Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
The Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park (HUP) lies 20 km north-west of Mtubatuba, at the junction of the coastal plain and the foothills of the KwaZulu-Natal interior. The landscape is undulating to hilly. There is a gradual drop in altitude from west to east along the Natal Monocline. The Hluhluwe river and its tributary, the Nzimane, dissect the northern portion of the park. In the south, the Black Umfolozi and White Umfolozi rivers meander widely, before uniting at the south-eastern corner of the park. All these rivers flow permanently. There are many other seasonal streams and ephemeral rivers.

The park’s vegetation is classified as lowveld and Zululand thornveld. Accounts from the early 1800s describe grassland with very few trees. Another from 1921 describes Hluhluwe as mainly thornveld. Bushveld encroachment accelerated owing to the decimation of the large game that drove the regeneration of the open grassveld. Today the bushing-up process and spread of closed-canopy forest is fairly rapid. The transition from grassland to parkland can be seen in the Corridor, which links Hluhluwe to Umfolozi. Well-developed woodland occurs over much of the reserve, with Acacia usually dominating on sandy soils, with associated Strychnos, Albizia and Grewia, and Combretum occasionally forming monospecific stands on stony slopes. Closed evergreen forest occurs in the higher-rainfall areas of the north. The most important tree genera in these forests are Harpephyllum, Celtis, Vitellariopsis, Croton and Ficus. Riverine forest, dominated by Ficus, used to line large stretches of the major rivers until Cyclone Demoina swept nearly all away in 1984.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The park is known to support over 400 bird species, about 46% of the species found in the southern African subregion. The bird diversity within the park can be attributed to the variety of habitats in this area. Large riverine trees provide habitat for many of the more secretive river-dependent species such as Gorsachius leuconotus and Podica senegalensis. The rivers, flood-plains, pans, dams and vleis are important for many wetland-dependent and associated birds, including Ciconia nigra, which breed in gorges in the nearby mountains. Ciconia episcopus, Anastomus lamelligerus and Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis occur in small numbers. Several pairs of Geronticus calvus are known to breed within the complex, but they forage mostly outside the area. Several large species that are rare outside South Africa’s large parks are locally common here, including Gyps africanus, Torgos tracheliotus, Trigonoceps occipitalis, Polemaetus bellicosus, Terathopius ecaudatus and Aquila rapax. Bucorvus cafer, Neotis denhami, Circus macrourus and Tyto capensis occur in smaller numbers. The small patches of palm-savanna support Serinus citrinipectus.

Non-bird biodiversity: This area is one of the most important conservation areas in South Africa for mammals, as it is one of the last havens for large numbers of ungulates and the predators they support. Many threatened species occur throughout the park, including Ceratotherium simum (LR/cd), Diceros bicornis (CR), Lycaon pictus (EN), Loxodonta africana (EN), Acinonyx jubatus (VU) and Panthera leo (VU). Rare trees include Celtis mildbraedii, Albizia suluensis, Warburgia salutaris and Buxus natalensis.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
HUP is a site of considerable historical significance. Stone Age archaeological sites are present, as are San rock paintings. Bantu people first established themselves here by about 1500 AD, and until 1818 HUP was the home of the Mtetwa Clan. From 1818 to 1828 HUP was King Shaka’s hunting preserve. The area was then vacated because of the impact of malaria on humans and nagana (carried by tsetse fly Glossina) on cattle. Subsequently, humans reoccupied the area sporadically up until 1875. Both Hluhluwe and Umfolozi—but not the intervening land—were proclaimed reserves, first in 1895, and again in 1897. However, the tsetse flies remained a source of nagana for surrounding cattle farms, and wild antelopes—considered a permanent reservoir for nagana—were heavily culled in the reserves between 1920 and 1945. In addition, much of the thick bush that constituted habitat for tsetse flies was cut down in 1942. The reserves were actually deproclaimed in 1945 and nearly all the large animals were slaughtered. Only in 1952 was the area returned to the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service (formerly the Natal Parks Board), to be administered in the style seen today. The Corridor was formally incorporated into HUP in 1982.

By the late 19th century most of the large mammal populations in South Africa had been severely decimated by uncontrolled hunting. Some species, such as Ceratotherium simum, became locally extinct. It was the survival of the two rhino species in the area between the two Umfolozi rivers that led to the initial protection of the reserve, and even today it remains the most important place in Africa for rhinos.

The park’s main contribution to bird conservation is in providing space and habitat for larger birds of prey. While none of the species has a population that is viable in isolation, the park provides an adequate focus for such populations. A strength of the park is that it is a well-established tourist destination, and that its birds of prey are very much in the public eye. Its long history as, in the broadest sense, a conservation area gives it great credibility, and there are unlikely to be any further attempts, by neighbours, to erode its boundaries or functions. Workable coal deposits exist in the Corridor, and in the 1980s a suggestion was made that these should be exploited. However, these plans appear to have been shelved, perhaps because of the marginal profitability anticipated. There is some poaching and uncontrolled fires. There are plans for a barrage on the Hluhluwe river.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. Downloaded from on 24/03/2023.