Year of compilation: 2015

Site description (baseline)
This IBA links the Mkuze section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park with the Pongola Nature Reserve. The Pongola Nature Reserve forms the north-eastern boundary of the. The IBA continues southwards with Somkhanda Game Reserve, the Zululand Rhino Reserve and Thanda Game Reserve bounded to the east by the N2. At the southern end the IBA makes a dog leg to the East and includes the Phinda Game Reserve which is bounded by the Mkuze Nature Reserve to the north.

Key biodiversity
The IBA supports a critical component of savannah nesting vulture species, especially White-backed Vulture (Critical Endangered), which in KZN are confined to Zululand. Fifty-three vulture nest sites were recorded in the past on private land within the IBA through the aerial surveys done annually by Ezemvelo KZN. This constitutes 60% of the breeding population outside of Hluhluwe but approximately 10% of the total population in Zululand. In addition, many of these private landowners manage vulture feeding areas which from time to time will host the bulk of the Zululand population. 

The IBA also hosts East Coast Endemics such as Rudd's Apalis Apalis ruddi, Pink-throated Twinspot Hypargos margaritatus, Lemon-breasted Canary Serinus citrinipectus and Neergaard's Sunbird Cinnyris neergaardi. 

An interesting aspect of the IBA is that the northern areas of the IBA support a number of species at the southernmost limit of their range such as Bennett's Woodpecker Campethera bennettii, Burchell's Starling Lamprotornis australis, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver Bubalornis niger, Magpie Shrike Urolestes melanoleucus, Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum, Red-headed Weaver Anaplectes rubriceps, Brown-headed Parrot Poicephalus cryptoxanthus, Grey Tockus nasutus and Red-billed Hornbills Tockus rufirostris, Levaillant's Cuckoo Clamator levaillantii and Purple Roller Coracias naevius. 

The following Globally threatened species also occur within the IBA. Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus and Southern Ground-Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri.
Regionally threatened species include Half-collared Kingfisher Alcedo semitorquata, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus, African Broadbill Smithornis capensis and Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus.
Range-restricted and biome-restricted species include Kurrichane Thrush Turdus libonyana, Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa, Rudd’s Apalis, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike Telophorus viridis, White-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris talatala, Pink-throated Twinspot and Lemon-breasted Canary. 

Habitat and land use
The IBA falls within an area of high biodiversity value which is highlighted by the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Conservation Plan due to the high irreplaceability of the area in terms of the threatened species and vegetation types represented. The dominant vegetation types of the IBA are Zululand Lowveld (Vulnerable) with Northern Zululand Sourveld (Vulnerable), Southern Lebombo Bushveld (Least Threatened) and Maputaland Coastal Belt (Vulnerable) well represented. The largest example of Sand Forest (Critically Endangered) found on private land is located within Phinda Game Reserve. 

The IBA is interspersed by a series of rolling hills, valleys, drainage lines and cliffs. The lowest point in the IBA is 348m and the highest 683. To the east of the IBA are the Lebombo Mountains which divides the coastal plain from the higher inland areas of the region.

A number of perennial and seasonal rivers drain through the IBA towards the east with the Pongola, Mkuze, Msunduzi and Mun-ya-wana the most noteworthy.  

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The main threats to the key IBA trigger species, White-backed Vulture is poaching and poisoning. For example in 2013, 40 White-backed Vultures were found with their heads removed, most probably to be sold on local markets. The reserves in the IBA are currently targeted by rhino poachers which has the potential to impact species such as vultures. Recent trends have seen poachers lacing carcasses with poison targeting vultures. These events impact on a large proportion of the population and is a significant threat to all vultures and other raptors in the region.

The rivers in the IBA have a low quality. For example the Pongola River upstream including Jozini Dam is described as poor. The most important crops grown in the catchment are sugarcane, mangoes, citrus and vegetables. These impacts may not necessarily directly affect trigger species in the IBA but might do so further afield in the iSimangaliso IBA.

Power lines traverse the IBA but there are very few collision records. However, due to the presence of a number of vulture species, raptors and other large birds, power lines remain a constant threat. A recent proposal to develop the Pongola- Candover 132 kv line has received much opposition from reserve owners and the potential impacts this line may have on vulture species.
The entire area has faced a severe drought over the past few years with 2015/2016 especially harsh with the area listed as a disaster zone. Reserve managers are under increased pressure to feed game. This may benefit certain species such as vulture but other bird species may move from the area.
Floods do occur in the region and they can impact on the IBA by the destruction of habitat and loss of trees. 

Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Vultures and raptors in Zululand range over a wide area and are not only represented within the official protected area network. Many of the private property owners support populations of predators thus providing a food source for vultures and in many cases food is also provided for vultures through well managed vulture restaurants. 

Alien plant clearing is taking place on a regular basis. Anti-poaching activities, especially for rhino, is in place and managed by four Black Rhino Range Expansion partners (a WWF project). 

The option to establish a Vulture Safe Zone in the area is currently considered, and if successful, all hunting in the area will be done with lead free bullets".

Land ownership
Land is mostly owned by private land owners as well as communal lands. 

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Zululand. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/site/factsheet/45586 on 30/05/2023.