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Ethno-Archaelogical Assessments

Geology and Paleontology

This is the oldest department at the Natural History Museum, having been established in 1901. The geological collections and displays are ranked among the best in Africa. They consist of approximately 12000 specimens comprising or rock and mineral specimens, and petrological samples. Some of the minerals are considered to be the finest of their kind in the world, for example kermesite specimen and wide variety of rare lead or zinc minerals.

The palaeontological collections and displays are not very large since they consist of approximately 2000 specimens of plants and vertebrates. Various Karoo flora and fauna are present from the Madumabisa Mudstone Formation including glossoptris, basal therapsids which are an important lineage to mammals. The Forest Sandstone yielded two types of dinosaurs Syntarsus rhodesiensis and Vulcanodon karibaensis and also the dinasaurs Euskelosaurus and Massospondylus (which is the most common dinasaur in Southern Africa), and all of which are of prime importance in the understanding of the early evolution of archosaurs and birds. Other archosaur maerial present from the Pebbly Arkose and the Jurassic – Cretaceous sediments and it includesrhycosaurs, sauropods and dinosaur footprints. Vertebrate remains from the Quaternary sediments are also present.


The Ornithological (Bird) Collection at the Natural History Museum dates back to the turn of the century and specimens obtained in those early days are still in existence. The Ornithological collection is one of the most comprehensive study collections in the world. With specimens collected in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Angola as well as South and East Africa.

Specimens have been added to the Ornithological Collection over the years and there are now an estimated 110 000 study skins, 2000 skeletons, 8000 clutches of eggs and 150 nests in the collection. The department also houses close to 42 000 breeding records for the birds of Zimbabwe. A comprehensive bibliographic index to the birds of Africa is maintained in the department and this supplements the wide selection of regional and international ornithological and other scientific journals available in the Museum Library. As a result this has become one of the most important reference collections with representative samples of most of the bird species of Zimbabwe and Africa south of the Sahara. Various research projects have been carried out on the collection or parts of it by local and international researchers. Current research focuses on the theme “Birds and man” and includes work on alien bird species introduced by man and the effects of various cultural beliefs and practices on bird conservation.


The Arachnid Department has been in operation at the Natural History Museum since1983, so it is a rather young department. Over 95% of the collection is from Zimbabwe with a few specimens from the neighbouring countries. Today we have a sizeable catalogued collection with well over 15000 Araneae specimen lots (spiders), 5000 Scorpiones (Scorpions), 1000 Solifugae (sunspiders) and many Acari (ticks and mites) Amblypygyi (whipscorpions), Pseudoscorpiones (false scorpions) Opiliones (harvestmen), Chilopoda (centipedes) and Diplopoda (millipedes/tshongololos).

Current research in the department focuses on the scorpions and spiders, by the museum and various members of the public that the distribution and taxonomy of many of our scorpions are relatively well known. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the spiders and despite their ecological importance, they are little studied in Zimbabwe. Only 200 species of spiders have been recorded in the literature as occurring in Zimbabwe. This is a fraction of what does occur, and total is probably closer to 6000 spider species.


The collection of mammals is the largest on the African continent, and as of 1984, was rated as the eighth largest in the world. It includes a large representation of extinct mammals from Botswana. Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Significant collections from Malawi, Namibia and South Africa are also preserved. The collection has been partially computerized and compiles a total of approximately 100 000 scientific specimens. Research and activities over the past two decades have focused on small mammals, especially bats. The collection of bats now exceeds 10 000 specimens, with a research focus on the systematics, biogeography and life histories of selected groups. The mammal collection continues to grow with approximately 1000 new specimens accessioned each year.


The Entomology Department of the Natural History Museum in Zimbabwe was established in 1911, and to date holds the largest collection of insects in the country. The department maintains a valuable representative collection of the insect fauna of the country and the sub-Sahara Afrotropical region. The origins of the collection also spans to Madagascar. There are more than two million insect specimens and these are represented by over 50 000 species. The collection is predominantly rich in well taxonomically characterised orders of Lepidoptera, Odonata, Orthoptera, Isoptera, Coleoptera, Nueorptera, Diptera (Tephritidae) and Hemiptera. The Odonata part of the collection is the most complelte and extensive collection in Africa and is followed by the Lepidopteran order. To add value to the collection, the department contains over 3 000inawxr rypw apwximwna – those used in original description and to which species name are formally and permanently attached. Given this strength, the museum has become a major centre for the provision of biosystematics services and research as well as conservation of invertebrate biological diversity in Africa. The specimens are acquired through museum field expeditions and donations from research scientists, students, private collectors and the general public. About 0,06% of the insect specimens are on public displays in the galleries and the rest are housed in the laboratory. Most of the specimens are preserved as dry-pinned insects in wooden drawers and a few in alcohol and permanent slide mounts.


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.