A Natural Wonder
Ecology of the Victoria Falls
Formation of the Victoria Falls
People of the Victoria Falls
Enter the Ndebele
Discovery of the Victoria Falls
In Livingstone's Footsteps
Development of the Rhodesias
Development of the Railway
Development of Tourism
Development of Victoria Falls Town
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To The Victoria Falls

Ecology of the Victoria Falls

Introduction to Fishes of Victoria Falls Region

Probably the most interesting feature concerning the fishes of the Zambezi river in the Victoria Falls region is the significant difference in fish species composition in the Upper and Middle Zambezi, above and below the Falls.

The Victoria Falls divide the fish fauna of the Zambezi into a species-rich upper section and a lower section that holds generally fewer, and also different, fish species.

Examples of species occurring in the lower and middle, but not the upper, Zambezi are the Zambezi Electric Catfish, Malapterurus shirensis, and the Cornish Jack, Mormyrops anguilloides.

Over 134 different species are known to occur in the Upper Zambezi system, yet in contrast only about seventy over species occur in the Middle Zambezi system, yet only some thirty species are common to both

These differences are explained by the historical formation of the modern Zambezi river system and by the physical barrier of the Victoria Falls, which appears to block the movement of many fish species up, and down, stream.

Some researchers have questioned the effectiveness of the Victoria Falls as a barrier for downstream invasions by Upper Zambezi fish, whereas all seem to agree that invasions upstream over such a barrier are unlikely.

In recent years a number of Upper Zambezi fish species have been collected for the first time in the Middle Zambezi. Minshull (2010), for example, reported the occurrence of certain Upper Zambezi species below the Falls, such as Marcusenius altisambesi and Mormyrus lacerda.

However evidence still suggests that the Falls themselves are a barrier to fish movements, but that the hydropower station, built in the 1950s, has allowed some fish species to subsequently circumvent them.

Whilst downstream movement over the falls might therefore be possible, it has further been argued that the contrasting nature of the Batoka Gorge below the Victoria Falls has prevented colonization further downstream by many upper river species, thus forming an additional barrier.

Evolutionary history of Zambezi

The fish community of the Upper Zambezi River system today reflects a complex geomorphological history of major river course changes and river captures, with resulting changes to drainage patterns.

Geomorphological evidence has resulted in several theories on the evolution of the river system. The study of comparative fish faunas has helped refine these theories and explain changes in fish species compositions.

As far as the Upper Zambezi is concerned these theories essentially concur that in its early stages the system was separate from the Middle and Lower Zambezi river, flowing south into the Okavango region, and draining through the Orange River system to the Atlantic on the west coast.

It is believed that around the period of the late Tertiary the Middle Zambezi system ‘captured’ the drainage flow of the Upper Zambezi and Kafue river systems, diverting the flow along its current course to the Indian Ocean on the east coast.

The Orange River still contains remnants of the Zambezian fish fauna, for example Barbus paludinosus, B trimaculatus, Sharp-toothed Catfish (Clarias garuepinus) and Tilapia sparrmanii, hinting at this historical association.

Although the Middle and Lower Zambezi are linked to the Upper Zambezi river, the Victoria Falls have prevented the upstream movement and mixing of the fish faunas of middle and upper rivers.

A ‘Reservoir River’

The Upper Zambezi has been described as a 'reservoir' river with abundant water resources that are retained for much of the year in its tributaries and floodplains. The system is ecologically diverse with headwaters ranging from rocky substrate wooded streams through to shallow sandy rivers draining grasslands, while the main river-floodplain habitats comprise the main river channel, floodplain lagoons, swamps and numerous isolated small lakes. These varied and extensive habitats contribute to the high fish diversity.


Family Clupeidae

Lake Tanganyika Sardine (Limnothrissa miodon) [introduced]

Family Mormyridae

Zambezi Parrotfish (Cyphomyrus discorhynchus)
[Upper Zambezi] Parrotfish (Cyphomyrus cubangoensis)
[Zambezi] Bulldog (Marcusenius macrolepidotus)
[Upper Zambezi] Bulldog (Marcusenius altisambesi)
Cornish Jack (Mormyrops anguilloides)
Eastern [Zambezi] Bottlenose (Mormyyrus longirostris)
Western [Upper Zambezi] Bottlenose (Mormyrus lacerda)
Upper Zambezi Stonebasher (Pollimyrus marianne)
Upper Zambezi Churchill (Petrocephalus longicapitis)
Slender Stonebasher (Hippopotamyrus ansorgii)
Upper Zambezi Stonebasher (Hippopotamyrus szaboi)

Family Anguillidae

African Mottled Eel (Anguilla bengalensis labiata)

Family Kneriidae

Northern Kneria (Kneria polli)

Family Cyprinidae

Large-scaled Yellowfish (Labeobarbus marequensis)
Upper Zambezi Yellowfish (Labeobarbus codringtoni)
African banded barb (Barbus fasciolatus)
Copperstripe Barb (Barbus multilineatus)
Red-eye or Beira Barb (Barbus radiatus)
Orangefin Barb (Barbus eutaenia)
Barotse Barb (Barbus barotseensis)
Hyphen Barb (Barbus bifrenatus)
Dashtail Barb (Barbus poechii)
Spottail Barb (Barbus afrovernayi)
Blackback Barb (Barbus barnardi)
Sicklefin Barb (Barbus haasianus)
Redspot Barb (Barbus kerstenii)
Line-spotted Barb (Barbus lineomaculatus)
Thamalakane Barb (Barbus thamalakanensis)
Slender Barb (Barbus unitaeniatus)
Upper Zambezi Labeo (Labeo lunatus)
Purple Labeo (Labeo congoro)
Manyame Labeo (Labeo altivelis)
Redeye Labeo (Labeo cylindricus)
Leaden Labeo (Labeo molybdinus)

Family Characidae

Striped Tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus)
Striped Robber (Brycinus lateralis)
Silver Tetra/Robber (Micralestes acutidens)
Okavango/Slender Robber (Rhabdalestes maunensis)

Family Distichodontidae

Nkupe (Distichodus mossambicus)
Chessa (Distichodus schenga)

Family Citharinidae

Dwarf Citharine (Hemigrammocharax machadoi)
Multibar Citharine (Hemigrammocharax multifasciatus)
Broadbar Citharine (Nannocharax macropterus)
Banded Neolebias (Nannocharax lozii)
No English name (Nannocharax dageti)

Family Hepsetidae

African Pike (Hepsetus odoe)

Family Claroteidae

Zambezi Grunter (Parauchenoglanis ngamensis)

Family Schilbeidae

Silver/Butter Catfish (Schilbe intermedius)
Yangambi Catfish (Schilbe yangambianus)

Family Amphiliidae

Common Mountain Catfish (Amphilius uranoscopus)
Spotted Sand Catlet (Leptoglanis rotundiceps)
Chobe Sand Catlet (Leptoglanis dorae)

Family Malapteruridae

Electric Catfish (Malapterurus shirensis)

Family Clariidae

Giant Cat-fish or Vundu (Heterobranchus longifilis)
Sharp-toothed Catfish (Clarias gariepinus)
Blunt-toothed Catfish (Clarias ngamensis)
Blotched Catfish (Clarias stappersii)
Okavango Catfish (Clarias dumerilii)
Snake Catfish (Clarias theodorae)
Broadhead Catfish (Clariallabes platyprosopos)

Family Mochokidae

Pongola Rock Catlet (Chiloglanis emarginatus)
Neumanns Rock Catlet (Chiloglanis neumanni)
Limpopo Rock Catlet (Chiloglanis pretoriae)
Leopard Squeaker (Synodontis leopardinus)
Largespot Squeaker (Synodontis macrostigma)
Largemouth Squeaker (Synodontis macrostoma)
Clouded Squeaker (Synodontis nebulosus)
Spotted Squeaker (Synodontis nigromaculatus)
Bubblebarb Squeaker (Synodontis thamalakanensis)
Upper Zambezi squeaker (Synodntis woosnami)
Finetooth Squeaker (Synodontis vanderwaali)
Brown Squeaker (Synodontis zambezensis)

Family Aplocheilidae

Kafue Killifish (Nothobranchius kafuensis)
Caprivi Killifish (Nothobranchius sp.)

Family Poeciliidae

Meshscaled Topminnow (Aplocheilichthys hutereaui) Johnston’s Topminnow (Aplocheilichthys johnstonii) Striped Topminnow (Aplocheilichthys katangae) No English name (Aplochelichthys sp.)

Family Mastacembelidae

Shorttail Spiny Eel (Mastacembelus frenatus)
Ocellated Spiny Eel (Mastacembelus vanderwaali)

Family Cichlidae

Banded jewel cichlid (Hemichromis elongates)
Threespot Tilapia (Oreochromis andersonii)
Kariba Tilapia (Oreochromis mortimeri)
Greenhead Tilapia (Oreochromis macrochir)
Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) [introduced]
Zambezi River Bream (Pharyngochromis acuticeps)
No English name (Pharyngochromis sp.)
Southern Mouthbrooder (Pseudocrenilabrus philander)
Rainbow Bream (Sargochromis carlottae)
Green Bream (Sargochromis codringtonii)
Pink Bream (Sargochromis giardi)
No English name (Sargochromis greenwoodi)
No English name (Sargochromis sp.)
Humpback Largemouth (Serranochromis altus)
Thinface largemouth (Serranochromis angusticeps)
Longfin Largemouth (Serranochromis longimanus)
Purpleface Largemouth (Serranochromis macrocephalus)
Yellow-belly Bream (Serranochromis robustus)
Brownspot largemouth (Serranochromis thumbergi)
Northern Redbreast Tilapia (Tilapia rendalli)
Sparrman's Bream (Tilapia sparrmanii)
Okavango Tilapia (Tilapia ruweti)

Family Anabantidae

Manyspined Climbing Perch (Ctenopoma multispinis)
Blackspot Climbing Perch (Microctenopoma intermedium)


Balon E K (1974) Fishes from the edge of Victoria Falls, Africa: demise of a physical barrier for downstream invasions. Copeia 1974:643–660.

Bell-Cross, G. (1972) The fish fauna of the Zambezi River system. Arnoldia (Rhodesia) 5(29) 1-19.

Bell-Cross G (1975), Revised by John Minshull (1990), The FishesMosi-oa-Tunya: A handbook of the Victoria Falls Region, Chapter 14.

Jubb R A (1964) Some fishes of the Zambezi, in Fagan, A Handbook of the Victoria Falls, Chapter 8

Marshall, B. E. (2000) Fishes of the Zambezi Basin. In Timberlake, J. (Ed.). Biodiversity of the Zambezi Basin wetlands. (pp. 393-460) Harare, Zimbabwe: Biodiversity Foundation for Africa, Bulawayo/The Zambezi Society.

Minshull J L (2010) What is the significance of Upper Zambezi fish in the Batoka Gorge below Victoria Falls? Afr J Aquatic Sci. 35:103–106.

Vaughan-Jones T G C (1954) Some fishes of the Zambezi, in Clarke, A Handbook of the Victoria Falls , Chapter 8

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'To The Victoria Falls' aims to bring you the wonder of the Victoria Falls through a look at its natural and human history.

This website has been developed using information researched from a wide variety of sources, including books, magazines and websites etc too numerous to mention or credit individually, although many key references are identified on our References page. Many of the images contained in this website have been sourced from old photographic postcards and publications and no infringement of copyright is intended. We warmly welcome any donations of photographs or information to this website.

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