Misuku Hills Forest Reserves

Site description (2001 baseline):

Site location and context
The Misuku Hills are situated in the extreme north of the country near the Tanzanian border; they rise above a much dissected plateau to a peak of 2,050 m (Matipa). They consist of two Forest Reserves located along parallel ridges running north-west–south-east: Mugesse Forest Reserve (1,600–1,880 m) includes one block of montane rainforest of c.720 ha and is separated from Wilindi–Matipa Forest Reserve (1,700–2,050 m) by a few km of lower-altitude cultivated land. Wilindi–Matipa supports some 2,400 ha of forest intersected on the ridge by small clearings of montane grassland. The forests of the Misuku Hills are the most floristically diverse in the country (with over 150 species of trees recorded); the main emergents are Aningeria adolfi-friedericii and Entandrophragma excelsum. Mugesse is particularly luxuriant and has a striking abundance of strangling figs Ficus spp.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Over 100 species have been recorded at the site. Several pairs of Hirundo atrocaerulea are present at Wilindi in the summer months. Three forest species, Modulatrix stictigula, Andropadus masukuensis and Batis mixta occur nowhere else in Malawi as they reach their southern limits of distribution in the Misukus. The Modulatrix is absent from Mugesse, but is locally common in Wilindi–Matipa above 1,800 m, with up to one pair/ha. The local population of Stactolaema olivacea (particularly numerous in Mugesse) belongs to the race rungweensis, confined to this site and Rungwe Mountain in southern Tanzania.

Non-bird biodiversity: Vegetation: five montane forest trees (including Cylicomorpha parvifolia and Mitragyna rubrostipulata) and several epiphytic orchids occur nowhere else in Malawi, reaching the southern limits of their distribution in the Misukus. Mammals: the bat Glauconycteris argentata, the flying-squirrel Anomalurus derbianus and the rodent Otomys anchietae are known in Malawi from nowhere else. A species of limited montane distribution that is well-represented here is the squirrel Paraxerus lucifer (also present on the Nyika, site MW002). Butterflies: three species (Papilio fuelleborni, P. thuraui s.s. and Deudorix (Virachola) montana) reach their southern limits, and others known nowhere else in Malawi include Acraea cerasa and Danaus formosa. On present evidence, Charaxes nyikensis reaches its northern limit here.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The forests are reasonably well protected. The Forestry Department allows a small amount of pit-sawing on licence and some damage is occasioned at edges by bush fires but, to a large extent, the forest boundary has been respected since it was redefined in the 1950s. Despite the high population density and the clearance of almost all land between the reserves, pressure on the forests has been kept more or less under control thanks to natural emigration and a policy of land conservation through terracing.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Misuku Hills Forest Reserves. Downloaded from on 29/02/2024.