Mount Mulanje Forest Reserve

Country/territory: Malawi

IBA criteria met: A1, A2, A3 (2001)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 60,000 ha

Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM)
IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) State (condition) Pressure (threat) Response (action)
2015 not assessed not assessed not assessed
For more information about IBA monitoring, please click here

Site description (2001 baseline)
Mount Mulanje is the highest massif in the country, located in the extreme south-east near the Mozambique border. From the surrounding plains at 600–700 m it rises abruptly to a square block of high plateaux at 1,800–1,900 m, surmounted by bare rock peaks up to 3,002 m. The area above 1,800 m is just under 20,000 ha. On the west, north and eastern sides the foothills have a belt of Brachystegia or transition woodland; the rain-facing southern and south-eastern slopes used to support extensive forest, but the situation has been drastically modified by human encroachment. The high plateaux have mainly montane grassland and shrubland, with small patches of Widdringtonia cedar forest (above c.2,250 m these turn into shrubland). The Widdringtonia forest on the western plateau of Chambe was replaced in the 1950s with exotic pine plantations. Four main forest-types may be recognized: lowland rainforest from 600 to 950 m (Newtonia-Khaya-Albizia dominated), mid-altitude rainforest at 950–1,500 m (with flat-topped Newtonia buchananii clearly dominant, the finest example being in Ruo Gorge on the southern slopes), montane rainforest at 1,500–1,850(– 1,900) m, and mainly Widdringtonia monodominant forest above that. By the early 1980s, total forest cover was still c.7,000 ha (c.200 ha lowland, 1,800 ha mid-altitude, 5,000 ha on upper slopes and plateaus). The site includes the northern extension of Mchese Mountain, where the forest is currently in much better condition than on Mulanje itself. Most of the land around the mountain reserve was cleared for tea cultivation at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Some 180 species have been recorded. The site used to be and probably is still the stronghold for 0>Alethe choloensis which is common between 900 and 1,900 m (700 m in winter). The population was estimated at c.1,000 pairs in 1983, although it is likely to have decreased much since. Zoothera guttata was discovered in 1983 and occurs between (700–)1,200 and 1,700 m; Apalis chariessa also occurs, up to 1,350 m, but in low numbers in these rather wet types of mid-altitude and lowland forest. The race flavigularis of Apalis thoracica (endemic to this site and the Zomba area) is common in forest and shrubland from 1,000 to 2,400 m, with altitudinal movements down to 600–700 m in the winter months. Hirundo atrocaerulea breeds in small numbers on the high plateaux. The montane species Pogoniulus leucomystax, Andropadus nigriceps and Bradypterus cinnamomeus reach their southern limits of distribution on Mulanje. The race of Cossypha anomala (nominate) found here is very isolated and confined to this site and adjacent Namuli and Chiperone mountains in Mozambique. In addition, four species of the Zambezian biome occur (see Table 3).

Non-bird biodiversity: Vegetation: Mulanje is the most important centre of plant endemism in Malawi, although some species thought to be endemic may well be found on the lesser-known Namuli Mountain (MZ009) in adjacent Mozambique. A taxonomic review of Widdringtonia cedars has recently shown that two distinct species are present on the mountain: the tall tree ( whytei) is endemic while the shrubby ‘variant’ (W. nodiflora, syn. W. cupressoides) is widespread elsewhere in southern Africa. Another two forest trees are apparently endemic: Rawsonia burtt-davyi and Ficus modesta. The fern flora is exceptionally diverse (with over 100 species recorded in the forests) and contains two probably new species (in the genera Asplenium and Elaphoglossum). More flowering material is needed before a new species of mistletoe (Loranthaceae) can be named. Three lithophytic Streptocarpus and the cycad Encephalartos gratus are also endemic as well as several other plants of non-forest vegetation (although the total number varies according to taxonomic treatment). Reptiles and amphibians: a chameleon Chamaeleo mlanjensis, two geckos Lygodactylus rex and L. bonsi and two races of frogs are apparently endemic. Mammals: Mulanje is the only known Malawi locality for the rodent Aethomys namaquensis. Butterflies: Mulanje has the second-most important forest fauna in Malawi, some 111 species. The following are, on present evidence, endemic to Mulanje: Charaxes margaretae, Cymothoe melanjae and Baliochila nyasae. No fewer than 19 species of butterfly reach their southern limits: Papilio desmondi, P. pelodurus, P. phorcas, Charaxes aubyni, C. dilutus, Pseudacraea deludens, Neptis incongrua, Sallya morantii, Acraea baxteri, A. goetzei, Belenois rubrosignata, Mylothris similis, Neocoenyra gregorii, Eagris sabadius Alaena picata, Teriomima puella, Uranothauma crawshayi, U. falkensteini and Platylesches rasta.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Mount Mulanje Forest Reserve. Downloaded from on 26/02/2024.