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Location Swaziland, Hhohho
Central coordinates 31o 5.00' East  26o 6.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A2, A3
Area 18,000 ha
Altitude 670 - 1,837m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Site description This reserve is located in north-western Swaziland, between the border towns of Bulembu and Ngwenya, along the eastern Drakensberg escarpment of southern Africa. The western boundary of the reserve forms the border with South Africa, abutting on Songimvelo Nature Reserve (IBA ZA017). Havelock Mine and Swaziland Plantations own the land north of the reserve and the eastern boundary runs close to the main Mbabane/Pigg’s Peak road. Within the reserve lie some of the oldest sedimentary rocks known, c.3,600 million years in age. The site is dominated by the rugged mountains of the Silotfwane, Mgwayiza and Ngwenya ranges, including two of Swaziland’s highest peaks, Ngwenya (1,837 m) and Silotfwane (1,680 m), as well as its highest waterfall, Malolotja Falls. Steep valleys and gorges cut into this mountain escarpment, while deep river valleys and gentle rolling grassland plains dominate the adjacent landscape.Sour highland grassveld covers the gently undulating hills and slopes interspersed with narrow drainage lines. Scrubby vegetation occurs patchily along clear, fast-flowing mountain streams. Mountain slopes contain thornveld, and there are a few Protea bushes on Ngwenya Mountain. The valley slopes contain savanna trees and shrubs. Forests are restricted to the more mesic valleys. Also present are rocky outcrops, as well as open rock cliffs that form part of the Drakensberg escarpment.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. To date c.290 species have been recorded in the reserve. Malolotja holds suitable habitat for many important grassland-dependent species. This is the only reserve in Swaziland where Hirundo atrocaerulea occurs regularly. Pairs breed along the eastern boundary of the reserve near the entrance gate. The rolling primary grassland is restricted to the eastern sector of the reserve; further west the geology changes and the topography becomes steeper, more dissected and unsuitable for this species. Geronticus calvus breeds regularly at Malolotja Falls, and irregularly at a small number of satellite sites. They are often observed foraging in burnt grassland. Grus paradisea was formerly an altitudinal migrant in Swaziland; three pairs bred in Malolotja Vlei, She Mine area and Mhlangamphepha Valley. However, this species is now extinct in Swaziland, since there has been no sign of it since 1994 despite several searches (Monadjem et al. in prep.).Francolinus levaillantoides, Neotis denhami and Sarothrura affinis are breeding residents that are virtually restricted, in Swaziland, to Malolotja Nature Reserve. Other grassland species of concern include Vanellus melanopterus, Turnix hottentotta and Schoenicola brevirostris. Francolinus shelleyi is a fairly common resident in the foothills of the Malolotja Valley.The moist vleis hold Circus ranivorus and Tyto capensis, as well as Balearica regulorum formerly, but this species has now been extinct in Swaziland for over a decade (Monadjem et al. in prep.). The riverine and Afromontane forests in the reserve hold Tauraco corythaix, Lioptilus nigricapillus, Cossypha dichroa, Telophorus olivaceus and Serinus scotops. Two previously unknown species, Zoothera gurneyi (a first for Swaziland) and Cercotrichas signata, were found in the isolated Mgwayiza mist-belt forest north of the Nkomati river in 1998 (this forest is the site of a proposed chert mine). Geocolaptes olivaceus and Saxicola bifasciata are found on exposed rocky grassland slopes where Monticola explorator occurs as a winter visitor. The small patches of Protea bushes on Ngwenya Mountain hold a few Promerops gurneyi. Buteo oreophilus has been recorded nearby and may frequent the reserve as a non-breeding migrant.

Non-bird biodiversity: The cycads Encephalartos lanatus (Rare), E. paucidentatus (VU) and E. laevifolius (EN) are protected here. All three species are extremely rare and localized, and much sought after by collectors for cultivation. The small tree, Cassipourea swaziensis (EN), virtually restricted to western Swaziland, occurs in the reserve. Among mammals, Ourebia ourebi (LR/cd), confined in eastern South Africa and Swaziland to the grassland areas of the high-altitude escarpment, occurs here, Connochaetes gnou (LR/cd) and Damaliscus dorcas phillipsi (LR/cd) have been reintroduced to the reserve, and the southern African endemics Myosorex varius, Suncus infinitesimus, Amblysomus hottentotus and Pelea capreolus also occur.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus resident  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Striped Flufftail Sarothrura affinis resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Knysna Turaco Tauraco corythaix resident  1998  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 
Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus resident  present  A1  Least Concern 
Olive Bush-shrike Telophorus olivaceus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea breeding  present  A1, A3  Vulnerable 
Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler Phylloscopus ruficapilla resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Bush Blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus resident  1998  present  A1, A2, A3  Near Threatened 
Orange Ground-thrush Zoothera gurneyi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Chorister Robin-chat Cossypha dichroa resident  1998  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 
Brown Scrub-robin Erythropygia signata resident  1998  present  A2  Least Concern 
Buff-streaked Chat Oenanthe bifasciata resident  1998  present  A1, A3  Least Concern 
Gurney's Sugarbird Promerops gurneyi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Swee Waxbill Estrilda melanotis resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Forest Canary Serinus scotops resident  1998  present  A2  Least Concern 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Malolotja Nature Reserve 18,175 protected area contains site 18,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Shrubland   12%
Forest   87%

Land use

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

References Allan et al. (1987), Anon. (1987), Boycott and Monadjem (1998), Monadjem et al. (in prep.), Evans (1998), Parker (1994), Snell (1963, 1969, 1970, 1979), Tucker (1957).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Malolotja Nature Reserve. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016

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