June 17, 2022 7 min read
At the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, approximately twice as wide and deep as Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls spans the entire breadth of Zambezi River at one of its widest points of more than 5,500 feet. The river plunges down a steep precipice to a maximum drop of 355 feet at the falls (108 meters). The average flow rate of the falls is over 33,000 cubic feet (935 cubic meters) per second.
The Victoria Falls are the world's largest waterfall, despite not being the highest or widest. Its combined width of 1,708 meters (5,604 feet) and height of 108 meters (354 feet) result in the world's greatest sheet of cascading water.
The Zambezi River does not pick up speed as it approaches the drop; instead, the thunderous roar and distinctive veil of mist that the Kalolo-Lozi people named the falls Mosi-oa-Tunya (“The Smoke That Thunders”) announce the approach. Various small islands, depressions, and promontories run along the brink of the falls' precipice, dividing it into multiple sections.
Boaruka Island (or Cataract Island) near the western bank and Livingstone Island near the middle — the place from which Livingstone first witnessed the falls — are two islands on the crest of the falls that are large enough to separate the curtain of water even at full flood. Additional islets divide the curtain of water into separate parallel streams when the flood is less than full. From Zimbabwe (west) to Zambia (east), the main streams are known as the Devil's Cataract (also known as Leaping Water), the Main Falls, the Rainbow Falls (the tallest), and the Eastern Cataract.
The Zambezi River's total volume flows through the 110-meter-wide (360-foot) outflow of the First Gorge for roughly 150 meters (490 feet), then into a zigzagging succession of gorges named after the order in which the river reaches them. The water entering the Second Gorge takes a sudden right turn, carving out the Boiling Pot, a deep pool. It is about 150 meters (500 feet) across and is reached via a steep route from the Zambian side. At low water, its surface is calm, but at high water, it is characterized by massive, sluggish swirls and heavy boiling turbulence.
The area is dominated by mopane forest savannah, with lesser patches of miombo and Rhodesian teak woodland and scrubland savannah. The banks and islands above the falls are lined with riverine woodland with palm trees. The rainforest fostered by the fall’s spray is the most prominent part of the area's vegetation, with flora uncommon to the area such as pod mahogany, ebony, ivory palm, wild date palm, batoko plum, and a variety of creepers and lianas. Droughts have harmed vegetation, as well as the creatures that rely on it, particularly antelope.
The national parks are home to a diverse range of species, including elephants, Cape Buffalo, Giraffes, Grant's Zebras, and a variety of Antelope. Lions, Leopards, and South African Cheetah are only observed on rare occasions. Baboons and Vervet Monkeys are common. Hippopotamus and Crocodiles can be found in great numbers in the river above the falls. During the dry season, African Bush Elephants cross the river at specific crossing places.
The gorges are home to Klipspringers, Honey Badgers, Lizards, and Clawless Otters, but they are best renowned for their 35 species of raptors. There are Taita Falcons, Black Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and Augur Buzzards that may be found there. Herons, Fish Eagles, and a variety of Waterfowl can be seen above the falls. Below the falls, the river supports 39 species of fish and 84 species above them. The falls' usefulness as a dividing barrier between the upper and lower Zambezi is demonstrated by this.
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