The Chrissie Pans IBA lies in the Mpumalanga Lakes District, centred on the village of Chrissiesmeer. This site comprises a system of more than 320 pans on private land and boasts the largest natural inland freshwater lake in South Africa, Lake Chrissie (1 150 ha when full). At least 14 other pans range between 100 and 400 ha in extent. Although drainage within the pan field is essentially closed, several major river systems arise around the fringes of the field, namely the Vaal, Komati (via the Boesmanspruit), uMpuluzi River and Usutu rivers. The pan field thus represents a local plateau of elevated ground, one of the highest in the Highveld region. The primary area of pans runs from Tevrede se Pan (26°13'S; 30°11'E) in the north to Burgerspan (26°28'S; 30°10'E) in the south and from Goedeverwachtingpan (26°16'S; 30°07'E) in the west to Lake Banagher (26°21'S; 30°23'E) in the east. The Chrissie system supports a remarkable spectrum of pans, including three main types: reed, sedge and saline.
Chrissie Pans support Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor, Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum, Chestnut-banded Plover Charadrius pallidus and African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus. When inundated with water, these wetlands also hold large numbers of Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus, Yellow-billed Duck Anas undulata, Cape Shoveler A. smithii, Southern Pochard Netta erythrophthalma, Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca, Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis, Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata, Little Stint Calidris minuta, White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus and Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta. When the pans are wet, total numbers regularly exceed 20 000 birds.
In addition to the aquatic birds, several terrestrial species roost in the extensive Phragmites beds in the reedpans. These include Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica, Pied Starling Lamprotornis bicolor and Long-tailed Widowbird Euplectes progne, which roost at the pans in flocks numbering thousands. The surrounding matrix of grassland, wetland and maize supports Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus, Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus, Denham's Bustard Neotis denhami, White-bellied Korhaan Eupodotis senegalensis, African Grass Owl Tyto capensis, Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni and Black Harrier Circus maurus. Cape Eagle-Owl Bubo capensis breeds on rocky outcrops in the area.
Globally threatened species are Southern Bald Ibis, Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus, Blue Crane, Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, Lesser Flamingo, Blue Korhaan Eupodotis caerulescens, Black-winged Pratincole, Chestnut-banded Plover, Grey Crowned Crane and Denham's Bustard. Regionally threatened species are African Marsh Harrier, White-bellied Korhaan, African Grass Owl and Greater Flamingo. Kurrichane Thrush Turdus libonyanus and Buff-streaked Chat Campicoloides bifasciata are fairly common biome-restricted species. Congregatory waterbirds include Great Crested Grebe, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard and Pied Avocet.
The plant Odontelytrum abyssinicum is a highly localised and threatened pan specialist. The rough-haired golden mole Chrysospalax villosus, laminate vlei rat Otomys laminatus and giant girdled lizard Cordylus giganteus are known from the vicinity and may occur within the IBA.
Mining is the biggest threat to this area and the pressure is increasing as many smaller operations are applying for mining rights. Open-cast mines can totally and irreversibly destroy pans. Coal mines and associated power stations produce acid rain, which dramatically affects the alkaline pans, reducing pH and interfering with the functioning of the pans, and modifies the vegetation and fauna inhabiting these systems.
The primary land use currently within the area is livestock farming, principally of sheep. Signs of overutilization of the veld for grazing by livestock are evident on many of the farms. Another threat to endorheic pans comes from agricultural development, with many pans subjected to contamination and eutrophication by pesticides and fertilisers. The endorheic nature of pans exacerbates this problem and toxic substances, including poisons that pose a threat to wildlife, concentrate in their basins. Ploughing, overgrazing and excessive trampling by livestock further damage shoreline vegetation, increase wind erosion and lead to the siltation of pan basins.
Power and telephone lines running close to pans are a major cause of mortality to waterbirds, cranes and raptors, which occasionally fly into these structures. Illegal dog hunting is a growing conservation concern.
The IBA encompasses the Chrissiesmeer Protected Environment, which was declared on 22 January 2014 in Mpumalanga Provincial Government Gazette 2251, Notice No. 19 of 2014. The purposes for declaring the area a protected environment are to enable the owners of the land to take collective action to conserve biodiversity and to seek legal recognition for it; to protect the area if it is sensitive to development due to its biological diversity, natural characteristics, scenic and landscape value and the provision of environmental goods and services; to protect a specific ecosystem; and to ensure that the use of natural resources is sustainable. In 2014 a management plan for the protected environment was drafted and will be submitted for approval in 2015. The management plan will also make provision for the protection of threatened species and their habitats within the IBA.
The EWT is currently monitoring cranes and promoting environmental awareness in the IBA and, through its partnership with Eskom, has marked power lines where incidents have been reported.
Mathee M. 2011. Summary of flamingo counts on selected water bodies in the Mpumalanga Highveld. Unpublished report. Nelspruit: Scientific Services, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.
Spenceley A, Uys C. 2011. Chrissiesmeer (Mpumalanga Lakes District) tourism and marketing plan 2011–2016. Unpublished report. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.
Tarboton W. 1993. Lake Chrissie Flamingo breeding project. Unpublished report. Nelspruit: Mpumalanga Parks Board.
Tarboton W. 2009. Motivation for Ramsar status for the Chrissiesmeer panveld: avifauna. Unpublished report. Nelspruit: Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.