The country’s national parks are rife with the creatures that visitors come to see: elephants, buffaloes, lions, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, monkeys, and a wide range of antelopes and smaller animals. For sheer numbers, Hwange National Park is the best park to visit, but Mana Pools, Chizarira, Matusadona, Gonarezhou and Zambezi National Parks also offer rewarding wildlife viewing.
Species that are unique to Zimbabwe, or found in only limited ranges elsewhere, include the rare nyala, which is found only in Gonarezhou and Mana Pools National Parks, the king cheetah in Gonarezhou, and the samango monkey in the Eastern Highlands.
Zimbabwe is also one of the last rhinoceros ranges, and both white and black rhinos are present, albeit in small numbers. The best and most accessible viewing is in Matobo National Park, but you also have a chance of seeing rhinos in Hwange and Matusadona National Parks, as well as in some privately owned conservancies.
The largest lizard in Zimbabwe is the leguaan, or water monitor, a docile creature that reaches over 2m in length, and swims and spends a lot of time lying around water holes, perhaps dreaming of being a crocodile. A smaller version, the savanna leguaan, inhabits kopjes and drier areas. Also present in large numbers are geckos, chameleons, legless snake lizards, rock-plated lizards and a host of other reptiles.
Although Southern Africa doesn’t enjoy the profusion of insect life found in countries further north, a few interesting specimens buzz, creep, and crawl around the place. Over 500 species of colourful butterflies – including the African monarch, the commodore and the citrus swallowtail – are resident, as are many fly-by-night moths.
Some of the more interesting buggy types include stick insects, frighteningly hairy baboon spiders and leggy chongalolos (millipedes).
Common insects such as ants, stink bugs, grasshoppers, mopane worms and locusts sometimes find their way into frying pans and are served as snacks and protein supplements .
Nuisance insects include malarial anopheles mosquitoes, which are profuse in the Zambezi Valley and the Zimbabwean lowveld, and the tsetse fly, which carries sleeping sickness and is found in the lowveld and around Zimbabwe’s Lake Kariba. There are also various stinging insects, such as the striped hornet, an evil-looking variety of house wasp.