After crashing over the spectacular Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, the Zambezi river hurtles through many gorges on its way to the quieter waters of Lake Kariba. From the falls at 17°56’S 25°52’E, the Batoka Gorge system is about 120 km long, reaching to Sidinda Island (just west of the Matetsi river mouth) at 18°00’S 26°34’E, where the plateau drops below 600 m. The river has carved through the basalt rock here, to make a gorge up to 140 m deep, characterized by cliffs and screes. The landscape and the views are stunning.The Batoka Gorge system lies within the Hwange Communal Land, apart from the first c.12 km below the falls which lies within the Victoria Falls National Park. The flat plain on top supports mopane Colophospermum woodland. Riparian forest occurs in parts along the Zambezi and some of the gorges formed by tributaries, with trees of Diospyros, Trichilia and Rhus among others. The screes are clothed in thick mixed woodland (Commiphora, Entandrophragma, Sterculia, etc., often dominated by Triplochiton), interspersed with grassland. There is virtually no usage of the gorge itself, except for white-water rafting and kayaking along the river.
See Box for key species. The Batoka Gorge is a haven for cliff-nesting birds, in particular Falco fasciinucha. A pair can usually be seen in the fifth gorge. In the 1990s, it was estimated that Batoka Gorge hosted up to 10 pairs of this small falcon. In addition, there are about 18 pairs of Falco peregrinus, and another 34 species of raptor occur or have been seen there (including owls). At least four pairs of Ciconia nigra nest in the gorge. A rafting survey counted 103 Glareola nuchalis. No other threatened or restricted-range species occur in the Gorge. No checklist of birds exists for this section of the Zambezi river, except for a list of raptors.
Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The area around Victoria Falls was declared a World Heritage Site in 1989. The overriding issue is the proposed Batoka Dam, with the wall being built below the Moemba Falls, at 17°56’S 26°06’E. The dam wall would be 196 m in height, and produce a lake of about 50 km in length and entirely within the gorge. The lake would severely constrain the breeding opportunities for cliff-nesting raptors, and given the reduced space (upstream) and the competitive dominance shown by Falcoperegrinus, it is debatable whether F. fasciinucha would survive there. In addition, if Batoka Gorge held a lake rather than a rushing river, then tourism to the site would be bound to increase, with the consequence of greater disturbance (upstream) to the remaining raptors. In the meantime, the lip of the gorge from the falls to its end, on the Zimbabwe side, is a minefield, though this is being cleared.
BirdLife International (2017) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Batoka Gorge. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 16/12/2017.