Sites - Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs)
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Ithala Game Reserve
South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal
31o 25.00' East 27o 30.00' South
A1, A3, A4i
350 - 1,550m
Year of IBA assessment
BirdLife South Africa
Summary Ithala Game Reserve is located 15 km from Louwsburg in the rolling hills south of the Pongola River. Drainage lines and deep valleys, extending predominantly north-south, and opening mostly into the Pongola River basin, cleave the area. The reserve is known to support over 300 bird species. The riverine forest contains Half-collared Kingfisher Alcedo semitorquata and the mountainous cliffs also hold a colony of Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus.
Site description Itala Game Reserve is located 15 km from Louwsburg in the rolling hills south of the Pongola river. Drainage lines and deep valleys, extending predominantly north–south, and opening mostly into the Pongola river basin, cleave the area. This results in an extremely varied topography and rugged terrain, with steep rocky cliff-faces and deep gorges dissected by numerous streams with a network of pools. The area varies in altitude from 350 m at the Pongola river to 1,550 m on the plateau to the west of Louwsburg.
Three woodland-types are recognized: one is found in the valley bottoms, another at intermediate altitudes, and the third on the highest plateau. The lowland community is dominated by trees of Acacia, Combretum, Ficus and Albizia. The middleveld also holds Acacia and Combretum (especially on stony hill-slopes), as well as Faurea, Protea, Pavetta and Cussonia. Along the watercourses Combretum, Ziziphus, Rhus and Catha are found. The region on the high plateau, above 1,250 m, is open and treeless and dominated by grass. Bulbous geophytes are common and the shrub community is dominated by Euclea and Leucosidea.
Key Biodiversity See Box and Table 3 for key species. The reserve is known to support over 300 bird species. This diversity can be attributed to the reserve’s ecotonal nature and the variety of habitats it supports. The riverine forest provides habitat for many of the more secretive, river-dependent species such as Podica senegalensis, Gorsachius leuconotus and Alcedo semitorquata. The mountainous cliffs hold a colony of Geronticus calvus. Several large raptor species that are rare outside South Africa’s large parks occur here, including Gyps africanus, Torgos tracheliotus, Polemaetus bellicosus, Terathopius ecaudatus and Aquila rapax. Bucorvus cafer, Neotis denhami, Eupodotis senegalensis and Tyto capensis occur in the grassland areas in small numbers. The thicket and forest areas support Poicephalus cryptoxanthus and Telophorus quadricolor, both East African Coast specials.
Non-bird biodiversity: Several mammal species have been reintroduced here, including Ceratotherium simum (LR/cd), Diceros bicornis (CR), Loxodonta africana (EN) and Acinonyx jubatus (VU), and there is a naturally occurring population of Hyaena brunnea (LR/nt).