Haroni - Rusitu junction and Botanical Reserves

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
This area falls within the Ngorima Communal Land and lies along the international boundary with Mozambique, south of the Chimanimani National Park and the Tarka Forest Area, in the angle between the Haroni and Rusitu rivers. The Haroni and the Rusitu Botanical Reserves are administered by the Parks and Wild Life Conservation Fund.

The reserves were initially designated to protect one of the richest ecological complexes in Zimbabwe. The area has attracted ornithologists and naturalists since 1955. There were several expeditions in the 1960s, but the area remained largely inaccessible until a track was cut into the Rusitu/Vimba Forest in the early 1970s. The area was not visited during the independence war and there are landmines along the international boundary. Since the cessation of hostilities it has recently become a destination for birdwatching tourists.

The Haroni river drains the western slopes of the Chimanimani mountains and flows south. It is a fast-flowing perennial river that is joined by the Chisengu and Mukurupini rivers before meeting the east-flowing Rusitu to become the Lucite in Mozambique. The topography is dramatic, with the rivers flowing through steep-sided valleys (up to 1,400 m) dropping to 312 m at the rivers’ junction on the border.

The hot, wet climate is responsible for the 50m tall lowland forest, dominated by Newtonia with Maranthes and Xylopia. The forests can be considered as an extension of the low-altitude Mozambican coastal forests, with Congo forest affinities.

Most of the small (20 ha) Haroni Botanical Reserve has been illegally cleared for banana cultivation and hardly any forest remains. The 150 ha Rusitu Reserve, 3 km upstream of the confluence of the Haroni and Rusitu rivers is a fragment of a much larger forest. The remaining forest is still relatively intact, but is under threat from land clearance for cultivation. Within the Chimanimani National Park is the Haroni–Mukurupini forest, the largest and best preserved lowland forest in Zimbabwe. Uphill into the Chimanimani mountains it borders on Brachystegia woodland.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. A total of 233 species has been recorded in the area, including Cercococcyx montanus, Ceuthmochares aereus, Ceratogymna brevis, Campethera cailliautii, Smithornis capensis, Bias musicus, Apalis melanocephala and Columba delegorguei. The avifauna includes a rich mixture of species from three biomes.

Non-bird biodiversity: The Mukurupini forest is the only known locality for several tree, fern and orchid species. Galago granti (DD) and Myonycteris relicta (VU) are rare mammals found in these lowland forests. Also special to the area are amphibians such as Hyperolius argus, Leptopelis flavomaculatus, L. concolor, Afrixalus fornasinii, Hyperolius tuberilinguis and Ptychadena chrysogaster.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Since Haroni–Rusitu contains species of three distinct biomes in a relatively small area, as well as two globally threatened species and several endemic or restricted-range amphibians, mammals and plants, it deserves a high conservation priority. Haroni–Rusitu is thought to represent the winter range of some altitudinal migrant bird species. For bird conservation to be successful, the full habitat range of the species should be protected. Clearly further research is needed into specific habitat requirements for the more vulnerable species.

The major threat to the area is the encroachment of agriculture, with ever-increasing peasant populations along the periphery. At present the forests and associated fauna are probably fairly well represented in Mozambique, which has a comparatively lower peasant population. However this is changing as human populations and pressures on land increase. It is therefore vital for conservation efforts in Zimbabwe to link with those in Mozambique.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Haroni - Rusitu junction and Botanical Reserves. Downloaded from on 10/05/2021.