Introduction to Zambia Safaris:
Situated in the heart of south-central Africa, the country of Zambia is one of the region’s prime wildlife destinations. From the vast woodland and floodplains of Kafue National Park in the centre of the western ‘bulge’, to the great parks of the Luangwa Valley in the east, the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the north and the mighty Victoria Falls in the south, Zambia offers the discerning wildlife enthusiast a wealth of sights, sounds, wildlife and true wilderness.
Zambia is a landlocked country slightly larger than the State of Texas with no fewer than eight different neighbouring nations (Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, the DRC, Angola and Namibia). It is dominated by a plateau which gives it an average height of 1200 meters (3937 feet) above sea level, and which also moderates the climate somewhat, making most regions a fair bit milder than they otherwise would be given the country’s position between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. Certain areas, such as the Luangwa River valley, a southern extension of the East African Rift system, and the Zambezi Valley, are much lower in altitude (300 meter / 984 feet a.s.l) and can be brutally hot during the summer. In terms of drainage, the Luangwa, Kafue and other rivers in the south flow into the Zambezi system, while to the north the rivers drain into the Congo basin.
The climate is classified mainly as a humid subtropical regime, with two distinct seasons: a hot summer rainy season, and a cooler winter dry season, though the dry season can again be divided into a cool dry season (May – August) and a hot dry season (September to October and early November). Much of the plateau has reasonable rainfall, averaging up to 1300 mm per year, while some regions have as little as 500 mm per year. Much of the country is covered by a broadleaf woodland type known as Miombo, interspersed with grassy ‘dambos’, or marshes. Miombo is incredibly rich, with some 8 500 species of plants, over half of which are endemic, and an associated avifauna component which is also fairly unique. Despite the dominance of the Miombo woodland, several other important biomes are also represented in Zambia, such as evergreen forest, Afromontane rain forest, savannah and wetlands.
Zambia shares a human history that is very similar to that of most of the region’s other countries, in that it was first occupied by San hunter gatherers, the ‘First Peoples’ of Africa, who were then joined by Khoi pastoralists, followed by the arrival of the more powerful Bantu people from further north. Europeans began arriving in the 1800’s, preceded most famously by Dr David Livingstone, the first European to see the mighty falls on the Zambezi in 1855. In 1911 Zambia, then known as Northern Rhodesia, became a British Colony, which it remained until independence in October 1964. Since the turn of the century the politics have stabilized and the country has seen a period of increased growth and prosperity, though of course it’s still a poor country in general.
Lusaka in the south is the capital city, which receives international flights from Johannesburg, Dubai and London, and is the main access point for the major wildlife regions, which can be accessed by road or charter flight. The road network is reasonable to good on average, and can be accessed from the south via Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia and from the east via Malawi.
Summer: September to April
- Zambia falls under a summer rainfall region.
- It can get hot to very hot in the south and east, and is slightly milder on the plateau.
- Afternoon thunderstorms are common.
Winter: May to August
- Winters on the interior plateau can be cold overnight and in the early morning while days are usually cool to mild. In the south the days can be warm to hot, though it can be cool in the early mornings.
- Minimal chances of rain.
Zambia had a bird list of around 750 recorded species, which is a fair number when considering that most of the country falls under the Zambezian biome, which is made up largely of Miombo Woodland. It has only one true endemic species, Chaplin’s Barbet, though Black-cheeked Lovebird is almost an endemic, occurring marginally across the border into Namibia (though the status of birds in Namibia is uncertain). Considering the size of the country, the rates of endemism are very low, but where Zambia comes into its own in birding terms is the Miombo specials of south-central Africa, Zambia being one of the most accessible places for these species, and also offering a shot at some of the Congolese rainforest specials in the far north-west of the country. Another feather in Zambia’s cap is the Shoebill population of the Bangweulu Swamps, this strange, pale ‘stork’ being one of Africa’s most sought-after birds. Read more under ‘Zambia Birding‘…
Looking on the map, Zambia has a host of National Parks, reserves and game management areas. Many of the smaller national parks are relatively unknown and have poorly developed infrastructure. South Luangwa, on the other hand, is well known as one of Africa’s great parks and is easily accessible by air charter from Lusaka. Less well known and more remote are North Laungwa and Kafue National Parks, the latter one of Africa’s biggest national parks. Most visitors to Zambia will pass through South Luangwa during their travels, and will be privy to some spectacular game viewing, particularly in the dry season when the shrunken Luangwa River supports one of the densest Hippo populations on the continent. Visitors to the other parks will however be rewarded with some incredible game viewing, often under conditions of incredible exclusivity, with few other human beings within hundreds of square kilometers. Read more under ‘Zambia Wildlife‘…