Matobo Hills

Country/territory: Zimbabwe

IBA criteria met: A3 (1998)
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Area: 300,000 ha

BirdLife Zimbabwe
IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) State (condition) Pressure (threat) Response (action)
2011 near favourable high low
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Site description (2001 baseline)
The granite rocks, inselbergs (locally called ‘dwala’ or ‘whaleback’) and castle kopjes, with their intervening flat grassy plains and vleis, of the Matobo Hills (also known locally as the Matopos) lie 25 km south of Bulawayo. They stretch for 90 km from beyond Mangwe Pass (c.28°E) in the west to Umzingwane Dam (c.29°E) in the east, and for c.30 km from Fort Usher (20°24’S) in the north almost to the Mtshabezi Mission (20°42’S) in the south. The catchment areas of 10 rivers are found in the hills, from the Mangwe and Simukwe in the west to the Chabezi and Lumani in the east. These rivers all flow north–south, and have created the spectacular Lumani falls as well as, in some stretches, gorges. Due to the run-off from the rocks in the rainy season, some grasslands become marshy vleis and ‘sponges’, late into the dry season.

The granitic sandy soils support three main vegetation-types: kopje woodlands (and other vegetation), flat woodlands, and grasslands. Water run-off from the dwalas results in forests and thickets at their bases, producing a wonderful diversity of flora. Cohabiting with the usual Afzelia, Commiphora, Kirkia and Pterocarpus are woody species of Zimbabwe’s eastern forests. The flat woodlands are open, consisting of sandveld woodland of Terminalia, Burkea, Pterocarpus and Acacia, with scattered smaller areas of mopane woodland and Brachystegia woodland. The grassland is composed of more than 100 plant species; sedges, reeds Phragmites and Pennisetum are dominant in wetter areas.

Approximately half of the area is bare granite. The remainder is classified as suitable for grazing and cultivation. The National Park (424 km²) itself supports a thriving non-consumptive tourism, and allows neighbouring villagers to collect thatching grass. Cattle are grazed illegally in the park. The Umzingwane Rural District Council on the east is trying to set up tourism initiatives. Most of the Matobo Hills fall within Communal Lands and a minority into commercial farmland.

The beautiful hills are steeped in the country’s history, and hold the highest density of San (Bushman) rock paintings in Africa. Historic sites and caves connected with the San, Rozwi, Kalanga, Matabele and Europeans abound in the hills, and many are National Monuments.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. No threatened or restricted-range species depend on the Matobo Hills, but Gyps coprotheres overfly the area and Crex crex have occasionally been seen in vleis. The national park and its immediate surrounds are world-famous among ornithologists for the raptor assemblage that uses them—59 species have been recorded so far (including owls), of which 32 are known to breed, with a 1978 estimate of 76 pairs per 100 km². The combined richness of species and density of individuals is possibly the highest in the world, and includes 75 pairs of Aquila verreauxii. Many of the raptors nest on rock-faces, as do c.20 pairs of Ciconia nigra. The hills support a considerable population of Pinarornis plumosus, and a few other characteristic species of the Zambezian biome such as Cossypha humeralis and Nectarinia manoensis. In 1975 Buphagus africanus was successfully introduced to the park, and now B. erythrorhynchus is naturally expanding its range there.

Non-bird biodiversity: The shrub Strychnos matopensis and the herb Barleria matopensis are found nowhere else in the country, and the tree Turraea fischeri ehlesii is endemic to the hills. The national park is an Intensive Protection Zone for both species of rhino, Diceros bicornis (CR) and Ceratotherium simum (LR/cd).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Matobo Hills. Downloaded from on 09/12/2023.