The reserve lies on the Zambian border, to the south-west of the Nyika Plateau. It includes Vwaza Marsh in the north, an extensive wetland of reedbeds, patches of papyrus and seasonally flooded grassland, fed by the Hewe stream. The Luwewe stream drains from the Marsh south into the South Rukuru, an important perennial river that forms the southern boundary. The small Lake Kazuni, in the south-east, is fed by the South Rukuru and its level fluctuates seasonally. The alluvial plain lies at 1,100–1,200 m and rises in the east to a series of pediments and hills towards the foothills of the Nyika; the highest point is Mpanda (1,661 m). The reserve encompasses a great variety of habitats, from lake and marsh vegetation, flood-plain grassland, dambos, thickets, riparian forest, and Colophospermum mopane (mopane) and Brachystegia (miombo) woodland. The site is one of the most northerly locations in Africa for mopane, which is found in the alluvial plain as well as in the hills, next to and sometimes mixed with miombo or species of undifferentiated woodland.
See Box and Table 3 for key species. Over 300 species have been recorded. The site is particularly important for the conservation of the starling Neocichla gutturalis, a Zambezian species of highly localized and relict distribution; in Vwaza it is common in both miombo and mopane woodland. A few Grus carunculatus occur in the flood-plain; in the past it was known to breed in dambos along the southern Rukuru to the south of Vwaza, so the odd pair may breed in the reserve, but this requires confirmation. There are also records of Falco naumanni. Vwaza is at the north-eastern limit of distribution of Francolinus swainsoni, which occurs nowhere else in Malawi.
Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: a small population of Kobus vardoni (LR/cd) seems to have established itself in recent years (one of only two in Malawi). The population of Hippotragus equinus (LR/cd) is one of the few large ones in Malawi, and that of Alcelaphus lichtensteini (LR/cd) is the largest.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 07/02/2023.