Mkhambati Nature Reserve

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
The Mkambati Nature Reserve is situated on the coast of north-east Pondoland in the Eastern Cape. It is bounded by the Mtenu river in the north and the Mzikaba river in the south; in the east, between the two river mouths, it holds a 13 km stretch of pristine coastline. The reserve stretches inland c.5 km along the Mzikaba river and c.9.5 km along the Mtenu river. The gentle topography is interrupted by two steps (ancient shorelines) parallel to the coast, the first at 85 m elevation and the second at 190 m. The Mtenu river reaches the ocean through a long, incised and meandering gorge. Table Mountain sandstone cliffs flank the river, rising 300 m from the riverbed to meet the surrounding plains. The Mtenu river forms a spectacular waterfall c.9 km upstream of the coast. The waterfall has cut an almost straight cliff-face some 500 m wide. The cliffs are for the most part sheer, beginning at the coast and continuing inland for about 10–20 km.The vegetation is primarily Pondoland coastal plateau sourveld grassland, on poor but well-drained soils. The grasses are low in nutrient content and are of little agricultural value to commercial or subsistence farmers. Surprisingly large numbers of fynbos species also occur, in unburned grasslands or on rock outcrops where they are protected from regular fires. Small forest patches exist in the river gorges and on the coastal sand-dunes.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The cliffs on the Mtenu river hold one of the largest remaining colonies of Gyps coprotheres in the Eastern Cape. This colony is also one of the few protected breeding sites in the world. The grassland supports Balearica regulorum, Neotis denhami and Saxicola bifasciata. Scattered Protea bushes hold Promerops gurneyi. The small forest patches hold Cossypha dichroa, Cercotrichas signata and Zoothera guttata, which may breed here. Campethera notata, nearing the northern limit of its distribution here, is uncommon. Turnix hottentotta, Crex crex and Sarothrura affinis have all been recorded in grassland areas nearby, and almost certainly occur within the reserve. The Mtenu river and its tributaries have thick overhanging riverine vegetation which support Gorsachius leuconotus, Podica senegalensis and Alcedo semitorquata.

Non-bird biodiversity: The area is particularly rich in highly localized endemic frogs—Afrixalus knysnae, Arthroleptella hewitti and Arthroleptis wahlbergi all occur along this coastal region and possibly occur within the reserve. There are c.1,600 reintroduced wild ungulates in the reserve, including the nationally endemic Damaliscus dorcas phillipsi.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site is located in a region where stock densities are intense, husbandry techniques traditional and stock mortality high. Although the vultures are relatively safe at their breeding sites within the reserve, they move considerable distances inland while foraging and may be exposed to a suite of threats. Poisoned carcasses set for vermin, or more commonly by traditional practitioners for ‘muti’, or medicine, may be responsible for considerable numbers of vulture mortalities (hundreds can be killed in a single poisoning incident). In order to implement an effective awareness campaign informing local land-users of the vultures and their significance, it is vital that the extent of the vultures’ foraging area be determined. At the nests, adults that are disturbed, for even short periods, may lose their eggs or nestlings for that year. The period of greatest vulnerability extends from egg-laying in April (peak in May), through peak hatching in July, to fledging by October/November.

The conversion of natural grassland to arable plots in the former Transkei has resulted in greater shortage of indigenous grass species used for thatch, such as Cymbopogon validus. Residual supplies in conservation areas such as Mkambati could assume great importance. If access to these supplies was permitted, there would be a concomitant increase in conservation awareness among the local people who are deriving a tangible benefit from this protected area.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Mkhambati Nature Reserve. Downloaded from on 23/05/2022.