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Canoe Guiding & the Zambezi

Elephants Viewed From Canoes

Study notes by Mark Muzimba


By the end of this document you should be able to talk about:

1] The Zambezi, rivers and water-related features

2] Types of animal found along the Zambezi

3] Types of bird found along the Zambezi

4] Fish in the Zambezi

5] Types of vegetation found in and along the Zambezi

6] Canoeing along the Zambezi

7] Camping along the Zambezi

The questions posed under the various headings are taken from Canoeing Special Papers

1] The Zambezi, rivers and water-related features

What are the differences between a river and a stream?

 A river is a large body of moving water body which often (but not always) flows throughout the year, following a permanent path. A stream is a small body of moving water, maybe narrow enough for a person to jump across it.

Types of Wetlands in Zimbabwe

1. Swamps or Dambos [mapani], in English, swamp or marshland, example is Chebvute inZvishavane. We have few swamps in Zimbabwe and the notable ones are Tsamtsa and Kwazulu swamps, both located in the low rainfall areas in the southern and northeastern parts of the country. The Binga swamp in the Goromonzi district is in danger of drying due to excessive utilization pressure.

2. Floodplains are associated with the major drainage systems and tend to be well developed in low lying flat areas. They are areas flooded by rivers when the river water is higher than usual and the river spreads beyond its normal banks. These are found along Zambezi valley and around the Save-Runde confluence in the southeast of the country.

3. Pans are depressions that seasonally collect and retain water from the surrounding higher ground. Most dry up in the winter. They can be saline in nature. They occur in the drier regions of the country. Example we have Tjolotjo Communal Areas in the western side and Hwange National Park and Gonarezhou National Park and Mwenezi in the southern district.

4. Springs are places where water bubbles up naturally from underground, causing the beginning of a stream. Occasionally you have hot springs arising from deep within the earth;s crust, e.g. Tunsa hot spring

 “One local folk law says that Zambezi River has a spirit called Nyami Nyami. What do the local people believe is the importance of the spirit?”

Nyami Nyami – represented at Kariba dam wall

The Nyami Nyami, a.k.a. the Zambezi River God or Zambezi Snake Spirit, is one of the most important gods of the Tonga people and is pictured as a great serpent-fish with the body of a snake and the torso of a fish. Nyami Nyami is believed to protect the Tonga people and give them sustenance in difficult times. Usually portrayed as male and as angered by the building of the Kariba Dam wall. Some members of the Tonga tribe believe that Nyami Nyami was separated from his wife during the dam wall construction. They say that he grows angrier with every passing year and it is just a matter of time before he unleashes his devastating power again so that he can be reunited with his wife

The Zambezi River heads towards Chirundu and beyond this the river is flanked by two wildlife areas. What are they?

Mana Pools National Park on the Zimbabwean side and Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambian side.

Name the two largest left-hand tributaries of the middle Zambezi River.

 Kafue River and Luangwa River

Where is Kanyemba Island and how did it receive its name?

It is in the border area where Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia meet. The place was used as a base for slave trading and is named after Josè Rosariò De Andrade, a successful prazo holder who was known as Kanyemba (“the ferocious”).

Which rivers forms the eastern and western boundaries of Mana Pools?

 Sap Rriver on the eastern side, Rukomichi River on the western side

Which river is the longest between the Congo and the Zambezi?

 The Congo River (The Zambezi is the 4th longest river in Africa.)

It is true that Tanzania is one of the basin countries of Zambezi? Yes

Name the two man-made lakes along the Zambezi.

Zambezi are Lake Kariba and Lake Cabora Bassa

What is considered as the boundary between the upper and lower Zambezi? Victoria Falls

2] Types of animal found along the Zambezi


A hippo can stay under water for about 5-6 minutes without coming out for air Its gestation period is 8 months.

Should a hippo submerge ahead of you and you are unsure of what and where it is going, what is the first thing you should do?

Stop where you are and tap under your canoe with your paddle. The hippo will come out to investigate and you will see where it is?

Explain how you would sneak past a hippo while canoeing.

You would use the safest path even if it means pulling out and carrying your canoes on land do it. Make the least possible noise. Give the hippo maximum respect.

Give a brief description of the social behaviour and disposition of a herd of hippo in the Zambezi.

Hippos are social animals living together under one dominant female and male. Young bulls remain in the group as long as they do not show mating interest. Pods will split to form small groups depending on availability of the pastures and water.


Where do crocodiles normally lay their eggs?

 They normally lay their eggs in a hole excavated in sand or in a mound nest constructed out of vegetation

Name the animals which normally destroy the eggs of crocodiles.

  • iguanas or water monitor lizards
  • vervet monkeys
  • honey badgers
  • baboons

What is the incubation period of crocodile eggs?

 3 months or 90 days

What are the three types of walk exhibited by crocodiles?

Galloping – for maximum speed, high walk – for rapid movement, scuttling belly – for sliding slowly e.g. into water

Give a brief explanation of the morphology of a crocodile?

  • Crocodiles have very strong laterally compressed tails & webbed hind feet (to assist in swimming and turning quickly in water)
  • Skull and jaws are solid. Strong, sharp peg-like teeth can pierce and maintain an effective hold on prey. Powerful muscles give it the strongest bite of any animal.
  • Nostrils, eyes and ears are placed high along the head and snout so that body can rest almost entirely underwater
  • Have very good vision in the dark and are mostly nocturnal hunters  
  • Back/tail skin is covered with keratinised scales, many reinforced with bony plates for protection. Flexible skin covers the neck and flanks.

Your clients are interested in crocodiles and they ask you to put meat in order to attract them. How would you assist them?

You explain that you will be unable to assist them as it is against all National Parks regulations to feed any animals and interfere with the balance of nature


Why is it that one normally sees a waterbuck on the grassy sand banks islands of the river but not an impala?

This is because the waterbuck is water dependent and cannot tolerate dehydration in hot months whilst an impala is not water dependent.


Give three reasons why frogs call

  • To proclaim their territory
  • To warn of danger
  • To attract mates

3] Types of bird found along the Zambezi

Scientific names of the following birds found along the Zambezi:

Bee-eater, Scarlet carmine Merops nubicoides

Bee-eater, Southern carmine Merops nubicoides

Flamingo, Greater Phoenicopterus roseus

Flamingo, Lesser Phoeniconaias minor

Heron, Black crowned night Nycticorax nycticorax

Heron, White backed night Calherodius leuconotus

Kingfisher Pygmy, Ispidina picta

Kingfisher, Brown-hooded Halcyon albiventris

Kingfisher, Grey-headed Halcyon leucocephala

Kingfisher, Malachite Corythornis cristatus

Kingfisher, Pied Ceryle rudis

Kingfisher, Woodland,  Halcyon senegalensis

Kingfisher, Giant Megaceryle maxima

Pelican, Great White Pelecanus onocrotalus

Sandgrouse, Double-banded Pterocles bicinctus

Stork, Marabou Leptoptilos crumenifer

Stork, Open billed Anastomus lamelligerus

Thick-knee Water Burhinus vermiculatus

Weaver, Spotted-backed Ploceus cucullatus

What are the differences between the African darter and reed cormorant?

African darter [Anhinga rufa]Reed cormorant [Microcarbo africanus]
Long, pointed beakShorter, hooked beak
Long neckShorter neck
Browner in colourMainly black in colour
Swims with only the neck outside the water hence the name snack birdSwims with more than half of the body above water
Has short tail as compared to cormorantsLong tail (hence its other name “long tailed cormorant”)
African darter swimming
Reed cormorant swimming

Which bird species is commonly found gathered around Lake Kariba’s shores where a soup of algae forms its excellent food source? Flamingos

What are the differences in nests of the African fish eagle and the spotted-backed weaver?

The African fish eagle and it nests in tall trees near water bodies, usually in the the fork of a tree. The nests is made up of sticks and reeds.

African fish eagle on its nest
Nest of the spotted-backed weaver
(also known as the village weaver or black-headed weaver)

You see holes on the river-banks and your clients asks you on what causes those holes.

Bee-eater nests in river bank

Bee-eaters – southern, northern and scarlet – nest in holes in the river bank.

Which bird do you see along Zambezi valley with the beak which do not close properly?

  1. Open billed stork. This is an adaptation for their feeding – the open part is used to break open the shells of crustaceans
  2. African skimmer – lower mandible much longer than upper for skimming water surface.
African open-billed stork
African Skimmer – short top mandible
African skimmer skimming

What is the largest river bird along Zambezi?

The white pelican

What is the largest stork that you could find along Zambezi River?

The marabou stork

Marabou stork

Which bird species head for water during sunset in large flocks?

Double-banded sandgrouse

Double-banded sandgrouse

Name two nocturnal birds you would expect to see along Zambezi River.

Black-crowned night heron
White-backed night heron

4] Fishing in the Zambezi

What are the scientific names of the following:

Tiger fish Hydrocynus vittatus

Nile tilapia Oreochronis niloticu

You are a professional canoe guide and your client wishes to fish from the bank in Mana Pools National Park. How would you assist him?

 I will advise him that the law says that no person shall fish in any waters except in terms of a fishing permit issued by the appropriate authority for the waters.

State any three ecological Implications which came after the introduction of Limnothrisa miodorn (kapenta) into Lake Kariba.

  • They caused a decline in the abundance of some large zooplankton species
  • Contributed to the decline of salvinia molesta
  • Threaten the lake’s endemic species

Why is oreochronis niloticus (tilapia) mostly favoured by fish farmers?

  • A species of high economic value
  • A fast growth rate
  • Can easily tolerate different environments
  • Omniverous but feeds mainly on plants

5] Vegetation along the Zambezi

What is riparian vegetation?

 Vegetation that occurs along riverbanks

What does the African wattle (Pettoforum africanum) and the rain tree (Lonchocarpus violaceus) have in common?

  • Water drips from the tree branches because spittle bug (Ptyelus grossus) congregate on the young shoots to suck the tree sap
  • Both trees are tall -flowers blooms on the end of the branches –
  • Both trees are semi deciduous to deciduous

Which indigenous trees are used to make out dug-out canoes?

Sausage tree, baobab (?),  mahogany, msasa

What are the uses of the baobab tree?

  • The hollow trunk is used to store water
  • The hollow trunk is used to make dug-out canoes
  • The bark is used to make mats and baskets
  • The seeds are roasted to makes coffee
  • Leaves are rich in iron, can be boiled and eaten like spinach

 Give another name for the combretum species which is also known as the river combretum.   River bushwillow

Two invasive aquatic weeds are the water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) and kariba weed (Salvinia molesta). What are the effects of these aquatic weeds?

Kariba weed
Kariba weed
  • Interfere with the flow of water systems
  • Cause a lot of water loss through evapo-transpiration
  • Block waterways and limit boat traffic, recreation, flood control and wildlife use.
  • Restrict fish movement and interfere with fishing operations
  • Produce a dense canopy at the water surface, shading out indigenous submersed plant specie
  • Can uproot native emergent species that are important to wildlife.
  • Change the water chemistry to favour harmful algae and bacteria.
  • Cause death of fish and other aquatic life death.

On the banks of rivers and dams where soil is hard-packed,a creeping type of grass grows that is sometimes the grass is used for lawns. What is the name of the grass?    Kikuyu Grass

Scientific name of Topedo grass? Panicum repens

6] Canoeing along Zambezi

When briefing your clients before a canoe trip what are the most important to points to discuss with the clients?

Hippos, crocodiles, submerged tree stumps and rocks, wind, sun

How many paddles should each canoe with two clients have as standard kit?  Three paddles

What are the advantages of using long canoes over short canoes?

  • Easy to control when you get them to speed
  • Move fast through water
  • They can carry heavy gear

What are the considerations you should take before you choose the best type of canoe to be used for canoeing?


  • Type of water on which the canoe trip is going to take place, for example flat water and white water
  • Canoe length
  • Canoe weight
  • Hull shape

Can you use plastic material to make canoe paddles?

Yes but we have to combine it with other materials

As a trainee canoe guide how many hours are you allowed to log per day and who should sign these hours for you?

 You are allowed to log 8 hours a day and a professional guide signs for you

Safety and 1st Aid

What are the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion?

  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Weakness.
  • Irritability.
  • Thirst.
  • Heavy sweating.
  • Elevated body temperature

What are the signs and symptoms of heat stroke?

  • Confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech.
  • Loss of consciousness (coma)
  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating.
  • Seizures.
  • Very high body temperature.
  • Fatal if treatment delayed.

As a canoe guide what equipment should you carry to ensure the safety of your client?

  • First-aid kit
  • Basic parts or repair kit (prop, prop pins, kill switch keys)
  • Extra paddle
  • Personal flotation device (1 per paddler)
  • Tow line (with throw bag)
  • Communication equipment – e.g. radio, cellphone
  • Compass or GPS
  • Signalling device(s)
  • Bailer/bilge pump
  • Fire starting equipment 
  • Knife &/or multi-tool
  • Headlamp/torch with spare batteries
  • Sun protection
  • Water bottles &/or water treatment method
  • Energy food (bars, trail mix) & drink (powdered)
  • Dry bag (for equipment that needs to stay dry)

You are with a group of clients where you are canoeing along Mutirikwi River and a wounded hippo is charging towards you. How will you react? Justify your action in light of the law.

Kill the hippo. According to Chapter 61 of the Parks and Wildlife Act, it is lawful to shoot or injure any animal in self-defence or defence of any clients.

7] Camping along the Zambezi

What are the three designated canoe sites on the river near Mana Pools National Park shoreline?

Vundu,  Chesa, Illala

You are canoeing down the Zambezi river and you are too late to go to designated canoe campsite to spend the night because of strong winds ahead of you. What would you do?

I will advise the nearest parks office and make some arrangements for a backup vehicle to come and take us to the designated site

When stopping for the night what are the important considerations for campsite selection

Choose a flat land -do not camp under lone dry trees -avoid obvious pathways

As a canoe guide running a trip how do you dispose the following waste materials?

  • Fire ash – bury
  • Vegetable waste – bury
  • Plastics, bottles and tins – take them back and dispose them in a proper bin
  • Human waste – bury, and burn toilet paper

When camping along a river what should you do the following to avoid contracting malaria?


  • Keep tents zipped up during the day, especially towards evening
  • Use mosquito nets
  • Use on-the-skin mosquito repellents
  • Burn mosi-repellant coils
  • Wear long sleeves shirts and trousers, especially in the evening

You are in an overnight designated canoe site at night. You hear shots fired about 3 kilometers away. What will you do?

 I will assure my clients that everything is ok. And I will not go to see what is happening because as a canoe guide I am not allowed to go more than 50 meters inland. I will notify the nearest National Parks office using the hand-held radio or cellphone.

In the river there is a floating hippo carcass, and your clients wish to go near it to take some photos. What would you do?

 I will not allow them to go there because the carcass attracts crocodiles and so it is a dangerous place to be.

Astronomy on the Zambezi

  • Planets that are visible at night with the naked eye are Mars, Mercury Venus Jupiter
  • The Southern Cross, or Crux is probably the most famous in the southern sky.  Points towards the south – an invaluable navigation tool
  • Constellations – Centaurus, Virgo, Canis Major, Scorpio, Pleiades or Seven Sisters, Sagittarius, Taurus, the Big Dipper, Pegasus, Orion and others depending on the season and the moon phase.
  • The Milky Way -The spiral arms of our galaxy can be seen arcing across the sky, particularly during the winter months when it passes almost directly overhead. 
  • The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are sister galaxies of the Milky Way – looking directly south on a clear night, two imperfections stand out against the clarity of the darkness. Early settlers considered them to be indicators of summer and wet weather when visible at night.

Paddy Pacey

Zimbabwean field guide and trainer of aspiring guides

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