Soutpansberg Protected Area
The Soutpansberg Mountains within the Limpopo Province are South Africa’s most northern mountain range and are full of mystery and magic. This is largely due to the fact that they are home to thousands of species of insects, plants, birds and mammals that are found nowhere else on Earth. The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has identified this region as being in urgent need of protection due to the high presence of Endangered species, its extraordinary variety of important habitat types, its crucial role in water production, and its value as a centre of cultural heritage for many communities.
Furthermore, the Soutpansberg is recognised as:
- A Priority Conservation Area by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI);
- A Critical Biodiversity Area by the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET), the provincial conservation authority;
- A Strategic Water Source Area by WWF-South Africa;
- Part of the National Protected Area Expansion Strategy by South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and Environment (DFFE)
- Lying within the UNESCO Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, proclaimed in 2009; and
Worryingly, the Soutpansberg Mountains currently receive little conservation support, with less than one percent of the area formally conserved in nature reserves. and it is under severe threat from overexploitation, invasive alien plant species, and habitat destruction through development.
The EWT has embarked on a long-term project to realise the dream of establishing the Soutpansberg Protected Area (SPA), spanning more than 23,000 hectares. With an initial purchase of 2,733 hectares of largely pristine mountainous environment within the western Soutpansberg’s Sand River Gorge, through the generous support of the Roberts family in Australia and The Rainforest Trust, the EWT took the first step in our journey to protect this unique landscape. The long-term vision for the programme is to establish a series of Private Protected Areas in the western Soutpansberg through a combination of land purchases and the National Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, through which landowners enter into binding agreements to manage their properties in a conservation-friendly manner. We have already been joined by 21 other landowners in the area, whose participation will ensure that the Soutpansberg Protected Area network will protect over 27,000 ha of critical habitats and ecosystems. This network will conserve the region’s unique biodiversity, including Critically Endangered, Endangered, and locally endemic species of animals and plants, provide wildlife corridors for range expansion, ensure the sustained integrity of the water resources and catchments, improve land management, reduce human-wildlife conflict, and expand sustainable livelihood options for the local communities in the ecotourism and conservation sectors. Providing jobs will also stimulate growth in the local industries supporting these sectors and reduce the pressure on the surrounding environment.
The Soutpansberg is also known for its high level of fauna diversity, with many species found nowhere else on earth. The area is home to:
- 19 scorpion species – two species are endemic. The Soutpansberg Rock scorpion (Hadogenes soutpansbergensis) is one of the biggest scorpions in the world. Males can reach more than 20 cm in length, but their venom is weak and harmless to humans. They do have powerful pincers, however. The female could easily crush the male during courtship.
- 133 ant species, which makes it a hot spot for ant biodiversity in southern Africa.
- 140 reptile species, 16 endemic, such as the Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko and the Soutpansberg Rock Lizard.
- 152 mammal species – that’s 63% of all the mammals found in South Africa. This number is comparable to the Kruger National Park, even though the Soutpansberg area is only about a third as big.
- 309 butterfly species – that’s 37% of all butterfly species in South Africa! One of the most interesting is the Endangered Induna Acreae (Telchinia induna salmontana), which is only found on the slopes of Mount Letjume, the highest peak in the Soutpansberg.
- Over 550 recorded spider species, and many more have not been catalogued.
- 542 recorded bird species, making up 59% of South Africa’s avifauna. One Cape Vulture colony consists of 215 breeding pairs and between 600 and 800 individual birds – potentially 8.5% of the global population estimate!
The Soutpansberg is also known for its high level of fauna diversity, with many species found nowhere else on earth.
There are 18 recognised centres of endemism in southern Africa – localised areas with high occurrences of species found nowhere else. The Soutpansberg is one of these, and has the highest plant diversity of all these centres, playing home to a variety of rare and threatened plant species. Approximately 3,000 vascular plant species are known to occur in the 6,800 km² that comprise the Soutpansberg Mountains. There are six biomes found in the Soutpansberg: forest, thicket, savannah, grassland, fynbos and wetland.
Our current and future projects in the area include:
- The EWT’s own Medike Nature Reserve
- The Protected Area Expansion Project
- Anti-poaching Project
- SPA Water Conservation Project
- Community Outreach
- Fostering the development of ecotourism opportunities such as guided hiking trails and 4×4 routes
For more information contact Cath Vise
This programme is funded by The Roberts Family Trust, The Rainforest Trust, The Coca-Cola Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), Fondation Franklinia, Douglas Wilson, F E van Pletzen/L Steynberg Trust , The Weeden Foundation’s Quick Response Biodiversity Fund, and in partnership with Conservation Outcomes and ZZ2.