Ngoye Forest Reserve is located c. 11 km inland of Mtunzini and c. 20 km east of Eshowe. It lies on two main types of base rock: Biotite Granite Gneiss and Horblende Biotite Schist. The former is very resistant and overlays the latter, which is more easily weathered. Most of the forest is on the gneiss at an altitude of between 300 and 500 m a.s.l. The reserve is drained by the Mhlatuzane River and its tributaries to the north and the tributaries of the Mlalazi River to the south. Where the streams cut through the gneiss, the underlying schist is quickly weathered, resulting in deeply incised forest streams. The area receives an average annual rainfall of 1 391 mm. Large patches of grassland cover the open, wind-exposed ridges of the reserve, but their quality has deteriorated over time. Bush clumps are found on rocky outcrops in the grassland. The tree fern Cyathea dregei occurs throughout the grassland as well as in the forest understorey. Some of the valleys hold open woodland which, where it follows streams, develops into hygrophilous forest, with many liana species that make the forest edge almost impenetrable. The climax forest is characterised by its continuous canopy, large trees (25–30 m in height) and poorly developed shrub and field layers. Epiphytic ferns and orchids are common. The extent and quality of the forest remains good.
This is the only forest patch in southern Africa that holds Green Barbet Stactolaema olivacea. In the ideal habitat of the higher-lying parts of the western half of the forest, a density of one pair of Green Barbets per 4–5 ha is seen. Very few live in the eastern half of the forest. The Green Barbet is one of the most range-restricted of all birds and the probable reason for it being found only in Ngoye and not in other apparently similar forests in the vicinity is a function of fig diversity. Ngoye has eight fig species; few other forests have more than three. Figs are the staple diet for both adult and young Green Barbets, and this diversity of species guarantees a year-round food supply. However, two of the fig species used to feed nestlings come from the bush clumps outside the forest proper. This suggests that the barbets are not afraid to cross open spaces and are therefore not 'trapped' in remnant habitat.
The forest supports good populations of African Broadbill Smithornis capensis, Green Malkoha Ceuthmochares australis, White-eared Barbet Stactolaema leucotis, Scaly-throated Honeyguide Indicator variegatus, Olive Woodpecker Dendropicos griseocephalus, Red-backed Mannikin Lonchura nigriceps, Green Twinspot Mandingoa nitidula, Southern Tchagra Tchagra tchagra, Yellow-streaked Greenbul Phyllastrephus flavostriatus, Natal Spurfowl Pternistis natalensis and Forest Canary Serinus scotops.
Globally threatened birds are Spotted Ground Thrush Zoothera guttata, Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus and Southern Ground-hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri. Regionally threatened species are Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba delegorguei and Green Barbet.
Biome-restricted species that are common in the IBA are Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia, Black-bellied Starling Notopholia corrusca, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa, White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata, Brown Scrub Robin Erythropygia signata and Olive Bush-shrike Chlorophoneus olivaceus. Swee Waxbill Estrilda melanotis occurs in the IBA but is uncommon.
Ngoye is especially noted for its plants. The only known specimen of Wood's cycad Encephalartos woodii was found on the eastern outskirts of the forest. This species is now extinct in the wild, but up to 500 plants exist in collections around the world. No female plant exists, and the species can be regarded as a living dinosaur. The Ngoye dwarf cycad E. ngoyanus is near-endemic; another population occurs in the Lebombo Mountains of north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal. Other Red Data and rare plants present are Bolusiella maudiae, Corymborkis corymbosa, Stenoglottis woodii, Asclepias gordon-grayae, Olinia radiata, Phyllanthus cedrelifolius, Cryptocarya wyliei, Ficus bizanae, Loranthus woodii, Streptocarpus wendlandii, Alchornea hirtella and Asastasia vara.
One of the few forests to have its own endemic mammal, Ngoye is the home of the Ngoye red squirrel Paraxerus palliatus ornatus. The Zululand dwarf chameleon Bradypodion nemorale, a localised KwaZulu-Natal endemic, is abundant in the forest.
In principle, this provincial nature reserve is run as a reserve, but historically there has been little control over casual exploitation. Cattle graze the grassland and have adversely affected forest undergrowth in places, while the high fire frequency experienced annually threatens grassland biodiversity. A grazing plan was developed by EKZNW together with the Department of Agriculture in 2009, but livestock management within the reserve has yet to be implemented. The collecting of firewood has been implicated as a potential reason for the absence of hole-nesting species such as barbets and woodpeckers in forest-edge habitat. A closer analysis of the effect of firewood removal on birds is required. There is also evidence of trees being ring-barked for medicinal purposes. Because the Green Barbet is restricted to Ngoye, it is essential that the forest be properly managed as a reserve and that some management action be planned around this species.
The increase in homestead developments along the reserve's boundary within the Mzimela Traditional Authority has implications pertaining to access. The use of roads through Ngoye to access peripheral developments makes management of the reserve more difficult.
This reserve is on State-owned land, has been declared a nature reserve and is administered by EKZNW. There is a comprehensive management plan for it and substantive conservation measures are being implemented. These, however, are not comprehensive and are limited by resources and capacity. EKZNW is in the process of completing the boundary fence to regulate entry and cattle grazing.
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Du Plessis MA. 1995. The effects of fuelwood removal on the diversity of some cavity-using birds and mammals in South Africa. Biological Conservation 74: 77–82.
Huntley BJ. 1965. A preliminary account of the Ngoye Forest Reserve, Zululand. Journal of South African Botany 31: 177–205.
Kruger SJ, Lawes MJ. 1997. Edge effects at an induced forest–grassland boundary: forest birds in the Ongoye Forest Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal. South African Journal of Zoology 32: 82–91.