Southern Highlands, Tanzania

Southern Highlands, Tanzania Photo
©Tim Davenport

Forests, grasslands, and crater lakes cap mountains and volcanoes in this Rift Valley landscape. It is the home of the kipunji, a new monkey genus discovered by WCS in 2003 on Mount Rungwe in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands. These highlands cover a vast area between Lakes Nyasa (AKA Lake Malawi) and Tanganyika, at the junction of the eastern and western arms of the Great Rift Valley. The Ruaha River, one of the country’s most important waterways, has its origin in the Southern Highlands. The ecosystem shelter many animals and plants of considerable conservation concern, and provides water, medicines, and natural products for surrounding communities. They are also a source of cultural pride.

Fast Facts

  • More than 120 species of animals and plants are endemic to the landscape, meaning they are found nowhere else but here.
  • At least 45 species of terrestrial orchids grow on the Kitulo Plateau, and Kitulo National Park is the first park in tropical Africa set aside for its remarkable plant life.  
  • WCS has discovered 12 new vertebrate species in this landscape, including the critically endangered kipunji, the first new monkey genus discovered in Africa in more than 80 years.


Natural habitats in the Southern Highlands are severely threatened by unsustainable land-use practices and resource exploitation. Expanding human populations inevitably put pressure on grasslands and forests, many of which are being cleared for agriculture. Grasslands are being planted with invasive pines and eucalypts. Declining forest cover poses serious threats to the region's water supplies, and unmanaged hunting has greatly reduced mammal populations. Rivers have been polluted by pesticides and fertilizers, creating risks to human and ecosystem health. Excessive and unmanaged burning degrades indigenous habitat.

WCS Responds

WCS has worked in the region since 2000, when we launched the Southern Highlands Conservation Programme. Our staff of 40 is engaged in research, protected area design and management, and community conservation in many sites in this landscape. As a result of WCS research into the orchid trade, 159 square miles on the Kitulo Plateau was protected in 2002 as a national park. Also due to WCS research and conservation efforts, the area around the dormant volcano Mt. Rungwe, home to the vulnerable Abbott’s duiker, is being designated a nature reserve.

During our first countrywide census of chimpanzees, we discovered an unknown subpopulation in the southern Lake Tanganyika region, and we continue to study these animals and the human impacts on them.

Our ecological and socio-economic surveys aid in prioritizing sites, assessing the status of natural habitats and the wildlife they shelter, and determining the extent and causes of threats to habitats and surrounding communities. In addition, research projects are being designed to gauge the numbers and status of key species such as the kipunji and Abbott’s duiker on Mt Rungwe, the red colobus in Mbizi, and the chimpanzee in Loazi and Lwafi.

Our environmental education programs reach more than 40,000 people in the surrounding communities. The cutting of trees for firewood is a major issue, so we have provided funds to establish indigenous tree nurseries and to plant half a million indigenous seedlings to regenerate deforested areas.

From the Newsroom

Primate ParadiseJuly 16, 2013

Tanzania is home to 27 species of primates—a third of which are found nowhere else on Earth. A new conservation plan would create “Priority Primate Areas” to protect the baboons, colobus, and others, along with their habitats.

An Investment in Stripes and RibbitsFebruary 9, 2012

In a big boost for wildlife, 23 new species conservation projects will receive funding from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the World Bank, and the Global Environment Facility.

Meet MatildaJanuary 9, 2012

WCS and the Museo delle Scienze of Trento, Italy discover a spectacularly colored new snake. Named Matilda’s horned viper, the snake is restricted to remote forest in southwest Tanzania.

New Monkey Faces Old ThreatsAugust 7, 2008

Poaching and illegal logging have driven Tanzania’s kipunji monkey, discovered just three years ago, to the brink of extinction in its tiny forest home.

~/media/Images/wcs org/forms/please donate to help conservation.png
Stay in touch with WCS and receive the latest news.

Saving Wildlife

Where We Work