There are some rivers around the world which at the very mention of their name brings to mid majestic and vibrant environs. One of those rivers is the great River Zambezi.
Despite being very much a seasonal river the Zambezi is an essential water source for the wildlife and people of 6 African countries. The Natural World took a look in the year of the life of the river.
From its source through to the magnificent Victoria Falls and down to its Indian Ocean estuary this programme gave us an intimate and fascinating view of the river – from its low point when it’s barely a trickle to the rainy season torrent that it becomes.
The relationship between the animals were fascinating with birds living on the dead skin and even earwax of elephants and buffalo. The way in which the animals took advantage of the changing landscape was also examined. As the river drops substantially during the dry season bee-eater birds take advantage of the exposed banks to dig their burrows.
We saw just how low the level of the river drops during the height of the dry season in October. Little more than a series of mud pools the cat-fish bury down into the mud are even cross land to reach other pools or mud pans.
It’s a tough time for all the animals when the Zambezi falls. Wild dogs have to make the most of dwindling food resources. It important for them to be successful in their hunts against the antelopes of they are to survive till the rains come again.
The vast elephant herds of the Zambezi have to travel great distances to find food as the plants around the river die. even felled trees become a meal for the herd. the only thing that restricts their movement is the reliance on water. Two or three days without water is the most the elephants can take.
But the dry season and the dead river is just a passing moment in time. Soon the trade winds bring the first falls of rain that will eventually lead to the raging Zambezi returning.
The Zambezi begins first a few trickles in the mountain ranges but soon they join up to feed the mighty Zambezi bringing lush grasslands back to the plains. but as the waters rise and life springs back into being it’s just the start of the next great annual event of the river – its floods.
The rising waters of the Zambezi also drives the migrations of the plains animals such as the wildebeest migration with upto 30,000 animals coming together at the banks of the Zambezi.
The storms peak during the month of January and the river will burst its banks as it’s unable to contain the vast amount of water. As miles of plains become flooded it attracts one of the biggest congregations of birds seen on the planet.
While the flooded plains are perfect for wetland birds for other animals the floods signal the time to migrate to higher lands.
The floods peak in April with vast areas flooded. Everything moves in the face of the rising flood waters. Even the local people each year will desert their flooded villages and move to higher ground.
The Natural World programme Zambezi provided a wonderful insight into this fascinating river. a river that for part of the year dominates the landscape and another part of the year is barely noticeable.
The Zambezi is a true life giving river and is worthy of it’s reputation of being one of the great rivers of the world.
If you missed it then it really is worth catching up on BBC iPlayer.
BBC iPlayer. Natural World Zambezi