Collection of reptiles and amphibians (collectively herpetofauna) for inclusion into the museum collections started in 1907. Despite this, the Herpetology department did not come into being until 1956, with a complement of some 1000 specimens. Numerous expeditions in Zimbabwe; into Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique; bequests, donations and exchanges have seen the collection grow to over 60 000 specimens, with some 72 primary types. Consequently, the department now holds what is arguably the most comprehensive sub-Saharan African collection on reptiles and amphibians.
All the material in the department has been properly documented and preserved. Preservation is done using either a liquid preservative (wet collection) or dried up specimens (the dry collection). The wet collection constitutes over 90% of the collection. Two liquid preservatives are employed: 70% ethyl alcohol and 5% formalin. The latter preservative is used for snakes and amphibian eggs and tadpoles, while the rest of the collection is in alcohol. The dry collection consists of tanned, fat skins, and osteological material. All the Varanids (monitor lizards) are preserved as stuffed skins, while the turtles are mainly in the form of shells.
The earlier allusion to the superb stature of the collection is borne out by the numerous publications that have emanated from it, and yet still more publications being derived there-from. The Department’s publications have been mostly on taxonomy and zoogeography. The comparative nature of the collection has allowed for the development of an identification service for other departments institutions and the public in general.