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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

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.

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 

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  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Shrubland Scrub - woodland  -
Grassland Grassland - montane; Grassland - secondary  -

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
nature conservation and research 100%
agriculture -
nature conservation and research 3%

Other 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.

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 (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: UKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Downloaded from on 28/07/2014

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