnal may be seen at times during the day near Princess Christian Island and the Maramba River mouth.

Puku, Lechwe and Sitatunga

Smithers, in Clark (1952):

These buck are grouped together as, although present in the Chobi area near Kazungula, they are not found nearer the Falls than this. Both Puku and Lechwe were discovered by Dr Livingstone, the former in 1853 and the latter in 1849 in the Zambezi Valley.

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'To The Victoria Falls' aims to bring you the wonder of the Victoria Falls through a look at its natural and human history.

This website has been developed using information researched from a wide variety of sources, including books, magazines and websites etc too numerous to mention or credit individually, although many key references are identified on our References page. Many of the images contained in this website have been sourced from old photographic postcards and publications and no infringement of copyright is intended. We warmly welcome any donations of photographs or information to this website.

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