This IBA is located 32 km west of Mooi River, in the foothills of the Drakensberg. Highmoor, a division of the Maoloti Drakensberg Park (IBA SA064) bounds it on one side, while the other boundaries abut onto private land. The site is almost flat; altitude ranges from 1 600 to 1 620 m a.s.l. The climate is cool-temperate, with an annual average temperature of 15 °C and rainfall averaging 1 300 mm per year. The vegetation consists of grasslands and wetlands classified as Highland Sourveld. The original grass community has been severely modified by past use as farmland. Permanent wetlands are dominated by Phragmites australis and Typha latifolia, with species of Cyperus, Pycreus and Juncus on the fringes.
The vlei and surrounding grasslands hold Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus, Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum and Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus. Eurasian Bittern Botaurus stellaris is recorded regularly and is a real special for the vlei, which also holds African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus and Black Stork Ciconia nigra. The vlei is also possible habitat for White-winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi. Denham's Bustard Neotis denhami, Black-winged Lapwing Vanellus melanopterus and African Grass Owl Tyto capensis frequent the surrounding grasslands.
Three pairs of the globally threatened Wattled Crane and a floater flock of 30 individuals frequent the area. Other globally threatened species are breeding Blue Crane, Grey Crowned Crane and a small Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus colony. Regionally threatened species include African Grass Owl and African Marsh Harrier.
Both serval Felis serval and oribi Ourebia ourebi are resident.
This reserve is managed by the Imvelo Trust as a sanctuary for waterfowl and grassland species, particularly the three cranes. In the past, it had been severely impacted by the construction of drains and by ridge-and-furrow agriculture. These practices interfered with the passage of water through the upper reaches of the western arm of the vlei. Hundreds of small dams have now been built in the furrows, together with three larger dams to raise the water table. Cranes nesting on adjacent farms now move into these wetlands when not breeding and a pair of Wattled Cranes breeds in the wetland. Subsequently, holding and breeding pens have been set up for captive cranes, as well as rehabilitation facilities for sick or injured cranes. An education centre has also been established. None of the birds held in these facilities have been taken from the wild; all birds are from rescues of injured cranes or confiscations of cranes held illegally. The Crane Centre functions as part of the SACWG whose objective is the conservation of cranes and wetlands nationally. The main threat to the sanctuary comes from uncontrolled human access, and the accompanying grazing of cattle and snaring practised by a section of a neighbouring community. Stock grazing, in particular, disturbs the wetland rehabilitation process. Invasive alien plants in the wetland are also a threat.
The Imvelo Trust aims to build on the considerable conservation successes achieved since it was established in 1992. The trust has worked to address some of the threats facing the sanctuary such as the illegal grazing of cattle, poaching and uncontrolled human access. Efforts to rehabilitate the wetlands have been successful, with one pair of Wattled Cranes breeding in the wetland. Invasive alien plants are actively controlled and the owners, as well as neighbouring farmers, are currently investigating the potential to enter into Biodiversity Stewardship. Once the plantations on the property have been harvested by Mondi and rehabilitated, additional grassland, and possibly wetland, habitat will be created, to the benefit of the species that occur here. The surrounding wetlands should be incorporated into the IBA in the future, as the area supports one of the most important Wattled Crane populations in KwaZulu-Natal.
Entabeni Communications www.enviroed.co.za
Guthrie I. 1995. Hlatikulu Vlei: cranes, waterfowl and wetland. Birding in Southern Africa 47: 29–31.