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Location Zimbabwe, Mashonaland West Province
Central coordinates 29o 35.00' East  15o 45.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i, A4ii
Area 682,500 ha
Altitude 300 - 1,288m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

BirdLife Zimbabwe

Site description The Zambezi river, one of Africa’s four great rivers, is 2,700 km long; draining a huge basin of 1.4 million km². For almost its entire length along Zimbabwe’s northern border it lies in a rift valley, which is called the Gwembe trough at Lake Kariba, and the Zambezi valley downstream of the Kariba gorge. From the northern exit of the Kariba gorge at Nyamuomba Island (16°22’S 28°51’E) to the western entrance of the Mupata gorge (15°38’S 30°02’E), the river flows eastwards through 178 km of flat wildlife country, and forms the international border with Zambia to the north. The rift valley consists of a flat plain (at an altitude of 350–600 m) flanked by rugged escarpments that run parallel to the river, nearby in Zambia (highest point 1,286 m) and far to the south in Zimbabwe (highest point 1,288 m). The valley floor is much more extensive on the Zimbabwean side, where it covers an area of c.6,825 km². In some places the Zambezi river is 2 km wide or more, and it flows around many sandy islands. The river water is considered to be very clean, if rather nutrient-poor.

There are three main vegetation-types in the valley. Most of the valley floor supports mopane woodland, which in places can reach impressive proportions. The river’s alluvial deposits support riparian woodland, dominated by Faidherbia but including many other trees such as Kigelia, Lonchocarpus and Trichilia. The third main vegetation-type is colloquially known as ‘jesse’ bush, but is correctly labelled as mixed-species layered dry forest. This is deciduous and has a thicket-like understorey. It is rich in both tree and shrub species, for example Pterocarpus, Xeroderris, Commiphora, Berchemia, Combretum and Acacia among many others. The whole of the middle Zambezi valley on the Zimbabwe side is under Parks and Wild Life Estate, except for about 50 km² of commercial land around Chirundu.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Table 3 for key species. Among globally threatened species, Gyps coprotheres is only very rarely recorded, as too are Ardeola idae, Phoenicopterus ruber and P. minor. A few of the Zambezian-biome birds live in the valley (although miombo woodland as such does not occur on the valley floor), for example Coracias spatulata, Nectarinia talatala, Vidua obtusa and Lamprotornis mevesii. The valley is home to more than 400 species of birds, and among terrestrial species it is the only locality so far known in Zimbabwe for Nectarinia shelleyi, and is particularly important for Agapornis lilianae (many thousands; more than 1% of the global population), Bucorvus cafer (occurring at a very high density), Erythrocercus livingstonei and Guttera pucherani.

Among waterbirds, the species richness in the valley is very high, at c.90 species, although relative abundances are lower. The banks of the Zambezi provide nesting habitat for c.10,500 Merops nubicoides, with unknown extra numbers in tributaries along the valley floor. The sandbanks and sandy islands form equally essential habitat for Rynchops flavirostris, and in 1986 a survey estimated 136 birds on the stretch of river in the valley. In the same year, about 320 Glareola nuchalis were counted in the Kariba and Mupata gorges (strictly outside the presently-defined area). Also of special interest are Ardeola rufiventris, Ciconia episcopus, Vanellus albiceps, Plegadis falcinellus, Nettapus auritus and Burhinus vermiculatus. Numbers of the first three species exceed the 1% threshold of their global populations.

Also, at least 52 species of raptor (including owls) have so far been recorded in the valley, including large numbers of Haliaeetus vocifer (c.1 pair per 3 km frontage) and an unknown number of Scotopelia peli. Being such a huge wildlife area, there is a good representation of vultures (six species) and eagles (12 species).

Non-bird biodiversity: All individuals of Diceros bicornis (CR) in the valley were either killed by poachers or translocated between 1984 and 1994. A small amount of poaching continues, on elephants and antelopes; it is thought that there is considerable poaching of fish from the Zambian side. The valley supports a full range of predators, including wild dog Lycaon pictus (EN). The river is famous for its huge numbers of hippos Hippopotamus amphibius (several thousands) and crocodiles Crocodylus niloticus.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Rock Pratincole Glareola nuchalis winter  320 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris winter  136 individuals  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
Nyasa Lovebird Agapornis lilianae resident  1998  present  A3  Near Threatened 
Racquet-tailed Roller Coracias spatulatus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Southern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicoides breeding  1998  10,500 adults only  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Meves's Glossy-starling Lamprotornis mevesii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-headed Black-chat Myrmecocichla arnoti resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-breasted Sunbird Nectarinia talatala resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Shelley's Sunbird Nectarinia shelleyi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Broad-tailed Paradise-whydah Vidua obtusa resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

2013 high not assessed high

Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases invasive non-native/alien species/diseases - named species happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Natural system modifications fire & fire suppression - increase in fire frequency/intensity happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Transportation and service corridors roads and railroads likely in short term (within 4 years) majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A comprehensive and appropriate management plan exists that aims to maintain or improve the populations of qualifying bird species  Substantive conservation measures are being implemented but these are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity  high 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Chewore Safari Area 33,900 protected area contained by site 33,900  
Hurungwe Safari Area 289,400 protected area contained by site 289,400  
Mana Pools National Park 219,600 protected area contained by site 219,600  
Mana Pools National Park, Sapi and Chewore Safari Areas World Heritage Site 676,600 protected area overlaps with site 677,500  
Sapi Safari Area 118,000 protected area contained by site 118,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial   47%
Shrubland   38%
Grassland   2%
Forest   11%
Wetlands (inland) Ephemeral pools and wetlands; Sand dunes and beaches - riverine  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research -
tourism/recreation -
water management -

References Coppinger et al. (1988), Du Toit (1982), Harrison et al. (1997), Mundy et al. (1994), Mundy and Rockingham-Gill (no date), Williams et al. (1989).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Middle Zambezi Valley. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016

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