Zimbabwe is home to a rich variety of flora and fauna, including 6,398 native or naturalized plant species, of which 232 plant species are endemic or near-endemic, 627 bird species, 270 mammals, 197 reptile species, 120 amphibian species and 145 fish species. Zimbabwe is also among the few countries in sub-Saharan Africa with rich populations of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus), and Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), as well as a steadily increasing rhino population. The protected area network covers approximately 106,837 km2 (27.2%) of Zimbabwe’s land mass and harbours most of the country’s biodiversity [1].

The country contains seven wetlands of international importance or Ramsar sites – Mana Pools, Cleveland Dam, Driefontein grasslands, Monavale wetland, Lakes Chivero and Manyame, Chinhoyi Caves Recreational Park and Victoria Falls National Park – which cover a total area of over 450,000 ha. These sites are not only crucial for the sustenance of communities and wildlife but are also important destinations for tourism and recreation [1].

About 35% of Zimbabwe’s total land area is covered by forests. 49 forests fall under the protected area network, and of these 22 have been gazetted for the protection of indigenous forests. These forests are managed by the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe [1]. According to the Forestry Commission, the country is losing on average 330,000 hectares of forest land per year. This can be attributed to agricultural expansion and tobacco curing, over reliance on fuel wood energy, greater demand for human settlement, uncontrolled veld fires and invasive alien species, among others [2].

Historically, the country is renowned for its biodiversity protection, conservation and sustainable utilization. Over the last few decades, however, biodiversity in Zimbabwe has come under increasing pressure from a multitude of threats, including climate change, overexploitation of natural resources, habitat loss and environmental degradation, pollution and invasive alien species.

Although data available are still insufficient to assess with certainty the extent of species loss, a total of 54 plant species, 20 bird species, 11 mammal species, 5 reptiles, 7 amphibians and 3 fish species are threatened with extinction, according to the country’s 6th National Report to the CBD [1].  


In Zimbabwe, the threats to biodiversity include agricultural expansion, infrastructural development and encroachment by settlements, over-reliance on wood energy, illegal wildlife trade, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change. Deforestation is largely driven by agricultural expansion and reliance on wood energy [1]. Unsustainable agricultural activities, resources extraction and veld fires are the major threats to wetlands [2].

More than 150 non-native species have been identified in Zimbabwe, including 30 that are listed among the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species. Those harmful to biodiversity in Zimbabwe include Lantana camara, black wattle (Acacia mearnsii), Nile tilapia (Oreochromis nilotucus), patula or spreading-leaved pine (Pinus patula) and water hyacinth (Eicchornia crassipes) [1].

Zimbabwe is also facing an unprecedented rise in poaching and illegal wildlife trade which threatens to destroy the country’s rich wildlife resource base. Poaching is threatening the survival of elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, lions, and hippos, among others [2].


Key policies and governance approach

Zimbabwe is party to several multilateral environmental agreements related to the protection of biodiversity, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), having signed the convention in June 1992 and ratified it in November 1994 [1].

Zimbabwe developed its first National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), which covered the period 2000-2010, in 1998, and adopted its second NBSAP (or NBSAP2) in 2014 [1]. The overarching five strategic objectives of NBSAP2 are: (i)  Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society; (ii)  Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; (iii) Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; (iv) Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and (v) Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building. A total of 18 targets aligned with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were adopted, with associated indicators, as well as a monitoring framework. The Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate is the lead and coordinating agency for the implementation of NBSAP2. The ministry will, however, depend on various stakeholders for the actual implementation [3].

The main mechanism for conserving biodiversity in Zimbabwe has been the creation of protected areas. About 106,837 km2 (27.2%) of Zimbabwe’s landmass falls under protected areas, comprising 232 sites. National parks, wildlife estates and gazetted forests comprise 14.9% of the country’s protected area network, conservancies 1.9% and CAMPFIRE areas 11.2%. The country has 11 national parks – Chimanimani, Chizarira, Gonarezhou, Hwange, Kazuma Pan, Mana Pools, Matobo, Matusadona, Nyanga, Victoria Falls and Zambezi – which are managed and run by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) [1].

The ZPWMA has the mandate to manage the entire wildlife population of Zimbabwe [2] and operates under an Act of Parliament, the Parks and Wild Life Act of 1975 [4]. The Act is the principle regulatory framework for the management and exploitation of wildlife resources in Zimbabwe [5]. In 2020, the Government gazetted Statutory Instrument No. 71 and 72 as part of efforts to strengthen the Parks and Wild Life Act to deal with poaching and illegal trafficking of endangered species that include pangolins [2].

At the regional level, Zimbabwe is party to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement, which aims at establishing a common framework for conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in the region [1].


Successes and remaining challenges

The policy and legal framework of Zimbabwe is supportive of the implementation of environmental protection and biodiversity conservation measures. However, as outlined in Zimbabwe's Sixth National Report to the CBD, the effective implementation of most of the measures adopted in the NBSAP2 has been hindered largely by insufficient funding and limited institutional and human resources. Additionally, collaboration and coordination among the various institutions and organizations in the sector needs to be strengthened. Adequate financial support and reinforcement of institutional and human resources capacities are essential requirements for achieving the national targets.

Although constrained by inadequate financing and limited institutional and human capacity, various measures and activities for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation have been promoted and carried out across Zimbabwe and there has been notable progress towards some of the targets adopted in NBSAP2. For instance, a broad range of biodiversity awareness activities using a variety of communication methods have been supported and implemented, and although the number of veld fires has increased, there has been a decrease in area burnt per year. However, despite some progress towards national targets, implementation has been largely insufficient [1].


Initiatives and Development Plans

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) is involved in wetlands protection and utilisation projects across the country including the Nyamuenda Wetland in Nyanga; Domborutinhira in Mutasa; Muvhami Wetland in Makonde; Songore Wetland in Murehwa; and the Njovo wetlands in Masvingo, among others. In addition to the conservation of wetlands, local communities are benefiting from market gardening and fish farming [2].


[1], [3]

  • Adequate financial support and reinforcement of institutional and human resources capacities are essential requirements for achieving the national targets.
  • Facilitate resource mobilization training for stakeholders, especially communities and NGOs.
  • Ensure access to international funding through participation in global thematic initiatives and regional programmes through the Southern African Development Community.
  • Pursue domestic funding, especially from the government and private sector and communities through the public-private-community partnerships (PPCPs).
  • Carry out training in biodiversity and ecosystem service valuation and environmental reporting and accounting.
  • Collaboration and coordination among the various institutions and organizations in the sector needs to be strengthened.
  • Continue efforts to mainstream biodiversity across government and society.
  • A lack of information about biodiversity and ecosystems conservation and management was identified during the development of the NBSAP.  Research is required to address this shortcoming.