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Zambezi River

Zambezi River

The fourth largest river in Africa (and the longest east-flowing), the Zambezi River means “Great River” in the Tonga dialect. Its 2,200 miles flow from northwest Zimbabwe through six countries and into the Indian Ocean. The Zambezi emerges from marshlands in northwestern Zambia, and its upper stretch flows south through Angola and back into Zambia, ultimately tumbling over Victoria Falls at the Zimbabwe border. The floodplain of the upper Zambezi supports prolific wildlife including hippopotami, crocodiles, lions, and elephants.

As the middle stretch of the river continues to lose elevation after flowing over Victoria Falls, it descends through a series of gorges that contain some of the world’s most spectacular whitewater rapids. After 150 miles it flows into Lake Kariba, which was created in 1959 with the completion of the Kariba Dam. One of the largest manmade lakes in the world, its hydroelectric power-generating facilities provide electricity to much of Zambia and Zimbabwe. At its confluence with the Luangwa, the river enters Mozambique and ultimately flows into another manmade lake at the Cahora Bass Dam.

The lower 650 miles of the river flows smoothly eastward until emptying into the Indian Ocean. This stretch of the Zambezi is navigable, but parts are shallow, especially during the dry season. Though the river’s delta at the ocean has diminished with the construction of the dams upstream, it remains an important and fertile habitat.

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