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Location South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal
Central coordinates 29o 28.00' East  29o 20.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A2, A3, A4i, A4ii
Area 242,813 ha
Altitude 1,280 - 3,409m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

BirdLife South Africa



Summary This crescent-shaped Park, which forms part of southern Africa's eastern escarpment, extends for c. 200 km along most of KwaZulu-Natal's southwestern border with Lesotho. This Park is one of the world's primary breeding strongholds of the Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres. Other widespread cliff-nesting species include Jackal Buzzard Buteo rufofuscus, Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus and Black Stork Ciconia nigra.

Site description This huge, crescent-shaped park, which forms part of southern Africa’s eastern escarpment, extends for c.200 km along most of KwaZulu-Natal’s south-western border with Lesotho. The border follows the watershed above the Drakensberg escarpment, which is a continuous, abrupt and rugged scarp or mountain wall with many sheer cliffs (some over 500 m high) and several peaks over 3,000 m. The cliffs are capped by extensive, horizontally bedded basalt lava slabs, which create a high-altitude plateau lying between 1,830 and 2,440 m. The basalt is deeply incised by the tributaries of the three largest rivers in KwaZulu-Natal, the Tugela, Mkhomasi and Mzimkulu. At lower altitudes, the cliffs give way to grassy slopes that form a large terrace of variable width, interspersed with bands of exposed basalt. Lower still the grassy terrace falls away as cave sandstone cliffs are dissected by rivers and streams to form valleys, gorges and inselbergs. These two lines of cliffs, the larger basalt cliffs and the lower sandstone cliffs, run the entire length of the Natal Drakensberg.Three primary vegetation zones occur: the montane zone (1,280–1,830 m), the subalpine zone (1,830–2,865 m) and the alpine zone (2,865–3,500 m). The montane belt extends from the valley floors up to the lowermost basalt cliffs. Grassland dominates, but on most spurs and crests there is Protea parkland. The grassland continues up into the subalpine belt, with species of Helichrysum and Senecio, but grades into climax heath in the alpine belt, dominated by Erica, Chrysocoma and Helichrysum. The park holds almost all of the remaining subalpine and alpine vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal. The summits are generally rocky, with patches of bare, shallow soil and rock sheets near the escarpment. Throughout the area, scrub and/or small trees develop in fire-protected areas and, in the montane belt, patches of tall evergreen forest survive on mesic streambanks and in deep kloofs where fire is excluded, dominated by trees of Podocarpus, Olinia, Kiggelaria and Scolopia.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The park is one of the world’s primary breeding strongholds of Gyps coprotheres; it is thought to hold over 1,325 birds, comprising at least 215 breeding pairs. The birds forage over a wide area, with some estimated to travel to carcasses up to 54 km away from their breeding colonies, suggesting a foraging range of some 9,200 km². Other widespread cliff-nesting species include Buteo rufofuscus, Falco biarmicus and Ciconia nigra; the latter forages in or near streams and vleis. The alpine heath supports Parus afer, Cercomela sinuata and Sylvia layardi.

The park forms a critical part of the Lesotho highlands Endemic Bird Area, as it holds important populations of all three restricted-range species: Chaetops aurantius and Serinus symonsi are common and widespread within the park, especially above 2,000 m, while Anthus hoeschi is found at very high altitude, mostly above 3,000 m, where it is a locally common breeding migrant. The climax grassland areas with moist vleis and marshes support Grus paradisea, G. carunculatus, Balearica regulorum, Geronticus calvus, Neotis denhami, Circus ranivorus, Turnix hottentotta, Anthus brachyurus and A. chloris, the latter particularly common between 2,000 and 2,300 m.

South Africa’s main population of Sarothrura affinis is found in the Drakensberg region, where it may be locally numerous. Rocky outcrops are the favoured haunts of Bubo capensis, Geocolaptes olivaceus, Saxicola bifasciata, Anthus crenatus and Monticola explorator, while Circus maurus hunts over any relatively open grassland. The Protea woodland holds Promerops gurneyi, and the thicket and forest patches in the kloofs and gullies are home to Cossypha dichroa, Lioptilus nigricapillus, Bradypterus barratti and Serinus scotops.

Non-bird biodiversity: The alpine floral communities found in the Lesotho and Drakensberg mountains are unique in southern Africa and they hold over 300 endemic plant species, including Protea nubigena; it is likely that many species remain to be discovered. The park supports a substantial proportion of the global range of the endemic cycad Encephalartos ghellinckii. Among mammals, near-threatened species include Hyaena brunnea (LR/nt) and restricted-range species include Mystromys albicaudatus (VU). Among frogs, the regionally endemic Heleophryne natalensis, Rana vertebralis, Strongylopus hymenopus and Arthroleptella hewitti occur, as do Rana dracomontana (LR/nt) and Leptopelis xenodactylus (VU). Among reptiles, the regionally threatened Bradypodion dracomontana and the range-restricted Pseudocordylus langi (LR/nt) and P. spinosus (LR/nt) are known from the park, and a new snake, Montaspis gilvomaculata, was described as recently as 1991.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Black Stork Ciconia nigra breeding  10-15 breeding pairs  A4i  Least Concern 
Black Stork Ciconia nigra winter  35-70 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus resident  1998  60-100 breeding pairs  unknown  A1, A3, A4i  Vulnerable 
Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus winter  200-400 individuals  A4i  Vulnerable 
Buteo oreophilus resident  1998  present  A3  Not Recognised 
Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres resident  200-230 breeding pairs  A1, A4ii  Vulnerable 
Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres winter  1,000-1,325 individuals  A4ii  Vulnerable 
Black Harrier Circus maurus resident  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Striped Flufftail Sarothrura affinis resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Corncrake Crex crex winter  present  A1  Least Concern 
Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus resident  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus resident  present  A1  Vulnerable 
Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus resident  present  A1  Least Concern 
Olive Bush-shrike Telophorus olivaceus resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
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, A3  Near Threatened 
Drakensberg Rockjumper Chaetops aurantius resident  1998  present  A1, A2, A3  Least Concern 
White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Chorister Robin-chat Cossypha dichroa resident  1998  present  A3  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 
Yellow-breasted Pipit Anthus chloris resident  1998  present  A1, A3  Vulnerable 
Mountain Pipit Anthus hoeschi resident  1998  present  A1, A2  Least Concern 
Forest Canary Serinus scotops resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Drakensberg Siskin Serinus symonsi resident  1998  present  A1, A2, A3  Least Concern 

IBA Monitoring

2014 high near favourable high
Habitat
Medium - based upon reliable but incomplete / partially representative data

Agriculture and aquaculture livestock farming and ranching (includes forest grazing) - nomadic grazing happening now whole area/population (>90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Biological resource use gathering terrestrial plants - unintentional effects (species being assessed is not the target) happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) moderate to rapid deterioration low
Biological resource use hunting & collecting terrestrial animals - intentional use (species being assessed is the target) happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Energy production and mining renewable energy likely in short term (within 4 years) small area/few individuals (<10%) moderate to rapid deterioration low
Human intrusions and disturbance recreational activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) moderate to rapid deterioration high
Human intrusions and disturbance work and other activities happening now some of area/population (10-49%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Invasive & other problematic species, genes & diseases invasive non-native/alien species/diseases - named species happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Natural system modifications dams & water management/use - abstraction of surface water (unknown use) happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low
Natural system modifications fire & fire suppression - increase in fire frequency/intensity happening now majority/most of area/population (50-90%) slow but significant deterioration high
Residential and commercial development housing and urban areas happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Residential and commercial development tourism and recreation areas happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) no or imperceptible deterioration low
Transportation and service corridors utility & service lines happening now small area/few individuals (<10%) slow but significant deterioration low

Forest Montane forest - undifferentiated  0 0 moderate (70-90%) good (> 90%) near favourable
Grassland Grassland - montane  0 0 good (> 90%) good (> 90%) favourable
Rocky areas Inselbergs, kopjes & inland cliffs  0 0 good (> 90%) good (> 90%) favourable
Shrubland Scrub - woodland  0 0 good (> 90%) good (> 90%) favourable
Wetlands (inland) Montane bogs, swamps and mires  0 0 good (> 90%) good (> 90%) favourable

Whole area of site (>90%) covered by appropriate conservation designation  A comprehensive and appropriate management plan exists that aims to maintain or improve the populations of qualifying bird species  The conservation measures needed for the site are being comprehensively and effectively implemented  high 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Natal Drakensberg National Park 7,624 protected area contains site 242,813  
Natal Drakensberg Park Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar) 242,813 is identical to site 242,813  
UKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site 242,813 is identical to site 242,813  

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Shrubland Scrub - woodland  -
Grassland Grassland - montane; Grassland - secondary  -
Forest Montane forest - undifferentiated  -
Wetlands (inland) Montane bogs, swamps and mires  -
Rocky areas Inselbergs, kopjes & inland cliffs  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -
nature conservation and research 3%

References Bourquin and Channing (1980), Brown (1992a,b), Brown and Piper (1988), Cowan and Marneweck (1996), Killick (1961, 1963), Manry (1984, 1985a,b), Mendelsohn (1984), Piper (1994), Robertson (1989), Taylor (1997a).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2015) Important Bird Areas factsheet: UKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 01/09/2015

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife