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The Limpopo River rises in central southern Africa, and flows generally eastwards to the Indian Ocean. The term Limpopo is the isiZulu version of the original Sepedi name diphororo tša meetse, meaning "gushing strong waterfalls". The river is approximately 1,750 kilometres (1,087 mi) long, with a drainage basin 415,000 square kilometres (160,200 sq mi) in size. The mean discharge measured over a year is 170 m3/s (6,200 cu ft/s) at its mouth.[1] The Limpopo is the second largest river in Africa that drains to the Indian Ocean, after the Zambezi River.

Limpopo River
Limpopo River in Mozambique
Countries South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique
Source confluence Marico and Crocodile
 - location Botswana/South Africa border
 - elevation 872 m (2,861 ft)
Mouth Indian Ocean
 - location Gaza Province, Mozambique
Length 1,750 km (1,087 mi)
Basin 415,000 km2 (160,232 sq mi)
 - average 170 m3/s (6,003 cu ft/s)
Limpopo River basin map.svg
Course and watershed of the Limpopo River
The Limpopo river as seen from Crook's Corner in the Kruger National Park. Straight ahead of the river is Mozambique. Across the river is Zimbabwe.
Limpopo River is located in Mozambique
Limpopo River
Limpopo River
Location of the Limpopo River's mouth

The first European to sight the river was Vasco da Gama, who anchored off its mouth in 1498 and named it Espiritu Santo River. Its lower course was explored by St Vincent Whitshed Erskine in 1868–69, and Captain J F Elton travelled down its middle course in 1870.

The drainage area of Limpopo River has decreased over geological time. Up to Late Pliocene or Pleistocene times the upper course of Zambezi River drained into the Limpopo River.[2] The change of the drainage divide is the result of epeirogenic movement that uplifted the surface north of present-day Limpopo River diverting waters into Zambezi River.[3]



The Limpopo River flows in a great arc, first zigzagging north and then north-east, then turning east and finally south-east. It serves as a border for about 640 kilometres (398 mi), separating South Africa to the southeast from Botswana to the northwest and Zimbabwe to the north. Two of its tributaries, the Marico River and the Crocodile River join, at which point the name changes to Limpopo River. There are several rapids as the river falls off Southern Africa's inland escarpment.

The Notwane River is a major tributary of the Limpopo, rising on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana and flowing in a north-easterly direction.[4] The main tributary of the Limpopo, the Olifants River (Elephant River), contributes around 1,233 million m3 of water per year.[5] Other major tributaries include the Shashe River, Mzingwane River, Crocodile River, Mwenezi River and Luvuvhu River.[6]

In the north-eastern corner of South Africa the river borders the Kruger National Park.

The port town of Xai-Xai, Mozambique is on the river near the mouth. Below the Olifants, the river is permanently navigable to the sea, though a sandbar prevents access by large ships except at high tide.


Basin characteristicsEdit

The waters of the Limpopo flow sluggishly, with considerable silt content. Rainfall is seasonal and unreliable: in dry years, the upper parts of the river flow for 40 days or less. The upper part of the drainage basin, in the Kalahari Desert, is arid but conditions become less arid further downriver. The next reaches drain the Waterberg Massif, a biome of semi-deciduous forest and low-density human population.[7] About 14 million people live in the Limpopo basin. The fertile lowlands support a denser population. Flooding during the rainy season is an occasional problem in the lower reaches. During February 2000 heavy rainfalls (due to a cyclone) caused the catastrophic 2000 Mozambique flood.

The highest concentration of hippopotamus in the Limpopo River is found between the Mokolo and the Mogalakwena Rivers.[8]

There is a lot of mining activity in the Limpopo River basin with about 1,900 mines, not counting about 1,700 abandoned mines.[9]


Vasco da Gama on his first expedition, was probably among the first Europeans to sight the river, when he anchored off the mouth in 1498. However, there has been human habitation in the region since time immemorial — sites in the Makapans Valley near Mokopane contain Australopithecus fossils from 3.5 million years ago. St Vincent Whitshed Erskine, later Surveyor General for South Africa, traveled to the mouth of the river in 1868-69.[10]

Sign at the viewing deck of the Limpopo River at Mapungubwe National Park, South Africa, featuring a quote from Rudyard Kipling

The British author Rudyard Kipling popularized the Limpopo in his short story "The Elephant's Child", in the Just So Stories, in which he described "the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees," where the "Bi-Coloured Python Rock-Snake" dwells.[11]

A Zambezi shark (Carcharhinus leucas) was caught hundreds of kilometres upriver at the confluence of the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers in July 1950. Zambezi sharks tolerate fresh water and can travel far up the Limpopo.[12]

In 2013, approximately 15,000 crocodiles were released into the Limpopo River from flood gates at the nearby Rakwena Crocodile Farm.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Nakayama, Mikiyasu (2003). International Waters in Southern Africa. United Nations University Press. p. 9. ISBN 92-808-1077-4. ; online at Google Books
  2. ^ Goudie, A.S. (2005). "The drainage of Africa since the Cretaceous". Geomorphology. 67: 437–456. 
  3. ^ Moore, A.E. (1999). "A reapprisal of epeirogenic flexure axes in southern Africa". South African Journal of Geology. 102 (4): 363–376. 
  4. ^ The Notwane River, Botswana[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Görgens, A.H.M. and Boroto, R.A. 1997. Limpopo River: flow balance anomalies, surprises and implications for integrated water resources management. In: Proceedings of the 8th South African National Hydrology Symposium, Pretoria, South Africa.
  6. ^ Major rivers and streams within the Limpopo River Basin
  7. ^ C.Michael Hogan, Mark L. Cooke and Helen Murray, The Waterberg Biosphere, Lumina Technologies, May 22, 2006. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-03-24. Retrieved 2006-12-23. 
  8. ^ State of Rivers Report: the Mokolo River
  9. ^ Mines in the Limpopo River basin
  10. ^ Erskine, Vincent W. (1869). "Journey of Exploration to the Mouth of the River Limpopo". The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London. 39: 233–276. doi:10.2307/1798552. 
  11. ^ The Elephant's Child, Rudyard Kipling
  12. ^ Pienaar, U. de V., The Freshwater Fishes of the Kruger National Park, Koedoe Vol 11, No 1 (1968)
  13. ^

External linksEdit