Wildlife of Zambia
By Martha Hales
One of the things that surprises many visitors to Zambia is that it enjoys abundant water. Not only the mighty Zambezi river and the renowned Victoria Falls but a plethora of lakes, swamps, ponds and rivers countrywide. Alongside the remarkable landscapes and water-rich scenery, Zambia’s incredible wildlife is one of the major reasons to visit. As well as some of Africa’s big hitters such as lions, leopards and elephants, Zambia hosts a rich variety of creatures of all sizes, and quite a few species that can only be found in this little corner of the planet. This is a brief introduction to Zambia’s endemic species.
Wildebeest are a type of antelope, they are impressive horned beasts with bearded chins and an imposing presence, extremely numerous and found in large herds throughout central, eastern and southern Africa. They inhabit grassy plains and woodland that isn’t too densely vegetated. The Cookson’s wildebeest is distinct from other species in the family due to its black face and long tail.
These fluffy sausage-shaped rodents don’t spend much time above ground and consequently they have tiny eyes and limited sight as well as two pairs of huge front teeth which they use to excavate their tunnels through the earth - behind the teeth they have a pair of lips which remain closed while they dig, keeping soil out of their mouths. Their prominent teeth never stop growing and wear down with use.
Only recently identified as a separate subspecies, the Bangweulu tsessebe is found only in north east Zambia in the Bangweulu swamps. It has darker fur and different skull formation and horns than the other six species of tsessebe present in Africa. This group of species is known for its speed - it is the fastest runner of all antelope species.
Black lechwe and Kafue lechwe
Inhabiting the wetland areas of Zambia such as Bangweulu Swamps, Nashinga Swamps and the Kafue Flats, these antelope are aquatic species which follow the floodwaters to feed. Population numbers are now increasing after an extended period of decline, though both species are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. They exist in vast herds which can number thousands of individual Lechwe, but within the large group there will be many small subgroups.
Until recently this was thought to be a separate species of giraffe but it has now been established that it is in fact genetically identical to the Masai giraffe, though those in Zambia are totally separate and isolated from the other population groups. These giraffe are restricted to the Luangwa valley region.
This is Zambia’s major endemic species numbering around 5,000 individual birds, all of which live in the regions known as the Kafue Flats and the Southern Province. Look out for small, stocky birds with a short black beak and white feathers. The tail is short and they have a distinctive red ring around the eyes. Their future viability is reliant on the maintenance of the woodlands in the region, as these birds feed and nest in sycamore fig trees.
There is some debate about whether this species is truly endemic but it is certainly near-endemic, found only in the Kafue National Park and in the immediate surroundings of the Zambezi river. It is a small green bird with an orange breast, dark face, red beak and a white ring encircling the eyes. They are usually found in woodland areas within easy reach of water sources as they drink frequently.
Amphibians and reptiles
There are also three endemic species of frog, one snake and two lizards present in Zambia which your knowledgeable guides can help you look out for on your wildlife watching trip.
Lake Tanganyika is a very interesting ecosystem and although it is the second deepest freshwater lake in the world only the top strata of the water is habitable to lifeforms. That top strata must be very favourable, though, because it is home to more than 350 species of fish, around ten of which are thought to be endemic to the Zambian part of the lake.
There are many species of plants and insects considered endemic in Zambia as well, though they are too numerous to go into details here.
Make it happen
Zambia is a brilliant destination for traditional safari holidays incorporating classic game drives, but don’t forget it is the home of the walking safari, and it’s renowned for its excellent safari guides, so they can help you spot some of the rarer or more unusual creatures. Our handpicked local experts are just the people to help you plan your bespoke holiday; make an enquiry and they will do the rest! To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.