• The Southern Highlands


    The Southern Highlands

    comprise a unique mosaic of plateau grasslands and montane forests. Dozens of species of flora and fauna are endemic to the area, several discovered by WCS, and most are globally threatened.

  • A Global Biodiversity Hotspot


    A Global Biodiversity Hotspot

    The area north of Lake Nyasa / Malawi is on the junction of the eastern and western arms of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. It is a key part of the AfroMontane ‘Global Biodiversity Hotspot’.

  • Natural resources


    Natural resources

    The Southern Highlands are home to over 2 million people, most of whom rely on natural resources for food, water, medicines, building materials and income. 
  • Montane grassland


    Montane grassland

    WCS was instrumental in the establishment of Kitulo National Park - tropical Africa’s first national park gazetted primarily for its wild flowers. Almost 700 species of vascular plants are known from the Mount Rungwe-Kitulo landscape.

  • Montane forest


    Montane forest

    This unique habitat is a critical haven for many endangered species including the Kipunji, Abbott’s duiker, Rungwe dwarf galago, Rungwe puddle frog and Rungwe bush viper to name just a few.

  • Threats



    The area's biodiversity is threatened by habitat loss, hunting of mammals and birds and a growing unsustainable trade in wildlife for the pet trade, especially reptiles, frogs and orchids.
  • Research and discoveries


    Research and discoveries

    Science is the foundation of our work. WCS biodiversity surveys have led to many discoveries including the beautiful Davenport's spiny-throated reed frog, only described to science in 2015.

  • Southern/ Highlands
  • Ruaha/ Katavi
  • Tarangire/ Ecosystem
  • Zanzibar/ Forests
  • Marine Program

The Southern Highlands Conservation Program was set up in 2000 to conserve key upland habitats and endangered species across southwest Tanzania. Lying between Lake Nyasa/Malawi and Lake Tanganyika the area is on the junction of the eastern and western arms of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Sites of particular interest include Kitulo Plateau, Mt Rungwe, Uporoto, Ufipa and the Livingstone Mountains. WCS was instrumental in the gazettement of Kitulo and Rungwe as a park and nature reserve respectively, to protect unique diversity, including the critically endangered Kipunji, and Abbott’s Duiker, Africa’s rarest forest antelope.


Dozens of animals and plants are endemic to the area, many recently discovered by WCS. Others are restricted to Tanzania or the Southern Rift, and many are considered globally threatened. The region’s plateau grasslands such as Kitulo Plateau are unique centres of endemism. The Southern Highlands fall within one of the 36 ‘Global Biodiversity Hotspots’. They also constitute a global ‘Ecoregion’, contain six ‘Important Bird Areas’, three ‘Priority Primate Areas’ and are a ‘National Site of Special Conservation Significance’. The Southern Highlands are home to over 2 million people, most of whom rely on natural resources for food, medicines, building materials and income. The mountains and forests are also vital to national and local economies through soil conservation and water catchment. The Southern Highlands are ethnically diverse. Many cultures are closely tied to their environment and the landscapes have great traditional significance.


Natural habitats across the Southern Highlands are severely threatened by unsustainable land-use practices and inappropriate resource exploitation. Natural forests and grasslands are being cleared for commercial agriculture. Forests are being felled for timber and charcoal, and fires are widespread and uncontrolled. Hunting of mammals and birds is common and there is a growing unsustainable trade in wildlife for the pet trade, especially reptiles, frogs and orchids, but also mammals and birds. Management of natural habitat is hampered by limited financial and technical resources. Declining forest cover poses serious threats to the region’s water supplies and cultural identity. Only now through the work of WCS is there a wider appreciation of the area’s biodiversity and traditional values, but the challenges of combining a growing human population, infrastructural development and environmental integrity remain.


Systematic biodiversity surveys of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates have been carried out to characterise the unique flora and fauna of the forests and grasslands of the Southern Highlands. It was during these surveys that the Kipunji (Rungwecebus kipunji), Africa’s first new genus of monkey for 83 years, was first discovered by WCS in 2003. 

Specific research of key species monitors their populations and helps understand the threats to them. The highly endangered Abbott’s Duiker (Cephalophus spadix) is the focus of a novel conservation strategy targeting hunters. There is an emphasis on mammalian carnivores (including servals, leopards and otters) that examines and monitors the distribution, threats and status of species across southern Tanzania. Chimpanzees are the focus of research and monitoring along the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika, and the first nationwide census and assessment of their habitat has been performed.  

At the habitat level, research on important ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands and watercourses, are identifying the threats to them. The growing problems of exotic and invasive species are also being tackled. Geographical Information Systems and Satellite Imagery help in the analysis, mapping and monitoring of land use. Exploration has long been an important part of the WCS approach and areas not investigated scientifically are being surveyed in this way, in order to guide conservation strategies. Working with Regional and District Authorities and communities, dozens of indigenous tree nurseries have been set up and over 3 million indigenous tree seedlings have been raised and planted since 2002, in order to carry out forest enrichment planting. The SHCP also provides support to District and Regional Authorities and Tanzania National Parks on tourism development, forest management, awareness raising through National Exhibition and Environment Days, workshop provision, community support projects and technical assistance on research, habitat and protected area management. A honey development project now produces hundreds of litres of forest honey in direct support of forest conservation and livelihood development.

A strong environmental education component reaches hundreds of thousands of people. This targets schools, the youth, village environment committees and women’s groups. Village environment rooms have been set up, education materials provided and assistance given on environmental curricula. Small development grants provide support to villages adjacent to sites of conservation concern. A tourism development strategy puts an emphasis on conservation and village benefits.  A small grants initiative provides support to Tanzanian NGOs in activities as diverse as tourism development, education, the adoption of fuel-efficient stoves, capacity building, tree planting and natural forest management. The SHCP puts emphasis on training and capacity building, both for its staff as well as other individuals, organisations and institutions.