Kafue Flats This is an IBA in Danger! 

Country/territory: Zambia

IBA criteria met: A1, A3, A4i, A4iii (2001)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 650,500 ha

BirdWatch Zambia
IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) State (condition) Pressure (threat) Response (action)
2017 very unfavourable very high low
For more information about IBA monitoring, please click here

Site description (2001 baseline)
A vast area of swamp, open lagoon and seasonally inundated flood-plain surrounding the Kafue river as it flows from west to east before reaching the Zambezi escarpment. When wet, the alluvial clays render much of the area inaccessible and extensive cracks form on drying. The swamp is dominated by Typha and there are only scattered pockets of Cyperus papyrus. The flats are bordered by termitaria and munga woodland. At its widest point, the area liable to flooding is some 70 km across. Hydroelectric dams have been constructed at either end of the flats, although Itezhi-Tezhi (at the western end) is more important for regulating the flow and Kafue Gorge (at the eastern end) generates most of the power. An initial agreement to simulate the annual inundation has not always been followed, especially when there have been fears of water shortages. However, rainfall permitting, the cycle has been ‘smoothed’; thus the simulated flood is not as high, but lasts longer than it would under natural conditions. Many fishermen live on the numerous small islands in the centre of the swamps and other communities exist around the edges, although some of these are somewhat seasonal depending on the water-level.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. Very large concentrations of resident and migratory waterbirds occur and many species breed in large colonies deep within the swamps. Grus carunculatus is common here all-year-round, and this is the single most important area for the species anywhere, with 3,200 individuals counted in October 1983 (here considered equivalent to more than 1,000 breeding pairs). Among the other species of global conservation concern, Gallinago media occurs in large numbers, Egretta vinaceigula is uncommon, but almost certainly breeds, Circus macrourus visits in good numbers, Falco naumanni is numerous at times and Crex crex is probably common, while Ardeola idae and Glareola nordmanni are rare non-breeding visitors. Lybius chaplini is local, in small numbers. Phoenicopterus minor and Gyps coprotheres are both vagrants to the area. Counts from earlier decades for some of the waterbirds listed in the Box (meeting the A4i criterion) exceed recent counts, for instance >6,000 Pelecanus onocrotalus (Nov 1971), >5,000 Plegadis falcinellus (Dec 1975), >100,000 Plectropterus gambensis (Nov 1972), >29,000 Anas erythrorhyncha (Aug 1971), >5,000  Netta erythrophthalma (Jan 1973), and >50,000 Glareola pratincola (Apr 1972, May 1980). Other waterbirds which are often found in notable numbers include Ciconia abdimii, Fulica cristata and Vanellus armatus. Particularly numerous in the dry season are Eremopterix leucotis, Calandrella cinerea and Oenanthe pileata, when other characteristic species include Neotis denhami and Pterocles gutturalis.

Non-bird biodiversity: A wide variety of mammals are known to occur, including Tragelaphus spekii (LR/nt) and, most notably, the endemic subspecies Kobus leche kafuensis(the largest protected population of this species anywhere).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Kafue Flats. Downloaded from on 06/12/2023.