Western Region, Bulawayo


Natural History Museum: Natural History


Natutral History Museum-Bulawayo

The Natural History Museums of Zimbabwe came into being in 1901 as the Rhodesian Museum. It was renamed the National Museum in 1936, and eventually renamed Natural History of Zimbabwe in 1981. The museum is the largest in the country and is a circular building with four floors surrounding a central courtyard.

The museum, which opened its doors to the public in March 1964, is located in the Centenary Park, south of the city centre (Bulawayo).

The Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe houses all the Natural Sciences Departments, as well as the most extensive and informative exhibitions on both the natural and cultural history of the country. The research and public gallery areas are housed on four floors of the circular building with a central courtyard. The public displays are housed on the ground and first floors; the Library, Administration and Monuments departments on the mezzanine floor, Education on the ground floor and most of the research departments on the lower ground floor. A cafeteria service is also available on the lower ground floor next to the lecture hall.

Victoria Falls World Heritage Site



Western Region Departments

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 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.

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).

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.

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.

Further Departments

Archaeology and Monuments

This department is responsible for among other things, the identification, documentation, preservation and maintenance of archaeological and national monuments in the Western Region, a region that stretches from the Limpopo to the Zambezi and from the Botswana border in the west to a few kilometres from Shangani town along the Bulawayo – Gweru road. The concern of the department is to ensure that the public has access to Information on as many archaeological, historic, geological and scenic sites, as possible. Some of the notable sites in the region include Khami, Victoria Falls, the historic Old Bulawayo and several rock art sites in the Matopo Hills World Heritage Site.

Although fish specimens from Central Africa have been collected and stored in Museums of Europe and America from as far back as 1840, it was not until the 1960s that an official Honorary Curator of Ichthyology was appointed to establish and consolidate the (taxonomy) which is the theory and practice of describing, naming and classifying organisms and nomenclature of fresh water Fishes of Zimbabwe. Over the years, numerous collecting expeditions were undertaken and a National Fish collection built up. Today the Collection consists over 6033 specimens carefully preserved, identified as far as possible and recorded. These include the Coelacanth Lsitimeria chalumnae, which is the sole living representative of a very ancient vertebrate group and provides us with an invaluable window into the past. The discovery of Coelacanth Lsitimeria chalumnae fish, thought to be extinct for 70 million years, in Chalumnae River surprised scientists all over the world.

Heritage Education
The Natural History Museum and the Historical Archaeological Sites in the Western Region of Zimbabwe are a superb teaching aid for all levels of education. Most of the displays in the museum galleries highlight a lot of aspects in the syllabuses of both primary and secondary schools. The Heritage Education Service helps to interpret the various displays in the museum through study directives, which are available to either organized groups of individual students. Groups are encouraged to make arrangements for their visits well in advance. The Heritage Education Service responds to request by schools, clubs and other educational groups to help in study and interpretation of National Monuments in the Region. Such fieldwork is encouraged because it invariably complements work undertaken in the Museum Galleries and back at schools.

Collections Management
The department was established in 1998. Management involves taking care of the collections and data associated with the collections. The collections need to be preserved from the moment they are collected up to when they are out in the proper storage areas, Data associated with the collections is captured in Accession Registers and processes which the specimens undergo are documented. All the information is computerized so that the data is easy to maintain and update. There is need for the collection to be accessible to researchers and to the public. The department loans specimens to institutions who request for them for purposes of exhibitions, education and research. The department was phased out in 2010. Each department in the NMMZ is expected to do collections management for itself.

The books, journals and historical material held in the library are the major source of information, not only for research undertaken within the museum, but also for other scientific and educational activities within and outside Zimbabwe. This is not a public library but a special library, set up by the organisation, in this case, the Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe, to serve the information needs of its staff. Permission to make use of the library’s resources by outside research workers may be obtained from the Regional Director or the Senior Librarian.

There are over 6000 books 700 journal titles, 2000 reprints and photocopies of papers and 1000 pamphlets. The material is purchased, exchanged or received as donations.
The Library offers a wide range of services from which all museum staff/departments, other museums and institutions in Zimbabwe, and other countries benefit.
The Natural History Museum Library participates actively in the Southern African Inter- Library lending scheme, which is based at the State library in Pretoria.

In its support of the research work done at the museum, the library is not merely a storehouse of book but an active supplier of information vital to the work of the Natural History Museum, and indeed other similar research organisations.

Focus of Exhibitions


Monuments And Sites

Khami World Heritage Site

Khami World Heritage Site

Khami National Monument and a World Heritage Site is the predecessor of the famous Great Zimbabwe and is only 22.5km west of Bulawayo along the Khami road. The site comprises a series of breathtaking terraces that give the impression of a wedding cake. The site has the longest decorated stonewall in the whole country and is the successor to Great Zimbabwe. Excellent picnic facilities exist and the place is ideal for group visits.

Victoria Falls World Heritage Site
The Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya-smoke that thunders) is one of the great natural resource features of the world situated on the Zambezi River, which separates Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Falls which are, by any measure, truly awe-inspiring are some 340km north-west of Bulawayo and 560km due west of Harare in the town of Victoria Falls. The length of the Falls, at over 1700 metres, makes it one of the widest in the world and the depth of the Falls, at over 100 metres provides a magnificent spectacle, especially when the river is in spate. In recognition of its special world position, UNESCO declared Victoria Falls a World Heritage Site in 1989. Victoria Falls still possesses it wilderness value, the spectacular gorges and the Rain Forest which all provide a unique experience to the visitor.

Ko Bulawayo

Old Bulawayo site-Beehive Structures

The first city of Bulawayo that was built for King Lobengula, the second and last king of the Ndebele people before it shifted to the present city. Established in 1870, Old Bulawayo is about 22km south of Bulawayo along Mtshabezi road, which turns west off Douglasdale road. The major attractions include the unique Zulu architecture, the Indaba tree, the intra-settlement pattern and the nearby Jesuit Mission.



Matobo Hills World Heritage Site
The Matobo Hills are located in the Matebeleland South Province, in south western Zimbabwe. This diverse and dynamic cultural landscape forms part of the granite complex, which stretches to the Zimbabwe/Botswana border in the west, and merges with the Mbalabala granite pluton in the east. The spatial extent of the Matobo Hills World Heritage Site is 3100 sq km. The significance of the Matobo Hills is summarised as follows:

  • The intrinsic values of the cultural landscape of the Matobo Hills World Heritage Site stem from the way the cultural beliefs of people over many millennia have been inspired and influenced by its rock formations and associated features, and particular species of fauna and flora.
  • Interaction between people and the landscape began at least 500 000 years ago. Within the last 10 000 years, rock paintings of outstanding beauty and intricate detail recorded how people obtained spiritual power from the landscape, trees and from animals such as the kudu, giraffe, elephant and termites.
  • Strong religious beliefs fostered by the landscape continue to play an important role in contemporary communities. Some date to at least 2000 years ago and are based on rock formations, pools, trees and certain animals in rain-making, fertility, cleansing, burial, shielding and healing ceremonies. The Mwari religion, for example, regards the Matobo rocks as the seat of God and of ancestral spirits. The intangible heritage associated with the shrines is one of the most powerful living cultural traditions in Southern Africa and attracts pilgrims from all over the region.
  • In recent times the synergy of landscape and beliefs has led to the choice of the Matobo Hills for the memorialization of historical figures, such as King Mzilikazi, Cecil John Rhodes and Leander Starr Jameson, and events such as World War II, the Shangani Battle and the Rhodes Indaba.
  • The combination of the unique values of the Matobo Hills contributes to the economic empowerment of local communities. They generate income from employment opportunities in conservation management, tourism and accommodation, and from selling curios. Mutual benefits such as cutting of grass in the Park for thatching and stock fodder create good relationships with local communities.


Contact Us

Western Region Contact
Regional Director

Leopold Takawira/Park Lane, Centenary Park RD
PO Box 240, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

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Fax:     +263-9-234019