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Location Tanzania, Mbeya,Rukwa
Central coordinates 32o 52.00' East  8o 11.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A4i, A4iii
Area 600,000 ha
Altitude 800 m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

Site description The Rukwa trough is a blocked branch of the Western Rift Valley. It lies parallel to Lake Tanganyika and is connected to the rift in the north-west by the flood-plain of Katavi National Park (TZ002) and the Karema Gap. The valley lies at an elevation of 790 m and is enclosed on both sides by escarpments. To the south-west the land rises steeply to 2,664 m on the Ufipa plateau and to the north-east in a series of smaller scarps and rolling hills to 1,707 m at Mount Sange. The lake has no outlets. Water-levels fluctuate widely with a grassy plain often separating the valley into two lakes, both of which may dry out completely following several years of low rainfall. The lake level is presently higher than at any other time in living memory, having been steadily rising since the 1960s. There is usually an impressive wetland of papyrus Cyperus papyrus and reed Phragmites at the northern end of the lake where the Rungwa river and a number of smaller streams form a wide, shallow delta.

Key Biodiversity See Box for key species. Most information derives from a species list compiled in the 1950s which details 363 species. Eight species of global conservation concern have been recorded but, as all data refer to the 1950s, their current status is unknown. Falco naumanni was described as a frequent passage migrant, Circus macrourus as an abundant winter visitor, Crex crex as an occasional passage migrant, Gallinago media as a frequent winter visitor and Glareola nordmanni a rare visitor. Grus carunculatus was a frequent resident, but increased water-levels probably now mean that it is a rare bird. There are a few records of Balaeniceps rex. Phoenicopterus minor is only likely to be a visitor to the site, especially given higher water-levels and lower alkalinity. Historically, attempts at breeding have been described.The Rukwa valley is the southernmost point of the Somali–Masai biome (three species occur; see Table 3) and represents the southern limit for several species’ ranges in East Africa, including Struthio camelus. The records of Botaurus stellaris represent the most northerly distribution of the southern African population while a flock of six Ciconia nigra may be among the most southerly records of this Palearctic winter visitor. Generally rare species in Tanzania known from this site include Falco vespertinus and Porzana pusilla and it is one of the few localities where both Campethera bennettii and Campethera nubica are sympatric. Mirafra albicauda rukwensis was described from the Lake Rukwa grasslands. Ploceus reichardi may still be locally common in lakeside habitat.

Non-bird biodiversity: A number of large mammals occur, including Kobus vardoni (LR/cd). Loxodonta africana (EN) probably still occurs. There is an endemic fish Oreochromis rukwaensis.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis winter  1955  abundant  A4i  Least Concern 
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus winter  1955  abundant  A4i  Least Concern 
Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus winter  1955  40,000-60,000 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus winter  1995  11,906 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris winter  1995  1,500 individuals  A1, A4i  Near Threatened 
A4iii Species group - waterbirds winter  50,000-99,999 individuals  unknown  A4iii   

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Lukwati Game Controlled Area 200,000 protected area overlaps with site 100,000  
Mlela Game Controlled Area 30,000,000 protected area is adjacent to site 0  
Rukwa Game Controlled Area 40,000,000 protected area overlaps with site 200,000  
Uwanda Game Reserve 50,000,000 protected area overlaps with site 400,000  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial   3%
Wetlands (inland)   75%
Shrubland   14%
Forest   6%

Land use

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

References Albrecht (1964), Baker (1997), Beesley (1956), Britton (1980), Condry (1967), Dean (1963), Gunn (1954), Hughes and Hughes (1992), Rodgers (1978), Rodgers (1982), Vesey-FitzGerald (1954, 1957a, b, c), Vesey-FitzGerald and Beesley (1960).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Lake Rukwa. Downloaded from on 24/10/2016

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