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Location South Africa, Western Cape
Central coordinates 18o 12.00' East  31o 42.00' South
IBA criteria A3, A4i
Area 2,000 ha
Altitude 0 - 30m
Year of IBA assessment 2001

BirdLife South Africa

Site description The Olifants river estuary lies c.250 km north-west of Cape Town. The nearest towns are Lutzville and Vredendal, 23.5 km and 42 km east of the estuary respectively. The Olifants river rises in the Agterwitzenberg, a plateau lying between the Winterhoek and the Skurweberg mountains. The flanks of the estuary hold extensive saltmarsh; on both sides of the mouth, a steep rocky shoreline rises to form a gravel terrace.

Marine algae grow on rocks near the river mouth, to the west of the island, and in the marshes, both at the mouth and farther upstream. The saltmarsh vegetation is well stratified. The flood-plain also holds numerous plant species with more terrestrial affinities. Reedbeds of Scirpus and Phragmites line the banks of the river upstream from Olifantsdrif. The terrestrial vegetation on higher ground is of considerable interest, as it is one of the few areas where karroid vegetation reaches the west coast. After spring rains the veld breaks out in mass flowering displays.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Ludwig's Bustard Neotis ludwigii resident  1998  present  A3  Endangered 
Karoo Bustard Eupodotis vigorsii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea winter  2,131-5,362 individuals  A4i  Least Concern 
Karoo Lark Certhilauda albescens resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Namaqua Warbler Phragmacia substriata resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Layard's Warbler Sylvia layardi resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Sicklewing Chat Cercomela sinuata resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Karoo Chat Cercomela schlegelii resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Tractrac Chat Cercomela tractrac resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 
Black-headed Canary Serinus alario resident  1998  present  A3  Least Concern 


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Shrubland Shrubland - Cape (fynbos)  -
Wetlands (inland) Estuarine waters  -
Grassland   100%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
urban/industrial/transport -
nature conservation and research 60%
urban/industrial/transport -

Other biodiversity The IBA lies in the centre of the ranges of many Namaqualand-endemic reptiles; most of them have been recorded in the vicinity and are probably present in the terrestrial succulent Karoo vegetation matrix surrounding the wetland, including Homopus signatus, Bitis schneideri (VU), B. cornuta, Acontias litoralis, Typhlosaurus caecus, Scelotes sexlineatus, Meroles knoxii, Cordylus macropholis, Gerrhosaurus typicus (LR/nt), Bradypodion occidentale and Pachydactylus austeni.

References Cooper et al. (1976), Day (1981), Morant (1984), Ryan et al. (1988), Summers et al. (1977), Turpie (1995).

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Olifants river estuary. Downloaded from on 22/07/2014

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