Summary The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park lies 20 km northwest of Mtubatuba, at the junction of the coastal plain and the foothills of the KwaZulu-Natal interior. The Park is known to support over 400 bird species, about 46% of the species found in the southern African sub-region. The bird diversity within the Park can be attributed to the variety of habitats in this area.
Site description The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park (HUP) lies 20 km north-west of Mtubatuba, at the junction of the coastal plain and the foothills of the KwaZulu-Natal interior. The landscape is undulating to hilly. There is a gradual drop in altitude from west to east along the Natal Monocline. The Hluhluwe river and its tributary, the Nzimane, dissect the northern portion of the park. In the south, the Black Umfolozi and White Umfolozi rivers meander widely, before uniting at the south-eastern corner of the park. All these rivers flow permanently. There are many other seasonal streams and ephemeral rivers.
The park’s vegetation is classified as lowveld and Zululand thornveld. Accounts from the early 1800s describe grassland with very few trees. Another from 1921 describes Hluhluwe as mainly thornveld. Bushveld encroachment accelerated owing to the decimation of the large game that drove the regeneration of the open grassveld. Today the bushing-up process and spread of closed-canopy forest is fairly rapid. The transition from grassland to parkland can be seen in the Corridor, which links Hluhluwe to Umfolozi. Well-developed woodland occurs over much of the reserve, with Acacia usually dominating on sandy soils, with associated Strychnos, Albizia and Grewia, and Combretum occasionally forming monospecific stands on stony slopes. Closed evergreen forest occurs in the higher-rainfall areas of the north. The most important tree genera in these forests are Harpephyllum, Celtis, Vitellariopsis, Croton and Ficus. Riverine forest, dominated by Ficus, used to line large stretches of the major rivers until Cyclone Demoina swept nearly all away in 1984.
Key Biodiversity See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The park is known to support over 400 bird species, about 46% of the species found in the southern African subregion. The bird diversity within the park can be attributed to the variety of habitats in this area. Large riverine trees provide habitat for many of the more secretive river-dependent species such as Gorsachius leuconotus and Podica senegalensis. The rivers, flood-plains, pans, dams and vleis are important for many wetland-dependent and associated birds, including Ciconia nigra, which breed in gorges in the nearby mountains. Ciconia episcopus, Anastomus lamelligerus and Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis occur in small numbers. Several pairs of Geronticus calvus are known to breed within the complex, but they forage mostly outside the area. Several large species that are rare outside South Africa’s large parks are locally common here, including Gyps africanus, Torgos tracheliotus, Trigonoceps occipitalis, Polemaetus bellicosus, Terathopius ecaudatus and Aquila rapax. Bucorvus cafer, Neotis denhami, Circus macrourus and Tyto capensis occur in smaller numbers. The small patches of palm-savanna support Serinus citrinipectus.
Non-bird biodiversity: This area is one of the most important conservation areas in South Africa for mammals, as it is one of the last havens for large numbers of ungulates and the predators they support. Many threatened species occur throughout the park, including Ceratotherium simum (LR/cd), Diceros bicornis (CR), Lycaon pictus (EN), Loxodonta africana (EN), Acinonyx jubatus (VU) and Panthera leo (VU). Rare trees include Celtis mildbraedii, Albizia suluensis, Warburgia salutaris and Buxus natalensis.