Ubuntu Wildlife Trust works in Maputaland (formerly Tongaland) in the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is sometimes erroneously referred to as part of Zululand but is a region on its own further north of Zululand. It is an area of incredible natural beauty, species richness in both fauna and flora, and has huge conservation importance on a global scale. This series of blogs by our team of ecologists on-the-ground highlights some of the reasons why we have chosen to work in this region:
Neighbouring a UNESCO World heritage Site
A stone’s throw away from the properties we work on, is the World heritage Site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It is a massive reserve of over 3,280 km2. A World Heritage Site is designated by the UN for having cultural and natural heritage considered of great value to humanity. These sites have legal protection from an international convention administered by UNESCO.
iSimangaliso was South Africa’s first World heritage site and this protection saved it from dune mining. It was selected in 3 of the 10 categories, viz.:
- Outstanding examples of ecological processes (criterion vii)
- Superlative natural phenomena and scenic beauty (criterion ix)
- Exceptional biodiversity and threatened species (criterion x)
The name iSimangaliso is the iSiZulu word meaning miracle and wonder, which perfectly describes this truly breath-taking place.
iSimangaliso is Africa’s largest estuarine system and contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, traditional fishing systems that have been used for over 700 years, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, 530 bird species, and the 25,000 year-old coastal dunes are among the highest in the world.
In 2019 it was expanded to include a Marine Protected Area (MPA) which includes 5 of the 7 world turtle species (2 breeding on these shores), 991 species of marine fish, over 200 estuary fish species, 55 freshwater fish species, sharks, whales, dolphins, and many others.
At Ubuntu Wildlife Trust we work with partners, collaborators, and local communities to not only safeguard these majestic areas, but to link them up to other protected biodiverse habitats, and grow more natural space for animals.
The species list below for iSimangaliso alone highlights the critical importance of this region:
iSimangaliso Species Summary
Of all species found in southern Africa, iSimangaliso has 22% of the insects; 32% of the bats; 51% of the carnivores; 53% of hooved animals; and 21% of the rodents.
Terrestrial and Marine mammals – 129 species
• Viable breeding populations of 97 terrestrial mammal species.
• The Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis minor) is listed as an endangered species in the International Red Data Book.
• 22 other mammals are listed in the South African Red Data Books
• 18 species appear in CITES appendices.
• 32 marine mammals occur in the Wetland Park, including southern right whales (Eubalaena australis), humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates), humpback dolphins (Sousa plumbea) and spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris). All 32 marine mammals which occur in the Wetland Park are listed in both the International Red Data Books and the CITES appendices.
• Important destination or stopover for migratory species
• 521 species representing 60% of the South African avifauna
• 47 subspecies of birds that are endemic to the Maputaland region
• 4 South African endemics
• A principal avifaunal breeding areas in South Africa as 339 bird species (62% of the total list) are known to, or are considered to breed in iSimangaliso
• 62 birds in the South African Red Data Books
• 73 species that are listed in CITES appendices
• 50 species of Amphibia
• 109 species of reptiles.
• 12 species of Chelonidae (five marine, four freshwater and three terrestrial species)
• 5 of the world’s 7 turtle species
• The principal breeding ground for the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the critically endangered Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtle species in southern Africa. Green (Chelonia mydas), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and Hawsbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles also occur in subtidal habitats
• 53 species of snakes
• 42 species of lizards and chameleons, and one species of crocodile.
• 6 reptiles are listed in the International Red Data Books
• 20 reptiles and two amphibians are listed in the South African Red Data Books
• 16 reptile species listed in CITES appendices
• The only known South African population of the Bouton’s snake eyed skink (Cryptoblepharus boutoniis) occur at Black Rock in the Maputaland Marine Protected Area.
• 991 species having been recorded in the Marine Protected Areas
• Principal sanctuary for breeding populations of several commercially important endemic fish species. The coral reefs are also particularly rich in fish species. Six species of billfish (Istiophoridae) have been recorded in the Park and are an important feature for tourism.
• Coelacanths (Latimeria chalumnae) were discovered in Jesser Canyon at 107m in October 2000
• Summer season migration of the Whale Shark (Rhynocodon typus) and aggregations at certain specific locations of the Ragged Tooth Shark (Carcharias taurus). Another important species is the Brindle Bass (Epinephelus lanceolatus), which is the largest reef-dwelling fish in the world
• 200 fish species have been recorded in the estuarine system. One of the largest fish species in both freshwater and estuarine systems is the Zambezi Shark (Carcharhinus leucas), which attains a weight of up to 317kg
• 55 species in fresh water systems, including six South African and five KwaZulu-Natal endemic fish species.
• 22 freshwater species reach their southern limit of distribution in the Park
• 16 species are listed in the South African Red Data Books.
• 20 sponges have been collected at Sodwana Bay
• 129 species of coral have been identified
• 812 species (excluding micro-molluscs under 5mm in size) of marine and estuarine molluscs have been recorded
• Data are massively incomplete
• At least 20 species of Tabanid flies
• 1 species of Cetonid beetle
• 5 species of butterflies
• 10 coastal forest molluscs.