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Location Namibia, Caprivi
Central coordinates 20o 37.00' East  18o 18.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A3, A4i
Area 24,462 ha
Altitude 500 - 1,000m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Site description This IBA includes the portion of the Kavango river in north-eastern Namibia between Andara Mission and the Botswana border at the western end of the Caprivi Strip. The IBA includes the Mahango Game Reserve, which essentially consists of the vast flood-plain along the Kavango river (the start of the panhandle of the Okavango Swamps) and its associated riverine forests and woodlands. Once the Kavango river leaves Namibia it flows into and creates the Okavango Delta in Botswana. High water occurs in April from rains in the highlands of Angola, and floods usually reach heights of 3–4 m above the low-level water in November. This flooding is essential for the functioning of all aquatic systems along the river. The climate can be divided into two distinct seasons—a dry season between April and November, and a shorter wet season from the end of November to early April. The monthly average maximum temperature is 30°C and about 80% of the region’s rain (550–600 mm per year) falls between October and April.

Vegetation along the river is extremely diverse with 869 species from 88 families so far recognized, about 25% more species-rich than the delta itself. The vegetated dunes that dominate the topography away from the river include extensive dry woodlands. Dominant trees of the riparian woodland include Garcinia, Sclerocarya, Diospyros, Acacia and Grewia. The vegetation of the dunes is dominated by mixed Pterocarpus, Ricinodendron, Ziziphus and dense stands of Baikiaea and Baphia shrubs. The riparian vegetation is of particular importance. In Namibia, riparian woodland is increasingly rare as it is mostly destroyed during human settlement. The flood-plain comprises reedbeds, swamps, open flooded grasslands and papyrus Cyperus. Two conspicuous species on the edge of the flood-plain are the palm Phoenix and baobab Adansonia.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Table 3 for key species. The reserve’s most important feature is the flood-plain, which is critical habitat for breeding wetland bird species. About two-thirds of Namibia’s bird species have been recorded in Mahango, and it boasts the highest species diversity in Namibia, the result of a diversity of both wetland and tropical terrestrial species. The flood-plain supports important populations of rare wetland birds including Egretta vinaceigula, Grus carunculatus, Ardeola rufiventris, Pelecanus rufescens, Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, Microparra capensis, Vanellus albiceps, V. crassirostris, Glareola pratincola, Macronyx ameliae and Circus pygargus. The riverbanks and rocks hold Glareola nuchalis and Rynchops flavirostris, while the fringing riparian vegetation supports Scotopelia peli and Gorsachius leuconotus. The surrounding grassveld also holds Palearctic migrants, including Glareola nordmanni.

Non-bird biodiversity: This is the second most species-rich area for mammals in Namibia, with 99 species. Threatened mammals occurring in the reserve include Lycaon pictus (EN), Loxodonta africana (EN), and Lutra maculicollis (VU), which requires pristine aquatic habitat. The frog Phrynomantis affinis, with only five specimens known, occurs here. About 71 species of fish occur in the Kavango river, including two threatened species.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Slaty Egret Egretta vinaceigula resident  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Slaty Egret Egretta vinaceigula winter  15-100 individuals  A1, A4i  Vulnerable 
Dickinson's Kestrel Falco dickinsoni resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus resident  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni winter  200-300 individuals  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
Coppery-tailed Coucal Centropus cupreicaudus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Racquet-tailed Roller Coracias spatulatus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Bradfield's Hornbill Lophoceros bradfieldi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Rufous-bellied Tit Parus rufiventris resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Chirping Cisticola Cisticola pipiens resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Black-lored Babbler Turdoides melanops resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Angola Babbler Turdoides hartlaubii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Sharp-tailed Glossy-starling Lamprotornis acuticaudus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Meves's Glossy-starling Lamprotornis mevesii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Kurrichane Thrush Turdus libonyanus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-headed Black-chat Myrmecocichla arnoti resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-breasted Sunbird Nectarinia talatala resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Brown Firefinch Lagonosticta nitidula resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Bwabwata Game Park 633,307 protected area contains site 24,462  
Mahango Game Reserve Reserve 24,462 is identical to site 24,462  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Shrubland   38%
Grassland   62%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
fisheries/aquaculture -
nature conservation and research -
tourism/recreation -

References Curtis and Appleton (1987), Griffin and Channing (1991), Hines (1987), Merron and Bruton (1989), Skelton and Merron (1987).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Mahango Game Reserve and Kavango river. Downloaded from on 23/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife