The impact of elephant and other browsers may be magnified when they are restricted within small, fenced reserves. These reserves are becoming commonplace in southern Africa. The composition and structure of the woody vegetation of a portion of the 30 000 ha Ithala Game Reserve, South Africa, was monitored annually from 1992 to 2000. Woody species described a continuum from those that declined in abundance and were threatened with extirpation (e.g. Aloe marlothii, Acacia davyi ), through those that remained relatively stable (e.g. Rhus lucida, Gymnosporia buxifolia), to those that increased in abundance (e.g. Scolopia zeyheri, Euclea crispa). Species that declined in abundance were generally well utilized by herbivores and showed low recruitment and high mortality rates. Species that increased in abundance were characterized by high recruitment, low mortality and low levels of herbivory. Species composition changed towards species less preferred by herbivores. Browsers other than elephants and environmental stress (e.g. drought) caused threefold the damage of elephants. Ensuring the persistence of all woody species requires management of the entire browser community.