Geography & Wildlife
Habitat for natural environment
The plateau of Zambia is dominated by miombo – grassland mixed with clumps of woodland. This kind of habitat makes up nearly three-quarters of the country’s natural environment.
The dambos provide an ideal habitat for carnivorous plants such as Drosera and Utricularia (commonly known as bladderworts). For example, Drosera flexicaulis has leaf blades with sticky glandular hairs which trap small insects.
Grass fires spread rapidly in the dry season, but new growth soon pushes through the blackened earth. Many trees in the miombo have a corky, fire-resistant bark.
Miombo areas contain depressions or small valleys – called dambos – which drain the plateau and are permanently or seasonally waterlogged. These are rich in species of grasses, herbs and flowering plants such as orchids.
Zambia has vast floodplains along rivers, streams and lakes – such as the Bangweula Swamp and Lukanga regions, the Barotseland of the Upper Zambezi and the Kafue River Flats. Here, grass species have to tolerate being submerged for part of the year.
Across the hotter and drier lower-lying areas of Zambia, woodlands of mopane trees are common.
Also known as the butterfly tree (for the shape of its leaves), the mopane is semi-deciduous. It loses its foliage in a dry year, when the leaves turn gorgeous shades of yellow and red.
Herds and birds
The large and ungainly Shoebill stork (Balaeniceps rex), which breeds in the Bangweula Swamps, is the country's celebrity. But there are many other unusual species, including the Zambian or Chaplin’s barbet.
Since much of Zambia is covered by original natural habitat, the country is home to a huge range of birds; 750 different species are within its borders.
All the classic savannah predators – lions, leopards, cheetahs – can be seen in Zambia and protected herds of elephant and buffalo roam the national parks. Zambia also boasts some unusual subspecies of antelope, giraffe, wildebeest and zebra.
One of Africa’s great wildlife migrations takes place across Liuwa Plain National Park, where wildebeest, zebra, tsessebe (a savannah antelope) and buffalo converge in their thousands.
Once widespread across the savannah, the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is threatened by loss of habitat, disease and human persecution. The packs of 10-20 dogs need a huge area – around one million hectares – for their nomadic existence. They roam across the plains to hunt, depending on their excellent eyesight and stamina to run down their prey.
Listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, African wild dogs are now found in viable groups in only a handful of countries. Game Management Areas in Zambia are joining together to provide a safe corridor between the South Luangwa National Park and the Lower Zambezi to expand the territory in which wild dog packs can roam.