Phongolo Nature Reserve

General Information


Global IBA (A1, A2, A3)




Fully Protected


20 390 ha



Additional Info

  • Site description

    The site is located 30 km south-east of Pongola town. Basalt of the uMfolozi River Formation underlies the western section of the reserve and has produced clay soils. The eastern side is a rocky escarpment composed of rhyolite of the Jozini Formation. An artificial impoundment covers up to two-thirds of the site, depending on the water level. When full, the dam surface lies at an altitude of 130 m a.s.l. The Pongola River, which flows in from the north-west, feeds the dam; only a small drowned section of the river lies inside the reserve. The river exits through the Pongola Gorge, an ancient gash in the Lebombo Mountains. Much of the dam has a steep profile, but parts of the western shore slope gently, exposing mudflats on occasion. Aquatic vegetation is not usually well developed. Most of the surrounds are fairly flat, but the eastern shore is steep to precipitous, rising to the boundary of the reserve at the top of the Lebombo range (598 m a.s.l.).

    The climate is arid and warm, with a mean annual temperature of 21 °C. Rainfall averages 617 mm p.a., falling mostly in summer (November–March). The vegetation consists of Zululand Lowveld.


    Phogola NR Ruan SpringorumThe dam and its associated wetlands are important for many wetland-dependent birds. Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens has bred in the past, making this one of only two sites in South Africa where it does so. However, there is no permanent breeding habitat (the pelicans nest in dead trees, either at the water's edge or quite far from the shore) and breeding has not been recorded recently. Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis has bred twice in this same habitat, but has been absent for several years. Black Stork Ciconia nigra, which breeds in gorges in the nearby mountains, regularly forages here, as do African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus, Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata and Black Coucal Centropus grillii.

    African Grass Owl Tyto capensis occurs throughout the grassland areas of the reserve, which still holds reasonable numbers of raptors, including important populations of Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus, White-headed Vulture Aegypius occipitalis, White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus, Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus and Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax. The bushveld holds Natal Spurfowl Pternistis natalensis, Red-crested Korhaan Lophotis ruficrista, White-throated Robin-Chat Cossypha humeralis, Burnt-necked Eremomela Eremomela usticollis and Gorgeous Bush-Shrike Chlorophoneus viridis. Large, dense thickets support Rudd's Apalis Apalis ruddi, Neergaard's Sunbird Cinnyris neergaardi and Pink-throated Twinspot Hypargos margaritatus. A small population of Lemon-breasted Canary Crithagra citrinipectus occurs in the open savanna.

    IBA trigger species

    Globally threatened species are Lappet-faced Vulture (1–4 breeding pairs; 4–14 individuals), White-headed Vulture (one breeding pair; 4–6 individuals), White-backed Vulture (23 breeding pairs; 50–100 individuals) and Martial Eagle. Regionally threatened species are Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus (eight breeding pairs; 24–40 individuals), African Marsh Harrier, African Grass Owl and Tawny Eagle. Biome-restricted species include White-throated Robin-Chat, White-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris talatala, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and Rudd's Apalis.

    Other biodiversity

    Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius, Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus and African rock python Python sebae natalensis are present. White rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum has recently been re-introduced. The cycads Encephalartos ngoyanus and E. lebomboensis occur on the mountain slopes.

    Conservation issues


    This IBA is a formally protected area. The trees where the pelicans and storks were breeding were killed by fluctuations in the dam's water level. Water is periodically released as part of the management plan, a practice initiated originally to simulate normal flooding on the floodplain downstream in order to recharge the pans there. Eutrophication in the dam's north-western extremity occurs early in most winters, a result of fertiliser run-off from the cane-lands. Dense growth of blue-green algae temporarily degrades the best area of the dam for both birds and fish. The spread of invasive alien plants, particularly Parthenium, Hydrilla and Chromolaena species, occurs in sections of the reserve. A roost and possibly a breeding colony of Cape Vultures Gyps coprotheres existed on the nearby Lebombo cliffs prior to 1975. The reason for its disappearance is unknown.

    Conservation action

    Raptors and vultures are monitored annually on the reserve by EKZNW as part of an aerial survey throughout Zululand. Efforts to control invasive alien plants are undertaken by EKZNW. The site is part of the much larger Pongola Biosphere, and the surrounding farms are important for raptors and vultures in Zululand. The farms that form part of the Pongola Biosphere should be assessed and considered for inclusion in the IBA.

    Related webpages


    If you have any information about the IBA, such as a new threat that could impact on it, please send an e-mail to or call BirdLife South Africa +27 (11) 789 1122.

    Page last updated

    Tuesday, 17 February 2015

    Further Reading

    None Known.

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