Maputo Elephant Reserve – Reserva Especial de Maputo

Mozaictravel Safari’s in Maputo Special Reserve
1-day Maputo Elephant Reserve
3-day Maputo Elephant Reserve
7-day Southern Mozambique: Dolphin swim and Elephant safari

Maputo Elephant Reserve Elephant Hurd

In the Maputo Special Reserve, previously endangered Elephant populations are  now estimated at  over 350. Hippo, crocodiles and a variety of small buck including red duiker, suni, reedbuck and steenbok  can be seen.

he MSR was created for the protection of elephants in the region . A small population of elephants was present at the beginning of the 19th century. In order to increase the habitat available for the elephants and to link the two, now separate, elephant populations from the MSR and the Tembe Elephant Park (TEP), South Africa, a new transfrontier conservation area has been developed . The MSR has been managed by the National Directorate for Forestry and Wildlife, Ministry of Agriculture, with support from Endangered Wildlife Trust during the period 1993-1997.  A concession for the development of tourism in the transfrontier conservation area was granted to J.R. Blanchard III in 1996.  The concession was transferred to the Peace Parks Foundation in 1999.  The development Initiative, and international venture involving tourism development in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, eastern Swaziland and the southernmost part of Mozambique.

Maputo Elephant Reserve viewpoint

The Maputo Special Reserve (MSR) is located in the southern part of Mozambique The Reserve (total area 800km²) was originally gazetted in 1932 but its current boundaries were determined in 1969. The annual rainfall is 690-1000 mm and the mean annual temperature is 23°C . There is a rainy hot season from October to March and a drier and colder period from April to September.  The soils are mainly Aeolian sand deposits of marine origin, which rest on an undulating impermeable Cretaceous siltstone floor.  The undulating sand ridges are interspersed with depressions that can have a higher clay content.

Maputo Elephant Reserve

The area, except for the floodplains in the north, is undulating with its highest point at 104 m.  The Maputo River forms part of the western boundary before draining into the Bay of Maputo.  The Futi River is smaller and drains into the plains in the north.  Several freshwater lakes occur, the largest of which are Lagoa Piti and Legoa Maunde.  Lagoa Xinguti and Lagoa Nele comprise the two substantial saline lakes; Lagoa Nhame is a smaller saline lake.

The MSR is situated in the Tongoland-Pondoland coastal mosaic, characterized by a high species diversity and a high degree of endemism. In 1994, the extreme southern part of Mozambique (including the proposed transfontier conservation area) and the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal were recognized by WWF and IUCN as a Centre of Plant Diversity: namely the Maputaland Centre .  The vegetation types are Mangroves, Dune Vegetation, Grass plains, Forest, Woodland, Riverine Vegetation.

Wildlife populations

Maputo Elephant Reserve

The herbivore population was decimated during the civil war.  A small population of 350 elephant.  Loxodonta Africana can be found in the MSR.  These elephants are not confined to the MSR, as the reserve is not fenced.  They are found most often in the western side of the Reserve and in the areas on both sides of the Futi River.  The grassplain-dwelling reedbuck Redunca arundinum has suffered the most from poaching.  The smaller, forest-dwelling antelope such as the red duiker Cephalophus natalensis, the suni Neotragus moschatus and the common duiker Sylvicapra grimmia still occur in reasonable numbers.  Other species include hippo Hippopotamus amphibious, bushpig Potamachoerus porcus[rarely sighted], and the Vervet and samango monkeys Cercopithecus aethiops and Cercopithecus mitis.  A small population of kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros and nyala Tragelaphus angasi still persists [also rarely sighted] and waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus were recently reintroduced.  Other species are now considered extinct in the area, such as cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, white rhino Ceratotherium simum, buffalo Syncerus caffer, blue wildebeest Connechaetes taurinus, and zebra Equus burchelli.  Two species of marine turtles, loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta and leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea, nest on the beaches of the eastern shore.  Crocodiles Crocodylus niloticus occur in the most freshwater bodies.

Human occupation
The MSR is administered by the National Forestry and Wildlife Department (DNFFB).  The head of the MSR is in charge of the management of the Reserve, assisted by a warden and field staff.  Commercial exploitation of plant and animal resources is forbidden by law, although collection of plant material for subsistence needs has always been permitted.  People have always lived inside the MSR and their number was estimated at 5000 – 10 000 in the 1970’s . The main ethnic group were the Ronga, which practised agriculture, pastoral activities and small-scale hunting and fishing.  Management of the MSR lapsed during the civil war (1978 – 1992) and was only reinstated in 1993, by which time most of the local people had moved out of the MSR and fled to South Africa and Swaziland.  The human population is currently concentrated outside the MSR in Bela Vista, the District capital with around 6500 inhabitants, Salamanga (2600 people), and in the north on the Machangulo Peninsula.  The population within the reserve probably numbers fewer than 1000 and is dispersed throughout, with a small concentration at Lagoa Piti.  The rural communities have always relied partly on the exploitation of its natural resources in the form of plants (fuelwood, construction wood and reeds for thatching), animals (subsistence hunting) and fish (mainly from Lagoa Piti)

Birding areas

Kingfisher in Maputo Elephant Reserve

Because of the difficulty of access, limited tourist facilities and lack of publicity, numbers of tourists visiting the Reserve prior to 1998 have been low (fewer than 1000 per year).  Development is under way, and by the time this document is in print, it is likely that roads and facilities will be much improved compared to those experienced by the authors.  The entrance is at the main camp, situated east of the road from Salamanga to Ponta do Ouro, close to the Futi River and adjacent to the Eucalyptus plantations.  Several large sand tracks cross the MSR and a 4 x 4 vehicle is a prerequisite for travelling here, especially in the rainy season.
All parts of the reserve provide interesting bird watching opportunities.  The following is an account of some localities and routes which the authors found particularly productive.  The intrepid visitor may well discover other localities which are even better.

Fish eagle in Maputo Elephant Reserve

The vicinity of the main camp is an excellent site for birding.  Here, woodland species occur in sandforest patches and waders, weavers and other water birds can be seen in the Futi River.
The vehicle track from the camp alongside the Futi River is similarly rewarding.  This area is frequently visited by elephants, and fallen trees can block access.  Some open water bodies visible from the road can offer good birding, with the two Jacana species and perhaps the Longtoed Plover.  Further to the north, the road leaves the Futi and follows the forest boundaries with the forest on one side of the track and the open grassplains on the other side.  This part of the reserve is normally cut off in the rainy season as stagnant pools and the higher water table make access impossible.  Circumventing these forest patches in the north near the Futi delta, and following the track southward, the Mirador can be reached.  This high look-out over the grassplains can also be reached more directly from the south, starting from the main camp.  The look-out is a very good spot for soaring birds of prey, ibises and storks, and is also the area where the Black Coucal is seen frequently.   From here a small track follows the grassplains to the south over the undulating dunes until the small dike is reached which crosses the grassplains and gives access to the eastern area of the MSR.  The woodland on the western dunes offers opportunities for spotting the Southern Banded Snake Eagle perching in the higher trees.  Crowned and Martial Eagles are also found here.
Crossing the grassplains can be difficult in the rainy season but when these grassplains are inundated, they offer suitable habitat for waders, ibises, storks, cormorants, ducks and egrets, with an occasional sighting of Saddlebilled Storks, Orangethroated Longclaw or Crowned Crane.
In the southern part of the reserve, some very dense sandforest patches occur.  These can be extensive, covering several thousand hectares, or quite small.  The evolution of these sandforest patches is remarkable as they are composed of very old remnants of dune vegetation.  Owing to a geological process of uplifting of the coasts, old dune forest adjacent to the coast became continuously more isolated from the coast, until they became isolated forest patches within a much larger area.  A spectacular species radiation has taken place in these old forests, and several very rare and endemic plant species can be found here.   They are always situated on the older sand dunes and have a relatively low herbaceous cover, with few grass species.  Birding in these areas is difficult as the vegetation is too dense to permit easy access, but can be quite rewarding as some rare and beautiful species such as the Neergaard’s Sunbird, Narina Trogon, Livingstone’s Lourie, Green Coucal and African Broadbill can be found.  These forest patches may represent the habitat of highest biodiversity within the region, because of the special evolution of these forests, and the enormous diversity of different niches available to the birds.
The various lakes sporadically support spectacular concentrations of waterbirds, including pelicans, flamingos, ducks, cormorants, spoonbills, storks, egrets, and waders.  The reedbeds offer excellent habitat for warblers and several species of weavers (such as the Yellow Weaver) and widows.  The lakes are known for populations of crocodiles and hippos, of which one should be aware.  The large trees bordering the lakes should be scrutinized for roosting Fish Eagle, Osprey or the rare Pel’s Fishing Owl.  The seashore provides a vantage point for watching the many pelagic birds which occur close inshore after heavy weather.  These include albatrosses, petrels, and possibly frigatebirds.  The shore and beach area support tern roosts and several wader species.  The dense coastal dune thicket is difficult to get through and birding is hampered by the dense vegetation and the enormous spines of Acacia bushes.  This is a suitable habitat for Wattle-eyed Flycatcher, Woodwards’ Batis, Olive and Gorgeous Bush Shrikes, and the beautiful Green Twinspot, which can be seen at forest edges.
The extensive mangrove and tidal wetlands in the north have been little studied.  Similar habitat on Inhaca offers remarkably good birding, with observations of several species of sunbirds, Sooty Falcons, Water Dikkop, Olive Bee-eater, Mangrove Kingfisher and a variety of waders.  The intertidal area outside the mangrove is used by several species of palearctic waders:  Whimbrels are very common and Terek Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshanks and Grey Plover are common.  Curlew and Bartailed Godwit are less abundant and rare species include the Mongolian Plover.  Several flocks of White Pelicans have been observed there.

Conservation of birdlife
BirdLife Intenational’s Important Bird Areas programme has identified the MSR as one of the 16 Important Bird Areas for Mozambique . The coastal region of Mozambique has been substantially modified by human activities, and the MSR represents the only part of the region south of the Save River where the natural coastal vegetation is conserved.
Bird species for which the reserve has been identified as an important refuge include the following:

Globally Endangered
Spotted Ground Thrush

Globally Near-Threatened
Neergaard’s Sunbird (a near-endemic to southern Mozambique) and Southern Banded Snake Eagle.

Biome Restricted Species (East African Coast Biome)
Brown Robin, Rudd’s Apalis and Pink-throated Twinspot

Locally Threatened
Saddlebilled Stork, Secretarybird, Martial Eagle, Crowned Eagle, Palmnut Vulture,
Crowned Cane, Stanley’s Bustard, Lesser Jacana, Painted Snipe, Green Coucal, Pel’s Fishing Owl, mangrove Kingfisher, White-eared Flycatcher, Pink-throated Longclaw, Olive Sunbird, Green Twinspot, Grey Waxbill and Pied Mannikin.
Most of the above species have declined in Mozambique as a result of the destruction of natural vegetation.
Three species are endemic to the southeast African coastal region, namely Rudd’s Apalis, Neergaard’s Sunbird and Pink-throated Twinspot.  A fourth, Lemonbreasted Canary, has been seen nearby, and may yet be observed within the reserve.

It is likely that at least one of the networks of coastal and freshwater wetlands within the reserve constitutes a wetland of international importance for some waterbirds.  Regular counts need to be conducted to confirm this.

Mozaictravel was the first operator, in partnership with Cono Christian, to include the Maputo Special Reserve in its offer. We have been visiting the reserve for 10 years now.

→ Booking info:
Maputo Special Reserve can be booked as
1-day Maputo Elephant Reserve
3-day Maputo Elephant Reserve
7-day Southern Mozambique: Dolphin swim and Elephant safari