THE MOSI-OA-TUNYA FALLS WORLD HERITAGE SITE

 

 

Introduction

The Mosi-oa-tunya falls are of unique aesthetic and geologic/ geomorphologic value and deemed one of the seven natural wonders of the World. They are found at the border area between Zambia and Zimbabwe on one of Africas largest river, the Zambezi River. They are situated 10km from the City of Livingstone. The falls are 1708 metres wide and 99metres high. The upstream riverine areas, the zig-zag gorges. Upstream of the falls the Zambezi River is relatively shallow and braided with many islands. Downstream of the falls, the Zambezi River flows through a series of deep gorges which have been incised in to the landscape.

 

The world heritage site is underlain by a thick layer of basalt overlain with thin layers of chalcedony and silicified sandstone. The sandstone is overlain by the Kalahari sands which are windblown, generally structureless, coarse textured and susceptible to erosion.

 

The falls are located in the low latitude tropics and have a sub-tropical climate, with marked seasonal variation in temperature and rainfall. Summers are hot and wet, whilst winters are mild and dry. Rainfall patterns over the whole Zambezi basin is influenced by the inter Tropical Convergence Zone. Mean annual rainfall in Livingstone ranges between 600 and 700mm, slightly higher than the nearby town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

 

Physical and Biological Resources

The world heritage site has six vegetation types: mopane woodland, riparian vegetation, munga woodland, mixed scrubland, Kalahari woodland, and swamp vegetation.

 

More dense riparian woodland occurs along the river bank. This riparian vegetation is dominated by the large species of Diospyros mespiliformis (Jackalberry). Other important trees that occur within the riparian woodland include Trichilia emetica (Natal mahogany), Syzygium paniculata (Waterberry), Phoenix reclinata (Wilddate palm) and Hyphaene petersiana (vegetable ivory palm). The riparian forest is floristically richer than the mopane woodland with more than 70species in the shrub layer and over 150 species in the grass layer (NPWS, 1998).

 

The so-called rainforest is a special section of the riparian forest, which is maintained by the spray pf the Mosi-oa-tunya falls. Several rare species of herbaceous plants occur in this forest but unfortunately, the forest has been invaded by a number of exotic species, such as Lantana camara (lantana or tickberry) and Opuntia ficus-indica (pricky pear).

 

Approximately 30 species of medium-sized and large mammals occur in the National park and natural areas surrounding the Mosi-oa-tunya falls. The Chacma baboons and Vervet monkeys are common around the falls area. Many groups of Hippopotamus occur upstream of the falls. During the dry season elephants, and occasionally buffaloes cross the Zambezi River from Zimbabwe on to the Islands and then into the Mosi-oa-tunya national park and beyond to feed. Wildlife is protected within the Mosi-oa-tunya national park.

 

Over 400 bird species have been recorded in the Victoria Falls World Heritage site, of which 25% are water birds (Meynell et al., 1996). The riparian area upstream of the falls is an important habitat for many of these bird species. Uncommon water birds that have recorded in the upstream areas include African finfoot and African skimmer, and islands in the river are important breeding areas for the African skimmers. The black cheeked lovebird, species only found from the Victoria Falls westwards to southwest Zambia, occurs in the river valleys and is closely associated with the mopane woodland. The rare Taita falcon breeds in the gorges below the falls and is associated with the nearby woodland.

 

The fish populations upstream of the falls are distinctly different from those occurring downstream in the gorges. Eighty four species have been recorded upstream of the falls and 64 downstream, with 30 species common to both zones. Subsistence fishing is common of the Zambezi River and fish is an important diet component for the local residents.

 

A total of 69 reptiles and 23 amphibian species have been recorded within the Mosi-oa-tunya Falls world heritage site. The largest reptile is the Nile crocodile which commonly occur upstream of the falls, in addition to the natural population. It appears that some crocodiles may have been released from crocodile farms in the area.

 

World Heritage Status

Zambia acceded to the Convention in 1984. In 1989, it jointly submitted a nomination with Zimbabwe to have the site declared as a world heritage site. The site was declared in December 1989. The site was declared on basis of meeting the criteria number Seven and number eight {N (vii, viii)} of the world Heritage nomination criteria. In other words the falls areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance (vii) and are outstanding example representing significant ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic features (viii).

 

Tourism activities

There are a number of tourism activities in the Mosi-oa-tunya world heritage site namely, viewing, rafting, kayaking, gorge swing, Bungi jumping, canoeing, jetty boating and lunar rainbow viewing. Peak visitation to the site correlates with peak flow of the falls. This occurs between December and May. Lunar viewing happens during the same time as it depends on the spray when the river is at peak.

 

Rafting starts when the waters on the Zambezi have significantly receded. This occurs between the months of June to November.

 

The arrangement of the gorges makes the falls one of the few water falls in the world that can be viewed directly from the front over a stretch of approximately about 800m.

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