Limpopo River
The Limpopo River rises in central southern Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, and flows generally eastwards to the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...

. It is around 1750 kilometres (1,087 mi) long, with a drainage basin
Drainage basin
A drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean...

 415000 square kilometres (160,232.4 sq mi) in size. Its mean annual discharge
Discharge (hydrology)
In hydrology, discharge is the volume rate of water flow, including any suspended solids , dissolved chemical species and/or biologic material , which is transported through a given cross-sectional area...

 is 170 m³/s (6,200 cu ft/s) at its mouth. The Limpopo is the second largest river
A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including...

 in Africa that drains to the Indian Ocean, after the Zambezi River.


The Limpopo river flows in a great arc, first zigzagging north and then northeast, then turning east and finally southeast. Then it serves as a border for about 640 kilometres (398 mi), separating South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 to the southeast from Botswana
Botswana, officially the Republic of Botswana , is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa. The citizens are referred to as "Batswana" . Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name after becoming independent within the Commonwealth on 30 September 1966...

 to the northwest and Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in the southern part of the African continent, between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. It is bordered by South Africa to the south, Botswana to the southwest, Zambia and a tip of Namibia to the northwest and Mozambique to the east. Zimbabwe has three...

 to the north. There are several rapids as the river falls off Southern Africa's inland escarpment
An escarpment is a steep slope or long cliff that occurs from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations.-Description and variants:...

. In fact where the Marico River
Marico River
Marico River, the river starts of as some small river systems join forces, in the North West and become the Groot-Marico River for a short distance its called Madikwene River, after that it becomes the Marico River, just before it drains into the Molatedi Dam, then it becomes the border between...

 and the Crocodile River
Crocodile River (West)
Crocodile River , has its source in the Witwatersrand mountain range, originates in Constantia Kloof, Roodepoort, Gauteng province, South Africa. The first dam it encounters is a private dam known as the Heia Safari Ranch Dam just west of the Lanseria Airport. Just north of this airport the Jukskei...

 join the name changes to Limpopo River.

The main tributary of the Limpopo, the Olifants River (Elephant River), contributes around 1,233 mm3 of water per year. Other major tributaries include the Shashe River
Shashe River
The Shashe River is a major left-bank tributary of the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe.It rises northwest of Francistown, Botswana and flows into the Limpopo River where Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa meet, site of the Shalimpo Transfrontier Conservation Area.- Hydrology :The Shashe River is a...

, Mzingwane River
Mzingwane River
The Mzingwane River is a major left-bank tributary of the Limpopo River in Zimbabwe.It rises near Fort Usher, Matobo District, south of Bulawayo and flows into the Limpopo River near Beitbridge, downstream of the mouth of the Shashe River and upstream of the mouth of the Bubye River.- Hydrology...

, Crocodile River, Mwenezi River
Mwenezi River
Mwenezi River is a major tributary of the Limpopo River. The Mwenezi River starts up in south central Zimbabwe and flows south-east along what is known as the Mwenezi River Vally that bisects the district into two sectors.. The river is found in both Zimbabwe and Mozambique...

 and Luvuhu River.

The port town of Xai-xai
Xai-Xai is a city in the south of Mozambique. It is the capital of Gaza Province. As of 2007 it has a population of 116,343 -Portuguese rule:...

, Mozambique
Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique , is a country in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west and Swaziland and South Africa to the southwest...

 is on the river near the mouth. Below the Olifants, the river is permanently navigable to the sea, though a sandbar
Bar (landform)
A shoal, sandbar , or gravelbar is a somewhat linear landform within or extending into a body of water, typically composed of sand, silt or small pebbles. A spit or sandspit is a type of shoal...

 prevents access by large ships except at high tide.

At the north-eastern corner of South Africa the river borders Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers and extends from north to south and from east to west.To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is...

. Tributaries such as the Oliphants River flow through the park.

Basin characteristics

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 is arid, in the Kalahari Desert, but conditions become less arid further down the river. The next reaches drain the Waterberg
Waterberg can refer to two articles about an area in Namibia:* Waterberg Biosphere* Waterberg National Park...

 massif, a biome
Biomes are climatically and geographically defined as similar climatic conditions on the Earth, such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms, and are often referred to as ecosystems. Some parts of the earth have more or less the same kind of abiotic and biotic factors spread over a...

 of semi-deciduous forest and low-density human population. The fertile lower reaches support a dense population. Floods after the rainy season are an occasional problem in the lower reaches, most notably the catastrophic floods in February 2000
2000 Mozambique flood
The 2000 Mozambique flood was a natural disaster that occurred in February and March 2000. The catastrophic flooding was caused by heavy rainfall that lasted for five weeks and made many homeless. Approximately 800 people were killed. 1,400 km² of arable land was affected and 20,000 head of...

 - caused by heavy rainfall due to a cyclone.

About 14 million people live in the Limpopo basin.


Someone from the crew of the ship of Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama, 1st Count of Vidigueira was a Portuguese explorer, one of the most successful in the Age of Discovery and the commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India...

 was probably the first European to sight the river, when his first expedition 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
Mokopane , is a town in the Limpopo province of South Africa. The town was established by the Voortrekkers and named Potgietersrus after the slain Voortrekker leader Piet Potgieter...

 contain Australopithecus
Australopithecus is a genus of hominids that is now extinct. From the evidence gathered by palaeontologists and archaeologists, it appears that the Australopithecus genus evolved in eastern Africa around 4 million years ago before spreading throughout the continent and eventually becoming extinct...

 fossils from 3.5 million years ago.
It is also noted that Daniel Tosh
Daniel Tosh
Daniel Dwight Tosh is an American stand-up comedian and host of the Comedy Central television show, Tosh.0.-Personal life:...

 was baptised in this river.
The Limpopo was immortalized in the short story "The Elephant's Child" by British author Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

, in the Just So Stories
Just So Stories
The Just So Stories for Little Children were written by British author Rudyard Kipling. They are highly fantasised origin stories and are among Kipling's best known works.-Description:...

where it is described as "the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees
Acacia xanthophloea
Acacia xanthophloea is a tree in the Fabaceae family and is commonly known in English as the Fever Tree . This species of Acacia is native to eastern and southern Africa. It can be found in Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe...

," where the "Bi-Coloured Python Rock-Snake" dwells.


Two studies of the Limpopo River by the Environment and Production Technology Division at the Food Policy Research Institute
International Food Policy Research Institute
The International Food Policy Research Institute is an international agricultural research center founded in the early 1970s to improve the understanding of national agricultural and food policies to promote the adoption of innovations in agricultural technology...

] (IFPRI): Climate change implications for water resources in the Limpopo River Basin and Green and blue water accounting in the Limpopo and Nile Basins.

See also

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