Songimvelo Nature Reserve

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
Located in eastern Mpumalanga, just south of Barberton, this site abuts Swaziland’s Malolotja Nature Reserve (IBA SW001). It includes some of the most rugged mountain terrain in southern Africa, as the reserve is located along South Africa’s eastern Drakensberg escarpment. The eastern highlands, which form the border with Swaziland, are dominated by two high peaks, Mlembe (1,851 m) and Sibubule (1,750 m). The area is bisected by the deeply eroded Lomati and Komati rivers, which have carved numerous cliffs, deep gorges and valleys.

The vegetation is divided into mountain sourveld and lowveld sour bushveld, with relict patches of proteoid woodland on the escarpment. The sheltered valleys and kloofs at high altitude hold pockets of Afromontane forest, which are linked to riparian forest lower down via thickets that occur along mountain streams. Afromontane forest trees include Podocarpus, Calodendrum, Olea, Syzygium and Rapanea. Other habitats include rocky outcrops and the sheer cliffs that form part of the Drakensberg escarpment.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. To date, 309 bird species have been recorded in the reserve. Geronticus calvus may breed on some cliffs within the reserve—they breed in the neighbouring Malolotja Nature Reserve (IBA SW001) in Swaziland. Neotis denhami, Eupodotis senegalensis, E. caerulescens and Sarothrura affinis are breeding residents. Saxicola bifasciata is found on exposed rocky grassland slopes and, where proteoid woodland occurs, Promerops gurneyi is regular. Occasionally, Gyps coprotheres and Falco naumanni pass through the area. The riverine forest and thicket hold breeding Gorsachius leuconotus, Podica senegalensis, Alcedo semitorquata, Tauraco corythaix, Lioptilus nigricapillus, Zoothera gurneyi, Cossypha dichroa, Cercotrichas signata, Bradypterus barratti, Telophorus olivaceus, Lamprotornis corruscus, Nectarinia olivacea, Estrilda melanotis, Mandingoa nitidula and Serinus scotops.

Non-bird biodiversity: Songimvelo holds most of the global population (300 individuals) of the cycad Encephalartos heenanii and the bulk of the remaining global population of E. paucidentatus. The natural range of the fish Astatotilapia brevis is restricted to the Lomati and Komati rivers, both of which run through the reserve. The mammal Ceratotherium simum (LR/cd) has been reintroduced.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
This reserve was established in 1984 in the former KaNgwane homeland. It was handed over to the Mpumalanga Parks Board when the South African government reformed in 1994. Mining since 1882 has also contributed to environmental degradation of the area, especially the reckless deforestation practices during the ‘gold-boom’ of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Modern prospecting, which was active until the establishment of the reserve, saw large areas of wooded hillside being bulldozed and blasted away. The vegetation will take a while to recover from these drastic and destructive mining practices.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Songimvelo Nature Reserve. Downloaded from on 07/02/2023.