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Location South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal
Central coordinates 32o 17.00' East  27o 40.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A2, A3, A4i
Area 36,474 ha
Altitude 30 - 480m
Year of IBA assessment 1998

BirdLife South Africa

Summary The Mkuze Game Reserve is situated on the subtropical Moçambique coastal plain. The topography of the area is mainly flat or gently undulating and intersected by seasonal drainage lines alternating with low ridges. Mkuze Game Reserve supports about 420 species of birds, the richest area for its size in the whole of South Africa.

Site description Mkuzi Game Reserve is situated on the subtropical Mozambique coastal plain, c.330 km north of Durban and c.110 km north of Mtubatuba. The topography of the area is mainly flat or gently undulating, and is intersected by seasonal drainage lines alternating with low ridges. The western sector, which comprises the foothills of the Lebombo mountains, is rugged. The Mkuze river flows through an impressive gorge in the Lebombo mountains; the lower end of the gorge is located within the reserve.

The terrestrial vegetation is mainly lowveld of the tropical bush savanna, and is exceptionally diverse. The tall tree-savanna in the Lebombo mountains is characterized by Combretum, with grass dominating the understorey. Clay soils tend to be dominated by Acacia woodland, with associated Dichrostachys. Thickets on poorly drained, heavy black soils, are dominated by Acacia and Euclea, with occasional emergent trees of Spirostachys, Schotia, Pappea, Sideroxylon and Berchemia. Sandy soils support a completely different woodland, of Combretum, Acacia, Sclerocarya, Ziziphus and Terminalia.

The Tongoland sand-forest, around Kubube and Kumasinga hides, is a very specialized vegetation-type, unique to northern KwaZulu-Natal and southern Mozambique, which occurs in parallel strips on the white sandy soils of the fossil dunes. The canopy (up to 10 m high) is dominated by Newtonia, Cleistanthus, Dialium, Strychnos and Pteleopsis. There is a discontinuous subcanopy tree layer, and a well-developed shrub layer, but the substratum is poorly developed. Lianas are present.

The fig forest surrounding Nsumo Pan and the riverine forest adjacent to the banks of the Mkuze river are well developed and are dominated by Ficus and Trichilia; associated trees are Rauvolfia, Celtis, Blighia and Acacia. Flood-plain grasslands occur on seasonally inundated flats adjacent to the Mkuze and Msunduzi rivers. Characteristic plants are reed Phragmites, sedge Cyperus and grasses (Echinochloa, Eriochloa, Sorghum). The major pans, particularly Nsumo Pan, are nutrient-rich and characterized by floating vegetation such as Nymphaea, Nymphoides, Potamogeton and Trapa.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Mkuzi Game Reserve supports c.420 species of birds, the richest area for its size in the whole of South Africa. The Ediza–Hlonhlela–Nsumo pans comprise a very diverse mosaic of open water, marsh, flood-plain and wet grasslands and, in terms of diversity of habitats and potential for waterbirds, constitute a highly significant wetland system. The pans regularly support more than 20,000 waterbirds and certain species almost certainly aggregate in numbers that exceed the 1% threshold, although not enough detailed data are available to show this.Nsumo Pan is the only regular breeding locality for Pelecanus rufescens in South Africa. Several other species occur at the pan in good numbers, including Anastomus lamelligerus, Mycteria ibis (which breeds in most years, with up to 50 nests), and Chlidonias hybridus. The fig forest supports small populations of Scotopelia peli, Circaetus fasciolatus, Podica senegalensis and Gorsachius leuconotus. The Mkuze Gorge holds a small colony of Geronticus calvus, which forage primarily in grassland habitat outside the reserve, as the vegetation within Mkuzi is unsuitable. As one of the larger reserves in South Africa it holds populations of larger scavengers and terrestrial species, numbers of which have dwindled outside South Africa’s protected-area network. Mkuzi is a stronghold for Gyps africanus, holding perhaps 200 nesting pairs. It also holds small populations of Torgos tracheliotus, Trigonoceps occipitalis, Polemaetus bellicosus, Terathopius ecaudatus, Aquila rapax, Leptoptilos crumeniferus, Ciconia nigra, Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis and Bucorvus cafer. Gyps coprotheres, which breed elsewhere, are occasionally seen foraging in the reserve, particularly young non-breeding birds.

The sand-forest holds the nominate subspecies of Smithornis capensis (endemic to South Africa) as well as significant populations of several restricted-range species, including Apalis ruddi, Nectarinia neergaardi (200–300 breeding pairs) and Hypargos margaritatus. The Ilala palm specialist, Serinus citrinipectus, is also present in patches of palm-savanna throughout Mkuzi.

Non-bird biodiversity: Among plants, the Lebombos support many rare species, including the cycads Encephalartos ngoyanus and E. lebomboensis, as well as Pachypodium saundersii, Hemizygia ramosa, Pachycarpus lebomboensis and Polystachya zuluensis, while low-lying grassland holds Rhus kwazuluana, and the sand-forest holds Combretum mkuzense (LR/nt). Large mammals are well represented, and include Ceratotherium simum (LR/cd), Diceros bicornis (CR) and Acinonyx jubatus (VU); Loxodonta africana (EN) have recently been reintroduced to Mkuzi.

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 
Southern Banded Snake-eagle Circaetus fasciolatus resident  1998  present  A1, A3  Near Threatened 
Corncrake Crex crex winter  present  A1  Least Concern 
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida winter  64-179 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Brown-headed Parrot Poicephalus cryptoxanthus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Zululand Batis Batis fratrum resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Four-coloured Bush-shrike Telophorus quadricolor resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Rudd's Apalis Apalis ruddi resident  1998  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 
Black-bellied Glossy-starling Lamprotornis corruscus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Mouse-coloured Sunbird Nectarinia veroxii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Neergaard's Sunbird Nectarinia neergardi resident  1998  present  A1, A2, A3  Near Threatened 
Pink-throated Twinspot Hypargos margaritatus resident  1998  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 
Lemon-breasted Seedeater Serinus citrinipectus resident  1998  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

2006 low not assessed high
Good - based on reliable and complete / representative data

Transportation and service corridors roads and railroads happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) no or imperceptible deterioration low

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A comprehensive and appropriate management plan exists that aims to maintain or improve the populations of qualifying bird species  Substantive conservation measures are being implemented but these are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity  high 


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Unknown   -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research 100%
tourism/recreation -
agriculture -
water management 80%

References Davies (1967), Dixon (1964), Moll (1968), Pooley (1965), Taylor (1997a,b).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Mkuzi Game Reserve. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016

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