Area: 68 km2
Criteria: (vii) aesthetic; (ix) ecological processes
Values: This is perhaps Africa's single most outstanding feature, and one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. The Zambezi River, which is more than two kilometres wide at this point, plunges 108m into a narrow chasm and noisily down a series of basalt gorges. The world heritage site covers both banks of the Zambezi River, including the Victoria Falls National Park on the Zimbabwe side and the Mosi-ao Tunya National Park in Zambia. When the river is in full flood in February and March, it forms the world's largest sheet of falling water with some 540 million cubic meters of water per minute pouring over the edge and creating a spray plume which is visible 20km away. The local name for the falls - Mosi-oa-Tunya - means the ‘smoke that thunders', a suitable description for a place that stirs every sense.
The specific attributes which qualify this site for world heritage status can be summarised as follows:
Spectacular waterfall in pristine natural setting. One of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, where the mighty Zambezi plunges over a sheer precipice almost two kilometres wide and falls 108 metres into a series of spectacular gorges. At peak flow, this is the world's largest curtain of falling water, creating a plume of spray that rises 500 m into the air and can be seen 20 km away. The continuous spray provides sufficient water to maintain a strip of rainforest on the cliff-tops opposite the falls, and the pristine natural beauty of the place owes much to the riverine environment on either side of the falls. Above the falls the Zambezi flows relatively slowly, creating a series of wide channels and islands, with woodlands along its banks inhabited by a diversity of typical African megafauna - elephants, buffalo, giraffe, zebra and the like. Below the falls, the river plunges through a zig-zag series of sheer basalt gorges.
Ongoing geological process. The falls represent a stage in a geological process that has been ongoing for some two million years, involving the Zambezi River cutting through east-west fissures in the basalt plateau, forming a series of retreating falls. The zig-zag series of gorges below the present falls indicate the location of seven previous waterfalls, and the Devil's Cataract (at the western end of the present falls) represents the start of the cutting back to an eighth location. The gorge system below the falls continues for some 110 km, with 16 km of this included within the world heritage property.
Slideshow of the Mosi-oa-Tunya / Victoria Falls world heritage site.
CONSERVATION STATUS AND PROSPECTS: The Mosi-oa-tunya / Victoria Falls is one of Africa's greatest natural spectacles and already receives a correspondingly large number of visitors from around the world. The immediate vicinity of the falls is protected within three adjoining national parks which ensure that visitors can appreciate its natural values in a pristine, un-spoilt setting. These remarkable qualities, which distinguish this site from some of the world's other major waterfalls, will be challenged as visitor numbers and development pressures increase. Effective regulation and control of tourism development pressures, especially the development of physical infrastructure too close to the falls, will be the single greatest challenge for site managers. MANAGEMENT EFFECTIVENESS: Compared with similar sites elsewhere in the world, the Mosi-oa-tunya / Victoria Falls park complex retains its sense of nature's raw power, its aesthetic values and wilderness qualities remarkably well. However, protection and management programmes are severely constrained by budget and staffing limitations. Tourism revenues do not appear to be retained and re-invested at the property. Despite a series of thorough (donor-funded) reviews of strategic management needs initiated in