Chimanimani Mountains (Zimbabwe)

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
The Chimanimani mountains form the southernmost part of the chain of mountains along the Zimbabwe–Mozambique border. The village of Chimanimani lies c.125 km south of Mutare and is part of Chimanimani District. The mountains are a series of parallel ridges, 19 km wide and running north–south for 40 km. The greater part of the mountains lie in Mozambique. Most of the Zimbabwean part lies within the Chimanimani National Park (171 km²). The mountains are only accessible through a series of footpaths, and the area is popular with hikers and mountaineers.

The topography is extremely rugged, with ranges of jagged peaks and deep ravines. The main plateau is at an altitude of 1,500–1,800 m, with peaks reaching 2,400 m and dropping to 320 m in deep gorges and river valleys. The northern part of the mountains is deeply bisected by the Mussapa river flowing eastwards into Mozambique through the Mussapa Gap. The Haroni and Bundi rivers run north–south, joining with the Rusitu river before turning east to Mozambique at 312 m.

The mountains intercept warm moist air from Mozambique and the orographic rainfall can be in excess of 1,500 mm per year on windward slopes. There are frequent mists. Winter frosts are common on the plateau. The soils are white sands with a very low water-holding capacity and low fertility. The Chimanimanis form an important link between the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa through to Nyanga and the mountains in Malawi and East Africa.

The plateau is covered in grassland, with montane forest in the sheltered valleys where there is sufficient groundwater. The mid-altitude forests are best developed on the Mozambican side. Dry montane forests occur up to 1,500 m or higher in sheltered places and are characterized by trees of Schefflera, Ilex, Macaranga, Maesa, Podocarpus, Widdringtonia and Syzygium. Strelitzia and Cyathea occur along streams. The lower-altitude forests in the valleys have not been well studied.

The grasslands are natural, partly maintained through hydromorphic conditions and partly by wildfires. Phillipia and Protea scrub is interspersed among the grassland on the plateau. Fire is a major factor influencing the vegetation on the plateau. On the drier slopes the grassland and forest change rapidly into miombo woodland with Brachystegia and Uapaca as the dominant trees. Part of the commercial farm bordering the west of the park has dense wattle Acacia thickets. There are extensive commercial forests of pine and wattle plantations throughout the district.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. A total of 186 species are known from the site. The mountains hold three species of global conservation concern and two restricted-range species, as well as species characteristic of three biomes. Nectarinia veroxii was recently observed, but may just be a vagrant. The Chimanimanis are the type-locality for four montane or restricted-range subspecies.

Non-bird biodiversity: Recent collections have indicated that there are 50–60 endemic plants, including five species of endemic Aloe. The Chimanimanis contain several endemic or restricted-range amphibian taxa: Bufo fenoulheti grindleyi, Rana johnstoni, Strongylopus grayi, Arthroleptis troglodytes and A. xenodactyloides. The snake Bitis atropos is fairly common in the montane grassland.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
In the national park, the Zimbabwean side of the Chimanimanis is under no particular threat, except through increased tourist use. This has resulted in litter, unwanted wildfires and soil erosion of footpaths. A second more insidious threat is to the aquatic ecosystems, through the past introduction of non-native trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss, Salmo trutta) to the Bundi river for sport fishing. Current research in the Cape suggests that these fish are highly detrimental to native aquatic animals. Given the high biological importance of the Chimanimani mountains, these fish should be removed from the Bundi river system by Zimbabwean National Parks authorities.

On the Mozambican side there is formal protection in only two forest reserves. The high plateau containing many of the biologically important endemic species is not protected. An international national park was proposed in the 1970s and again in the 1990s, covering 850 km². It is not known whether the authorities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique will implement this plan.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Chimanimani Mountains (Zimbabwe). Downloaded from on 17/06/2021.