Minimizing the ecological effects of hiking in Zambia

Even nature lovers have potentially dangerous implications for the environment: recent studies have found camp trails treaded by hikers lose roughly 50% of vegetation cover, which in turn damages local ecosystems. Fortunately, Zambia benefits from a dedicated community of ecotourism focused on the region’s abundant wildlife and plant diversity. To conserve local ecosystems, backpackers can take key steps for environmental protection: both in sub-Saharan Africa and globally.

Carry In, Carry Out

Like most national parks, the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls stresses a ‘carry in, carry out’ policy to usher environmental protection onto the area. This means that there are limited trash receptacles throughout the park’s landscape, and visitors are responsible for removing their garbage upon leaving the premises. To minimize waste, you should use a backpack suited to your body type so that you have space to carry and store prepared food, alongside garbage accumulated throughout the trip. For longer treks, plan on buying food in bulk so that you will have enough nutrients to sustain you during hikes under the sub-Saharan sun.  

Keep fires contained

In Zambia, the climate is often hot and dry, which is why it’s important to only use fires in picnic and park areas designated for fire pits by the Zambian government. This will prevent the accidental spread of forest fires, which are caustic to local ecosystems and obviously quite dangerous for travelers. When gathering round the campfire, you should keep fires small and have water supply ready to put on a fire in the event it grows to large to handle.

Trust the professionals

Most hikes in national parks in Zambia, including the Zambia side of Victoria Falls, are conducted with the leadership of a guided professional. Generally, the guided leader is armed for protection against the park’s roaming animal life, including elephants, lions, and snakes. Therefore, it’s important to trust the input you receive from your tour guide: for your own protection, but also for the protection of wildlife throughout the area. Often, in smaller national parts such as Malawi, visitors will opt to explore the parks independently, as animal predators pose less of a threat. In these instances, it’s absolutely important to know your route and stick to it, as you will likely lose cellphone service/WIFI reception during your trek. 

Practical considerations

Depending on your background and level experience, there are practical considerations to hiking in Africa that you may not be familiar with from treks in American and Western Europe. The biggest emphasis is on the sun: Zambia’s climate sees temperatures regularly rising above 30°C, with the European / American summer season (Zambian winter) seeing no rainfall. Visitors will need to bring sun protection and ample water supply to protect against dehydration. It is also important to bring currency in Zambian Kwacha, although many popular tourist destinations accept foreign currency such as USD. 

Ecotourism brings backpackers peace of mind in knowing that, by taking key steps towards environmental protection, they are helping to protect local integrity on a social and ecological level. Through these shared efforts, we can work to minimize carbon impact when traveling: an endeavour that respects the livelihood of Zambia’s rich cultural and environmental history.

Written by Jennifer Drake