The World of Info

Plants and Animals

Plants and Animals


The vegetation in most of the country is savannah: grassland with an often very varied and complex flora, including small trees, thorny bushes, cacti and climbing plants.

Zambia's main vegetation zones are quite distinct. An overview is given below:

Miombo savanna

Approximately 65% of Zambia, particularly the higher parts with a little more rainfall, are covered by the so-called miombo-savanna. This type of vegetation consists mainly of deciduous trees of the Brachystegia species; another name for this type of vegetation is therefore Brachystegia savannah. Some areas are more densely forested, others less so, but large continuous forests are not found here. Long grass and other plants grow between the trees.

Mopane or dry savannah

In the dry, warm valleys, the vegetation consists of mopane-savanna. The most important trees here are the Colophospermum mopane, which can be up to ten metres tall.

The baobab also grows in these areas, including in the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa national parks. The baobab or baobab tree has a spherical trunk which is used as a kind of sponge to store water and carbohydrates. The largest specimens, found in Madagascar, can hold up to 100,000 litres of water.


Between the miombo and the mopane savannahs there are small stretches of munga savannah, particularly in Southern Zambia. The most important species here are various acacias, often in the form of small shrubs but sometimes also trees up to ten metres high.


A dambo is a bowl-shaped piece of grassland, often a clearing in the forest, which is moistened by rainwater or groundwater. Some dambos are only a few metres wide, others are as big as a football field.

Mukusi forests

The mukusi or Zambezi teak is a very hardy tree. There are still a few groves of this tree species left, particularly in Western Zambia, north-west of the city of Livingstone.

Riverine forests

Along the banks of most of the rivers, there is dense forest cover, with mainly winter thorn, ebony and the not-to-be-missed sausage tree, which is also the national tree of Zambia. The sausage tree belongs to the Kigelia pinnata family and this family consists of trees, shrubs and climbing plants.

All these plants bear sausage-shaped fruit, sometimes one metre long and weighing ten kilos. The trees can reach heights of over 20 metres and the flowers are also extremely large.


In the north-west, by lakes and in river valleys, tropical rainforests are scattered, remnants of the great rainforests of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Much forest has been planted in the Copperbelt.


Extensive swamps have formed in the vicinity of Lake Mweru and Lake Bangweul, with widely varying water levels. Extensive grasslands can be found adjacent to the swamps.



The savannah fauna is characterised by large herbivores such as African elephant (especially in the South Luangwa National Park), tip-toed rhino, steppe zebra, warthog, buffalo, numerous antelopes and predators such as lion, panther and spotted hyena. The animal world in Zambia is very similar to that of East Africa, although many South African elements are still present. Giraffes are only found in the far west and east.

A total of approximately 225 mammal species and more than 750 bird species are known to inhabit Zambia. The rather sparse forests belong to different types and harbour an often very characteristic animal world. Some Central African forest types with, among others, monkeys are found in the north-west.


Zambia's most important national parks are dominated by large rivers, which is why they are home to large numbers of crocodiles and hippos. Large herds of elephants and African buffaloes (the only authentic African cattle species) can also be found here. Large herds of zebras (Burchell's and Crawshay's zebra), impalas and, for example, pukus, a species of antelope that is still found mainly in Zambia, graze in the forests and on the large grass plains.

In the bush, waterbuck (common waterbuck and Defassa waterbuck) and bushbuck can be found, together with small antelopes such as divers and klipspringers. Antelope species such as the roan (a large antelope species that is no longer common in southern Africa, but is still quite common in Zambia), the oribi and the suni are all threatened in their existence by the decrease in grassland. The African savannah is home to 70 different species of antelope.

Where there are many grazers, there are also many predators, such as lions, leopards (Zambia's national animal), hyenas and cheetahs. Wild dogs were almost extinct in Zambia at one point, but are now being seen more and more frequently. Wild dogs only occur in five countries.

Black rhinos, however, did not survive; poaching activities made these animals extinct in the 1970s and 1980s. A few white rhinos can still be found in the Game Park near Victoria Falls.

In contrast are the huge numbers of lechwe antelope. On the grasslands near Lake Bangweulu there are still many black lechwes, a relatively unknown subspecies. Another endemic species, the Kafue lechwe, can be found in West Zambia.

Kasanka National Park and Bangweulu Wetlands are the best places to see sitatungas, a species of antelope that is often found near swamps. The sitatungas feed while standing in water about one metre deep.

Africa's largest antelope, the eland antelope has bolted horns of around 65 cm and the males have a withers of 150-180 centimetres. They often live in groups of 6-12 animals, but herds of several thousand have also been seen. The greater kudu is the national animal of Zambia.

The South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi national parks have giraffes, and Zambia has its own species, the Thornicroft giraffe. This also applies to the wildebeest, of which the Cookson wildebeest is particularly to be found in Liuwa Plain, a remote grassland area in Western Zambia.

Animals that are rarely seen outside the national parks include the honey badger, the pangolin or scaly anteater, various types of mongoose and the aardvark.

Of particular note are the large and small galagos or 'bush babies'. They are nocturnal animals that rest in hollow trees or dense foliage during the day. They feed on insects, flowers, pollen, honey, seeds and fruit. They can live up to 14 years. They belong to the lorikeets. The large galago lives mainly in the East Zambian forests; the small galago can be found throughout the country.

A common species of monkey is the green guenon. This species lives in groups of about 20 or more specimens and can usually be found in the vicinity of water.

Baboons are also very common in Zambia. They particularly prefer mountainous or wooded areas. Baboons form troops of more than 100 animals with a clear hierarchy.


More than 750 bird species have been recorded in Zambia, making it a perfect country for birdwatchers and ornithologists. The best time for birdwatching is during the rainy season, from November to April. The best places for bird watching are the national parks.

Threatened birds include the Egyptian vulture, Cape vulture, bateleur eagle, shoebill stork, lilac crane and African scissor-tailed beak. The national bird of Zambia is the African sea eagle.

Below is an overview of various Zambian bird areas:

Zambezi Valley

The Batoka Gorge is known for its many bird of prey species, including the bat hawk, crowned eagle, osprey and the rare Taita falcon. Lake Kariba is home to large numbers of African fish eagles and in the wet periods the African pitta is a special sight. Behind the Kariba Dam, African shearwater, Pel's fish owl and Livingstone flycatcher are Lower Zambezi specialities.

Luangwa Valley

About the same species as in the Zambezi Valley, more than 400 species have been spotted here. Of particular note are the swarms of rainbow-coloured Lilian's lovebirds and the thousands of crimson-winged bee-eaters that nest on the banks of the river. In the rainy season, many herons, storks and egrets wade through the vast shallow lagoons.

Kafue River

Lochinvar National Park is home to thousands of waterfowl, including whisker ducks and black herons. Copper tailed cuckoo, short-eared owl and grasshopper finch are other special inhabitants.

Zambia has only one endemic bird species, the Chaplin's bearded bird, and this species can also still be found here.

Kafue National Park is home to lilac cranes, black-cheeked dwarf parrot and Boehm's bee-eaters, saddleback storks and ground-nosed hornbills or southern horned ravens.

Bangweulu Wetlands

Special appearances are the marsh shag and the bizarre-looking shoebill.

Kasanka National Park

This national park in northern Zambia is home to a number of special species: kingfishers, Ross-lourie, dwarf goose and many species of heron and honey buzzard.

The Far North West

This remote place near the border with Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo is a true bird paradise and is home to bird species found nowhere else in Zambia, including thrush "thrush", white-spotted "flufftails", grass singers and black and red swallows.

Nyika National Park & the North East

This hardly visited part of northern Zambia harbours trogons, Angola swallow, Sharpe's akalat in the forests and in the open grassland the endangered lilac cranes, Denham's trap, red-winged francolin, malachite honeyeater and collared honeyeater.


Zambia's main reptile is the Nile crocodile, which can grow up to six metres long. Although considerably reduced in numbers due to hunting and habitat destruction, they are still widely distributed.

There are many species of lizards throughout Zambia. The largest is a species of monitor lizard, which can reach 1.5 metres and lives near waterholes. Chameleons and geckos are also common, even in hotel rooms.

Zambia also has many species of snakes, both poisonous and harmless. The largest snake is the python, which can reach over 5 metres in length.

Dangerous Insects

The tsetse fly is one of Africa's deadly disease-carrying insects. The fly feeds on human and livestock blood and is a carrier of the deadly Trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness.

The malaria mosquito Anopheles carries the infectious Plasmodium parasite. The fever that results can also be fatal.

National parks and game reserves

Zambia has an extensive network of national parks (19) and game reserves. The nature conservation is reasonably well organised, but struggles with poaching and financial problems; furthermore, safari tourism is slow to take off. Kafue National Park and the reserves in the Luangwa River valley are the best known.

The Luangwa Valley is one of the richest Big Five areas (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard) in Africa. Nowhere else are there so many animals as in this area, in addition to the Big Five also large crocodiles and many bird species.


Else, D. / Zambia
Lonely Planet

Posthumus, B. / Zambia : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen / Novib

The Reader’s Digest

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info