Karkloof Nature Reserve

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description (baseline)
The site is located 19 km north of Howick. It is not the same entity as the Karkloof Forest, which is part of the KwaZulu-Natal mistbelt forest (IBA ZA053). The western part of the reserve consists mainly of evergreen forest, with some Natal mistbelt grassland. Trees of Podocarpus, Celtis, Combretum, Cryptocarya and Xymalos are characteristic of the mature forest. In the lower forest strata Halleria, Maytenus and Carissa are typical. Forest-edges and forest patches in early successional stages have shrubs of Leucosidea, Buddleja and Rhamnus. In places in the grassland, Protea forms sparse open woodland. The eastern part of the reserve is mostly vlei and wet grassland (highland sourveld). There are two major vleis, Melmoth (104 ha) and Nyumbhakazi (35 ha). These are mainly sedge meadows with Cyperus, Carex, Mariscus, Pycreus and Kyllinga.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The forest holds many important species, including small numbers of Poicephalus robustus robustus and Columba delegorguei. Guttera pucherani symonsi, an isolated and endemic subspecies, is found only here and in a couple of small forests nearby. Bird parties are frequent and typical forest birds include Ceratogymna bucinator, Apaloderma narina, Zoothera gurneyi, Lioptilus nigricapillus, Tauraco corythaix, Coracina caesia, Cossypha dichroa, Pogonocichla stellata, Phylloscopus ruficapilla, Trochocercus cyanomelas, Telophorus olivaceus, Estrilda melanotis and Serinus scotops. The quiet forest river streams hold Motacilla clara. Promerops gurneyi occurs where Protea woodland dominates the grassland. The surrounding grasslands hold Sarothrura affinis, breeding Grus paradisea and Neotis denhami. Gyps coprotheres are regular visitors. Grus carunculatus and Tyto capensis are resident in the vleis. Monticola explorator and Saxicola bifasciata inhabit rocky outcrops.

Non-bird biodiversity: Several rare trees are found in the forest including Ocotea bullata, Curtisia dentata and Scolopia flanaganii, with Alberta magna (LR/nt) on the margin. Near-endemic plants in the grassland include Geranium natalense and Dierama luteo-albidum. Mammals include the South African endemic Pelea capreolus. An exceptionally rare and localized butterfly, Orachrysops ariadne (VU), occurs just outside the reserve and may well be found within it.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The original reserve consisted of a 99-year lease of 223 ha of forest, proclaimed in 1980. It was extended by two more, renewable 10-year leases of 410 ha and 269 ha of forest in 1983. The final extension was a state purchase of the adjacent farm, Melmoth, in 1989. The KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service administers the whole area.

The genetic integrity of the unique, isolated population of Guttera pucherani symonsi is threatened by ill-informed attempts by neighbouring land-owners to introduce the species to forest patches where it does not occur. A different subspecies is common in Zululand, and these are the birds that might well be introduced. The vlei is one of the few conserved areas in South Africa where Grus carunculatus breeds. It also breeds on several adjacent farms which, assuming no financial or other constraints, would make suitable additions to the reserve. Hirundo atrocaerulea occurred in the Karkloof until the 1950s. The reason for its disappearance is not fully understood—suitable grassland,

including many aardvark holes, still exists on the slopes below the forest.The forest holding represents less than a third of the whole of the Karkloof Forest, and even this is a pale shadow of the original forest—in 1860, it was at least 34,000 ha in extent and held populations of very large mammals (Loxodonta africana, Syncerus caffer and Diceros bicornis). The forest has been plundered of its best timber since 1845, and a permit to fell a large Podocarpus tree was issued as recently as 1990. The rarity of Poicephalus robustus robustus here must be related to the reduction of Podocarpus falcatus, its favourite food-plant. Bark-stripping, to supply the traditional medicine trade, is rife, particularly of Ocotea and Curtisia, but 13 other tree species are exploited too. Stripping is done without any attempt at sustainable harvesting, and stripped trees nearly always die. Felling and stripping facilitate the invasion of non-native trees, which are becoming a serious problem. The vleis are vulnerable to poorly timed fires, and during the 1992 drought large quantities of peat burned over a period of several weeks. Eventually this will alter the composition of the vlei plant-community.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Karkloof Nature Reserve. Downloaded from on 04/06/2023.