The Luangwa Valley is home to three near-endemic species, the Cooksons wildebeest, Crawshays zebra and Thornicrofts giraffe (there are other isolated populations of these subspecies elsewhere or some limited dispersal has historically occurred e.g. Cooksons wildebeest moving out of the valley and onto the central plateau of Malawi). All three of these species have been isolated in the Luangwa Valley for an extended period of time and as a result have developed unique features that distinguish them from their nominal or type species.
Crawshays zebra is a subspecies of the plains zebra and is native to eastern Zambia, east of the Luangwa River, Malawi, southeastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique south to the Gorongosa district. Its distinguishing feature separating it from other subspecies of plains zebra is that its lower incisors lack an infundibulum, the funnel like centre of a tooth filled with cementum and capped with enamel. Crawshays zebra are an extremely striking subspecies characterised by a lack of shadow stripes, their stripes continue onto the underbelly and they have an intricate grid-iron like pattern on their rumps at the base of the tail.
Cooksons wildebeest, one of the five a subspecies of the blue wildebeest (Eastern white-bearded wildebeest, Nyassaland wildebeest, Western white-bearded wildebeest, Blue wildebeest) is restricted to the Luangwa Valley, Zambia and occasionally individuals may wander into the plains region of central Malawi. Cooksons wildebeest have a lighter coat than blue wildebeest and have dark vertical bars on their flanks making them attractive for a wildebeest! Unlike other wildebeest, Cooksons wildebeest are relatively sedentary and their seasonal movements predominantly occur within the North and South Luangwa National Parks which enhances their protection.
The Thornicrofts giraffe is considered a conspecific ecotype (a distinct geographic variety, population or race of a species) of the Masai giraffe, one of the four currently recognised giraffe species (Southern giraffe, Masai giraffe, Reticulated giraffe, Northern giraffe). A distinguishing feature of Thornicrofts giraffe are a lack of markings on their lower legs which gives them the appearance of wearing a pair of socks.