The National Park rises to 2,576 m at Mount Luhombero and 2,111 m at Mwanihana. The majority of the park is forested and the eastern escarpment has continuous forest across one of the largest altitudinal ranges in Africa. On the western margins the forest changes to a high grassland plateau, which may in part have been created by agriculturists and be maintained by fire. Before the advent of modern agriculture there was a continuous belt of woodland and forest from the Kilombero valley to the east to the top of the escarpment and on the mountain peaks further to the west. Vehicular access from the west to the high grassland plateau has always been difficult and, apart from the present village of Udekwa, few people have lived in the area in recent times. Average annual rainfall is 2,000–2,500 mm.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. No checklist exists for the National Park. Although there has been considerable fieldwork in the Udzungwa mountains in recent years, virtually none has been conducted within the park boundary since the area was gazetted. A few birds that are likely to occur have, therefore, not yet been recorded within the park boundary. There are, however, recent sightings of Xenoperdix udzungwensis from near Mount Luhombero, in the park. Circaetus fasciolatus is resident at low densities in low altitude forest at the foot of the east-facing escarpment. In the forest interior Swynnertonia swynnertoni is rare between 1,000–1,200 m, Modulatrix orostruthus occurs above 1,300 m, and Apalis chariessa is uncommon. Bathmocercus winifredae is locally frequent in forest undergrowth at 1,300–1,700 m. Three species of threatened sunbird occur, with Anthreptes rubritorques uncommon in forest interior above 850 m, Nectarinia rufipennis fairly common in forest at 600–1,700 m, and Nectarinia moreaui relatively common. Several species of global conservation concern have not been recorded from the park, but are expected to occur. These include Bubo vosseleri, Hirundo atrocaerulea, Sheppardia lowei and Cisticola njombe.The northward extension of the park to the southern bank of the Ruaha river includes Somali–Masai habitat associated with the dry central plateau and two Tanzanian endemics, Cosmopsarus unicolor and Agapornis personatus, occur. Fourteen species of the Somali–Masai biome and two of the East African Coast biome have been recorded; see Table 3. The combination of this dry country habitat with highland grassland, mountain forest and lowland forest and woodland ensures a high species-richness in the park.
Non-bird biodiversity: The park holds populations of six primates, of which Cercocebus galeritus sanjei and Procolobus badius gordonorum are endemic to the Udzungwa mountains. Loxodonta africana (EN) and Syncerus caffer (LR/cd) occur, and the forest holds Cephalophus monticola, C. natalensis (LR/cd) and C. spadix (VU).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Udzungwa National Park was created in 1990 by excising land from Mwanihana, Kilombero Scarp and Matundu Forest Reserves. Considerable problems arose for local people at the foot of the east-facing escarpment when the park was gazetted and their access to the forest was stopped. The woodland and lowland forest on public land has been heavily exploited and little remains. The park authorities, with considerable support from the World Wide Fund for Nature, have an extensive tree-planting and community development programme to help alleviate resource-exploitation problems in the area. To reduce further the fuelwood problem, an agreement has been made between the District Council and TANAPA to allow local villagers to collect dead wood from within the park twice a week. The lack of low altitude forest is of special concern to birds that must move downslope during the cooler seasons when invertebrate food becomes scarce in higher-altitude forest. Fortunately, logging seems to have stopped in Matundu forest and this rather inaccessible area of lowland forest may be an important wildlife refuge. Increasing the area of low-altitude forest to the east of the road that runs along the foot of the escarpment would create important habitat for altitudinal migrants.Extending the park westward to include the remaining areas of forest and grassland within the Kilombero Scarp Forest Reserve is recommended. This would offer protection to viable populations of several rare and threatened species and, in particular, the known stronghold of the recently discovered Xenoperdix udzungwensis.