The Niassa National Reserve (NNR) in northern Mozambique is one of Africa’s largest (42,300 km2), wildest, and most spectacular protected areas. It is connected to the Selous Game Reserve (SGR, 55,000 km2) in southern Tanzania by the Selous-Niassa corridor, and remains connected by a natural corridor of forestry concessions to the Quirimbas National Park (7,506 km2) to its east on the coast of northern Mozambique. This remains one of Africa’s largest contiguous wilderness areas.
© John Guernier
NNR comprises 31% of Mozambique's protected land and harbors the most significant populations of wildlife, including the largest populations of elephant (~4-4,500), lion (1,000-1,200), leopard, wild dog (400-450), sable, kudu, wildebeest and zebra. The Selous-Niassa elephant population is at the frontline of the elephant poaching crisis – this was the world’s second largest, and East Africa’s largest elephant population, with, in the early 2000’s, a combined population of over 70,000. Poaching began in 2008 and by 2010 the elephant population was estimated at 50,000–55,000 animals. Six years later unmanageable poaching has decreased this combined population to ~20,000 animals (~4,400 in NNR and ~15,217 in SGR).
Nonetheless this is still one of Africa’s most significant elephant populations, especially given the enormous extent of wild habitat available which means that this is one of the few areas left in Africa capable of holding tens of thousands of elephants again in the future. Beyond holding the most significant populations of Mozambique’s wildlife, NNR is also characterised by:
• Being one of the largest extant blocks of miombo woodland within a single protected area;
• Enormous inselbergs that stand hundreds of metres above the surrounding landscape and contain locally important and endemic biodiversity (e.g. the Mecula girdled lizard);
• The Rovuma and Lugenda rivers – both large perennial river systems, each with 300 km and 500 km of their course respectively within NNR; and
• A rich human cultural history – the majority of the geographic area of the Yao language and culture, cave-art sites dating back tens of thousands of years, and active sacred sites where traditional practices still occur.
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