(1) Zimbabwe is facing a deforestation crisis

  • ‘Deforestation’ is the purposeful clearing of forest and other woody vegetation, including woodland and thicket.
  • Yalew (2015) identified Zimbabwe as ranking first – or worst – amongst sub-Saharan African countries in terms of the proportion of woody vegetation lost between 1990 and 2007. At a national scale this averaged to about 1.8% every year.
  • Data in the FAO’s global Forest Resources Assessment in 2016 showed that Zimbabwe was amongst the top ten countries globally in terms of the area of woody vegetation lost annually.
  • Between 2010 and 2015, Zimbabwe lost >310,000 ha every year, as much as the DRC, a much larger country. The rate of loss was ten times that of the DRC.

(2) Zimbabwe supports an exceptionally diverse range of woody vegetation-habitat types, each of which supports a distinctive bird community

  • The structure, composition and functioning of woody vegetation varies greatly – naturally – across the country and the composition of bird communities varies in response to this.
  • For example, the bird communities living in the evergreen forests of the Eastern Districts are quite distinct from those inhabiting gusu woodlands in the northwest.

(3) The Mashonaland Plateau and drier parts of the Central Watershed support distinctive bird communities which are poorly represented in the conservation estate

(4) Woody vegetation varies – naturally – within landscapes

  • The structure, composition and functioning of woody vegetation varies greatly – naturally – within landscapes, too.
  • For example, the tall, dense woody habitats confined to the banks of rivers supports bird species not found elsewhere in the landscape.

(5) Woody habitats are also threatened by conversion

  • In addition to their wholesale clearance for agriculture and other development, dense woody habitats are lost when some trees are logged. This thins the canopy and, for example, dense woodland is converted to open savannah.
  • This happens, for example, through the collection of fuelwood, or large trees for building materials.

(6) Woody habitats are threatened inside the conservation estate

  • Woody habitats continue to be lost from the conservation estate, too. A combination of dense elephant populations, fire and severe drought – probably as a result of climate change – convert tall, dense woodland to short, open shrubland.

(7) We need better understanding of (i) how woody vegetation varies within landscapes, and (ii) how different bird species respond to this

  • The natural patterns of variation in woody vegetation-habitats are complex within landscapes and require detailed description.
  • This is challenging – and time-consuming and costly – using fieldwork. However, remote sensing approaches, using satellite imagery, are developing rapidly.
  • While we know reasonably well how bird species are distributed across Zimbabwe, we need to develop understanding of how different species are affected by the variation within landscapes.
  • For example, while some species are willing to move over large distances in search of the right habitat, others do not, and are most susceptible to woody habitat loss. We need to know which species will not move across inhospitable parts of landscapes in search of habitat patches.

Some further reading

Cizek A.F. (2021) Quantifying threats to the avifauna of wooded habitats in Zimbabwe: The Wooded Habitat Specialists Point Record Survey. Honeyguide 67(2): 63-75. | Or download document referenced in Honeyguide directly (PDF)

FAO, 2016. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015. How are the World’s Forests Changing, Second edition. UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome; see

Tafangenyasha, C. (1997). Tree loss in the Gonarezhou National Park (Zimbabwe) between 1970 and 1983. Journal of Environmental Management 49: 355–366.

Tafangenyasha, C. (2001). Decline of the mountain acacia, Brachystegia glaucescens in Gonarezhou National Park, southeast Zimbabwe. Journal of Environmental Management 63: 37-50.

Yalew A. (2015). The perplex of deforestation in sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of Tropical Forestry and Environment 5: 19-30.

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