Wayne Matthews (Maputaland - Regional Ecologist)
Maputaland is well known for its rich biodiversity and ecotourism potential. Much of the area is relatively undeveloped and utilised by the local people, the Tongas, for grazing cattle and other natural resource based industries such as palm wine (from the sap of the palms Hyphaene coriacea and Phoenix reclinata). Several major conservation areas are found in the region, the more familiar ones being St Lucia and Mkuzi G.R. Less known is Tembe Elephant
National Park and Kosibay Coastal Forest Reserve. Recently Mozambique granted a concession comprising
approx. 230 000 ha for ecotourism development in southern Mozambique. Currently, initiatives for establishing a trans-border conservation area ("Peace Park") between northern KwaZulu Natal and southern Mozambique are underway.
THIS IS AN WWF/IUCN CENTRE OF PLANT DIVERSITY
An area which is;
The objectives of recognising Centres of plant diversity are:
To identify which areas around the world, if conserved, would safe guard the greatest number of plant species.
To document the many benefits, economic and scientific, that conservation of those areas would bring to society.
To outline a strategy for the conservation of the areas selected.
In 1994, Southern Mozambique and the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal were recognised by WWF/IUCN as a Centre of Plant Diversity; the Maputaland centre. High levels of endemism and biodiversity (not only in plants) were highlighted for this region. Not only are the numbers of endemics high, but they are also are spread across virtually the whole taxonomic spectrum (an endemic is a plant or animal more or less confined to a particular area or substrate). As in the case with plants, the centre is of exceptional zoogeographical interest because of the
sharp biogeographical transformation in the region (Poynton 1961). The area also abounds in insect life, which at this stage is not well explored.
About 2 500 species (but probably more) of vascular plants occur in the Maputaland Centre; of these at least 230 species/infraspecific taxa are endemic or near endemic to the region (Van Wyk 1996). Other endemics are one mammal (14 of subspecies rank), 23 reptiles, three frogs and eight fresh water fishes.
The Maputaland centre also corresponds with the southern part of the South-eastern African coast Endemic bird Area (EBA). Of the more than 472 species of birds in the Maputaland Centre (almost 60% of South Africa's total), five are endemic / near endemic to the centre.
The geological history of the region suggests that the current ecosystems in the region may be of recent derivation. In fact, many endemic plant taxa comply with the concept of neo-endemics (recently developed). Thus, the Maputaland Centre comprises a unique environment in Africa in being geologically young with biological evolution (notably speciation) still in an very active phase.
Tembe Elephant National Park is situated in the southern part of the Mozambique coastal plain in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The park is 30 013 ha in extent and its northern limit is the international boundary between South Africa and Mozambique. The Park comprises undulating sand ridges (linear north-south trending dunes) interspersed with depressions which, if soil clay content is high, may form perennial pans. The highest dunes in the study area (Nhlela and Beacon Ridges) reach a height of 129 m a.s.l. and the lowest lying areas (e.g. Muzi swamp) are at approximately 50 m a.s.l. The
zone where the park is to be found is some of the highest areas of the Mozambican coastal plain. These dune ridges are probably 3 - 1.8 million years old (Early Pleistocene), some of the oldest in the Maputaland region. In geological terms these are young formations.
Tembe Elephant National Park and surrounding areas are covered by woodland with patches of short and tall forest usually bordered by grassland. Wild & Barbosa (1967) mapped this central area as Dry Semi-deciduous (lowland-sublittoral) Forest as well as woodland and savanna woodland (south-eastern sublittoral) with extra-tropical species.
Tembe Elephant National Park lies within the core area of the Maputaland Centre and contains many rare plant and animal species. Noteworthy is the presence in the park of a rare forest type, locally referred to as sand forest and in Mozambique as licuati forest. Sand forest is a very distinctive forest type with a unique combination of plant and animal species. As far as is known, this vegetation type is more or less restricted to ancient coastal dunes in northern KwaZulu-Natal and the extreme southern portion of Mozambique (Maputaland). Sand forest harbours many rare
and unusual plant and animal species, including several Maputaland Centre endemics. Because of its restricted occurrence and unusual species complement, sand forest is perhaps the most unique plant community in the Maputaland Centre. Of the 225 Maputaland Centre plant endemic species, 30 are associated with it and 20 restricted to it. In the case of birds, Neergaard's sunbird is strongly associated with it.
Plant species that characterise sand forest (licuati forest) are Drypetes arguta, Uvaria lucida subsp. virens, Cola greenwayi, Balanites maughamii, Psydrax fragrantissima, Hyperacanthus microphyllus, Dialium schlechteri, Pteleopsis myrtifolia, Ptaeroxylon obliquum, Croton pseudopulchellus and Newtonia hildebrandtii. On the protruding crowns of many of the larger species are usually covered by epiphytes, such as the wiry orchid Microcoelia exilis and various lichens including Usnea spp.
In many parts of southern Africa and rest of Africa the boundary between forests and adjacent vegetation types is very abrupt, in nearly all cases not following environmental discontinuities. This abruptness of forest boundaries is chiefly due to fire, an important determinant of forest boundaries and composition. Forests rarely burn, the fires usually stopping at the forest margins. In the case of sand forest not only does it have distinct boundaries but in the field it also exhibits a narrow zone (1-2 m) of nearly bare soil directly bordering it. There are indications that
allelopathic effects may play a role in the sand forests, bringing about this narrow zone of inhibition. Sand forest is possibly, creating a unique environment for itself. (Allelopathy is the production of biochemicals by one plant that can, directly or indirectly, affect another plant adversely).
Another interesting feature of Tembe are the reed beds of the Muzi, which crosses the eastern side of the reserve and runs northwards all the way to Maputo Bay in Mozambique. Here along the entire length of the Muzi Swamp, dense stands of Phragmites australis occur, though in some places it is mixed with Typha littoralis. Specified areas are utilised, in a controlled manner, by the local community for harvesting of reeds. The "Muzi Swamp" is the only source of permanent water in the reserve, even in most dry years.
The area now known as Tembe was, until recently, still relatively undeveloped, with very little human influence. No major fences occurred south, east or west, with only the international border fence to the north. The international border fence was not an obstacle for what game was present and it would have allowed free movement, even for elephants.
Very few people lived in this area because of the scarcity and seasonality of surface water and the few that did so were to be found along the Muzi swamps. Soils are generally too poor for cultivation, except along the Muzi swamp, and what crops did manage to grow the elephants would destroy. In the past, the density of people in the Muzi swamp area was low, as sections of the swamp are dry for many months of the year. The more permanent waters of the northern sections of the Muzi swamp are saline and therefore not suitable for irrigation.
The park falls within the Tembe Tribal ward and 'the late' Chief Msimba Tembe donated the land for the formation of this game reserve. The reasons for the establishment of Tembe Elephant
National Park are to:
Protect the lives and property of the local people from damage and injury by the free roaming elephant.
Preserve the last naturally occurring population of African elephant Loxodonta africana in KwaZulu Natal.
Protect one of the largest populations of Livingstone's Suni Neotragus moschatus in Southern Africa, as well as other naturally occurring fauna.
Conserve and protect the unique Licuati (sand forest).
Tembe Elephant National Park was proclaimed in October 1983 and the south, west and eastern borders were fenced with game proof and electric fences. This still allowed free movement of elephant and game north into Mozambique. Later, in the middle of 1989 the northern border with Mozambique was fenced, stopping any elephant movement north. This was necessary due to poaching of elephant.
In the past the bulls would have ranged further afield while the breeding groups would have limited themselves to a "home range area", which in this case encompasses the Muzi swamps on the one side and the Floodplains of the Usutu and Pongola
Rivers on the other. Similar movements are taking place in and around Maputo Elephant National Park in Mozambique, where the breeding groups utilise the Rio Maputo (Usutu River -SA) floodplain and then move back into the sandveld regions where the Futi (Muzi Swamp - SA) is. The quality of forage in TEP is generally
poor, other than in the region of the Muzi Swamp, which is also the only source of permanent water. The southern potions of the Muzi swamp, as well as all pans systems in the interior of the reserve, are of a seasonal nature and may be dry for years at a time during drought periods. Historical use of the area covered by the TEP is therefore assumed to have been concentrated along the Muzi swamp. Tembe has been isolated from the major river systems to the north and west.
As a result of the elephant now been contained (since 1989 - period of only 9 yrs), they are now concentrating on the more permanent water areas in the reserve as well as impacting on areas that in the past they would have seldom frequented nl sand forest. With the population increasing and return times to utilised sites being short, very high levels of utilisation have been reached. With the impacts on sand forest the most concerning. Indications are that continued utilisation at these levels is threatening this habitat (Matthews & Page, In Prep).
The primary reasons for the proclamation of Tembe Elephant National Park were to conserve sand forest and protect the natural elephant population of Maputaland. This has led to a clash of interests between sand forest and elephant. Although these elephant prefer plant species from the woodland habitats, they are increasingly impacting on sand forest species, due to the old movements patterns been fenced off and them now confined to the relative small size of this reserve.
In the last few years some new discoveries have been made in the region, eg. new species as well as new records of plant distributions for South Africa. The most recent being of a new Ozoroa sp (Resin trees). This species is not a tree but a dwarf shrub, found occurring in the unique woody grassland habitat also referred to as the underground forests of Africa. Its full distribution must still be established. The tree Berchemia discolor (brown Ivory), which is associated with sand forest habitat, is soon to be described as a new species. An example of new
distribution records for a species for South Africa is Lannea antiscorbutica (the pink lannea) which was formerly confused with Lannea schweinfurthii (False marula). Lannea antiscorbutica is found associated with sand forest and not bushveld, as is the case with Lannea schweinfurthii. This is a disjuct species, which is found in Tembe as well as north of its borders in Mozambique and then jumps much further north to the Zambezi valley and then up into central Africa. I am sure this is not the end of this type of interesting discoveries.
Acridocarpus natallitius subsp. linearifolius
Three toed elephant Shrew
Yellow Golden Mole
Crested guinea fowl
Pink throated longclaw
Southern banded snake eagle