Chirinda Forest is the southernmost area of tropical rainforest in Africa, covering the two rounded hilltops of Mount Selinda. Chirinda is administered by the Forestry Commission. It is situated 30 km south of Chipinge town, and is easily accessible along a tar road. It is one of the best researched forests in Zimbabwe, with scientific collections of flora and fauna being made as early as 1900.Mount Selinda rises to 1,200 m altitude from the surrounding plateau and Mozambican coastal plain. Being the only high ground from there to the Indian Ocean 200 km away to the east, it is frequently covered in cloud and mist and receives about 1,400 mm of orographic rain per year. The mists are important as the extra moisture, often occurring in the dry season, permits forest species to survive in an area which would otherwise be too dry for them. Chirinda Forest covers 950 ha, of which 606 ha is moist forest and the remainder bushland or woodland. The forest covers the south and south-eastern slopes that receive the moisture, being replaced by dense woodland on the drier northern slopes.Chirinda is classified as a mid-altitude or submontane forest and is a representative of a type that was previously widespread throughout the Eastern Highlands. It is an island surrounded by a sea of agricultural land. The forest has a well-developed structure, with the canopy reaching 40–55 m high. The dominant trees are Chrysophyllum, Craibia and Trichilia, with occasional emergents of Khaya, Lovoa and Ficus. The shrub layer is dominated by Dracaena. The woody species represent largely a mixture of elements from Afromontane and East African coastal forests, with some West African and Congo forest affinities.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Chirinda’s avifauna (73 species regularly occur) is unusual as it is a mixture of high- and medium/low-altitude forest species. Chirinda is the type-locality for the globally threatened Swynnertonia swynnertoni and also for 11 subspecies of forest/woodland bird.
Non-bird biodiversity: Chirinda contains a giant specimen of Khaya anthotheca (VU), known as the Big Tree, measuring 54 m high and 5.25 m circumference around the base. The Big Tree is considered to be not less than 1,000 years old and is a National Monument. Notable mammals are Aethomys silidensis, Uranomys ruddi, Mysorex cafer, Petrodomus tetradactylus swynnertoni (type-locality) and Paraxerus palliatus swynnertoni (endemic race).
As with the birds, Chirinda is important in the distribution of forest reptiles and amphibians because it is intermediate between high and low altitudes. The montane forest herpetofauna is represented by Rhampholeon marshalli and Strongylopus grayii. The East African lowland herpetofauna is represented by Bitis gabonica, Naja melanoleuca, Dendroaspis angusticeps, Natriciteres sylvatica, Dasypeltis medici, Stephopaedes anotis (type-locality), Arthroleptis xendactyloides (type-locality) and Leptopelis flavomaculatus. Chirinda is also the type-locality for Hyperolius marmoratus swynnertoni.Among butterflies, there is one known endemic, Mimacrea neokoton, and two species with very restricted ranges, Anthene sheppardi and Pentila swynnertoni.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Chirinda Forest is threatened by the increasing number of people surrounding it. Poaching (of birds and Cephalophus monticola) and firewood collection are likely to have an increasingly adverse effect on the forest. The forest is too small for any sustainable utilization of the timber, although limited use of forest plants for traditional medicines could be sustained. The only long-term chance of conserving the forest (as with elsewhere in the Eastern Highlands) is through increasing its public profile. This could be done through promoting its educational and aesthetic values, thereby attracting greater numbers of visitors. The local community could then derive some direct economic benefits from the Forest.