More than twice the size of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, the Niassa Reserve’s 42 000 square kilometers make it not only by far the largest conservation area in Mozambique, but also one of the most extensive protected areas in Africa.
The reserve was first established in 1954, but was abandoned during the hostilities of the 1970s and ’80s. After the peace accord was signed in 1992, the new Mozambican government took a bold, innovative step, entering into an arrangement to manage Niassa Reserve as a public-private partnership. Since assuming responsibility for the reserve in 1998, the SRN (Sociedade para a Gestão e Desenvolvimento da Reserva do Niassa), together with is partners at Flora & Fauna International, has made great progress in putting Niassa back on the map, with some highly progressive policies on adaptive environmental management and community-centered sustainable development.
Niassa Reserve is one of the most pristine Miombo wilderness areas in Africa. The vegetation is mostly Brachystegia woodland interspersed with open savanna and dambo wetlands. Small isolated forests occur on the mountains and inselbergs found throughout the Reserve, and there are riparian forests along the perennial rivers. A recent vegetation survey outlined 21 vegetation types with approximately 200 species of trees and shrubs.
Despite the damage caused during the decades of conflict, Niassa Reserve supports a remarkably rich and diverse collection of wildlife. Regular aerial surveys have revealed significant populations of large herbivores with over 12,000 elephant, 9,000 sable and thousands of buffalo, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, eland and zebra. There are smaller populations of kudu, bushbuck, impala, wildebeest, waterbuck, reedbuck and hippo. Duiker and warthogs abound. Lion, leopard and spotted hyena are common whilst a large population of over 200 African wild dogs occur, making Niassa one of the last great refuges for this endangered predator.
Of particular interest are three endemic subspecies which exist in Niassa but are rare elsewhere, namely: Niassa wildebeest, Boehm’s zebra, and Johnston’s impala. The Reserve has a rich and varied birdlife including the rare Angola Pitta, Pel’s Fishing Owl, and an abundant raptor population including nesting Taita Falcons, Crowned and Black Eagles. The Rovuma region has been designated an Important Bird Area and over 370 species have been recorded so far.
The intention is to establish a wildlife corridor between Niassa and the Selous Game Reserve to the north.