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Location South Africa, Mpumalanga,Northern Province
Central coordinates 30o 50.00' East  24o 40.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A2, A3, A4ii
Area 50,000 ha
Altitude 1,100 - 1,832m
Year of IBA assessment 1998

BirdLife South Africa

Summary The IBA includes the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, the Swadini and Manoutsa portions of the Mpumalanga Drakensberg escarpment that fall outside the reserve, and a number of forestry-owned areas. This is the only site in South Africa that supports breeding Taita Falcon Falco fasciinucha.

Site description Located approximately 8 km north of Graskop and 18 km south-west of Hoedspruit, the Blyde river canyon (700 m deep in places) stretches for nearly 20 km as it cuts a spectacular path through the granite of the great South African escarpment. The site includes the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and the Swadini and Manoutsa portions of the Mpumalanga Drakensberg escarpment, which fall outside the reserve, and the forestry-owned areas of Mariepskop, Salique, Hebron, Welgevonden and Onverwacht State Forests. Marakalala (1,133 m) and Mogologolo (1,746 m) peaks, and their associated sheer cliff-faces to the north of the reserve’s border, dominate the landscape. At the confluence of the Blyde and Origstad rivers, in the northern portion of the reserve, an impoundment forms the Blydepoort Dam. The spectacular gorge is flanked by some remarkable peaks (up to 1,749 m).Large patches of Afromontane forest are found in valleys, along scarp basins, and in moist areas throughout the Blyde river canyon. Forest trees of general occurrence include species of Xymalos, Podocarpus, Trichocladus, Rhus and Halleria. Ferns, shrubs and small trees such as Rapanea are often abundant along the forest edges. Forest-related bush clumps occur on the edge of the escarpment, with woody species of Psychotria, Myrica, Vaccinium and Englerophytum dominating. Away from the moist gullies, the open tree-savanna is dominated by Terminalia, Combretum, Acacia, Ficus and Strychnos. Montane grassland dominates on open, exposed slopes where frost and fire are regular. Protea bushes dominate the woody component.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. This is the only site in South Africa that supports breeding Falco fasciinucha. At least one pair inhabits the gorges and there is potential habitat for several more birds. The cliffs at Manoutsa hold over 660 pairs of Gyps coprotheres, making it the world’s fourth-largest colony. The gorges also hold breeding Ciconia nigra, Falco peregrinus and Bubo capensis. The surrounding grassland supports Turnix hottentotta, Sarothrura affinis, Saxicola bifasciata, Neotis denhami, Grus paradisea, Bucorvus cafer, Tyto capensis and Geronticus calvus, which breed within the reserve along the cliff gorges. The proteoid hillslopes hold Promerops gurneyi. The forest and forest edge support Stephanoaetus coronatus, Buteo oreophilus, Lioptilus nigricapillus, Tauraco corythaix, Bradypterus barratti, Telophorus olivaceus, Cossypha dichroa, Cercotrichas signata, Estrilda melanotis and Serinus scotops.

Non-bird biodiversity: Flora: the grassland in this reserve holds many localized South African endemic or near-endemic plant species. Well-represented are members of the Liliaceae, Iridaceae, Compositae, Lamiaceae and Orchidaceae. Spectacular species endemic to northern South Africa include Protea laetans (VU), P. rubropilosa, Aloe minima, Dombeya autumnalis, Gladiolus varius, G. vernus, Watsonia transvaalensis and Clivia caulescens. The cycad Encephalartos cupidus is endemic to the catchment of this river and also occurs within the reserve. The cycad E. inopinus is another rare and localized plant occurring within the reserve. Amphibians: the forests are known to hold highly localized populations of Bufo pardalis and Breviceps verrucosus. The fish Barbus treurensis (LR/cd) is restricted to a 4.5 km stretch of river on the Blyde river outside the IBA, where it is highly localized and threatened, having already lost most of its global range—this is the last remaining population. Reptiles: a new, as-yet-undescribed subspecies of the endemic Afroedura multiporis was recently found here. Lygodactylus nigropuncatus and L. ocellatus, endemic to the Soutpansberg and Mpumalanga/Swaziland Drakensberg, have been recorded in the reserve’s rocky montane grassland areas.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus resident  1998  present  A1, A3  Vulnerable 
Buteo oreophilus resident  1998  present  A3  Not Recognised 
Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres resident  660-773 breeding pairs  A1, A4ii  Endangered 
Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres winter  1,400-1,500 individuals  A4ii  Endangered 
Striped Flufftail Sarothrura affinis resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus resident  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Knysna Turaco Tauraco corythaix resident  1998  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 
Olive Bush-shrike Telophorus olivaceus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea breeding  1998  unknown  A3  Vulnerable 
African Scrub-warbler Bradypterus barratti resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler Phylloscopus ruficapilla resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Bush Blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus resident  1998  present  A1, A2, A3  Near Threatened 
Orange Ground-thrush Zoothera gurneyi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Chorister Robin-chat Cossypha dichroa resident  1998  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 
Brown Scrub-robin Erythropygia signata resident  1998  present  A2  Least Concern 
Buff-streaked Chat Oenanthe bifasciata resident  1998  present  A1, A3  Least Concern 
Gurney's Sugarbird Promerops gurneyi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Swee Waxbill Estrilda melanotis resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Forest Canary Serinus scotops resident  1998  present  A2, A3  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

1998 medium not assessed low

Agriculture and aquaculture wood and pulp plantations (includes afforestation) - agro-industry plantations happening now some of area/population (10-49%) slow but significant deterioration medium

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  Unknown  Unknown  low 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Kruger to Canyons UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve 2,474,700 protected area contains site 50,000  
Motlatse Canyon Nature Reserve 53,731 protected area contained by site 25,161  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Grassland Grassland - montane  -
Forest Montane forest - mixed  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
forestry 40%
tourism/recreation -
agriculture -
nature conservation and research 59%
water management 15%

References Allan (1988), Allan et al. (1987, 1997), Benson and Dobbs (1984), Benson et al. (1990), Tarboton (1997b,c), Wagner and Jenkins (1996).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Blyde River Canyon. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016

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