Managed by North West Parks and Tourism Board, Pilanesberg National Park lies approximately 160 km north-west of Johannesburg. It covers a wide range of habitats, including vleis, lakes, streams, thick bush, broad-leaved and acacia woodland, koppies, open grasslands and former farmlands. The park encompasses the Pilanesberg Mountains, which were formed after a complex chain of geological events that included several cycles of volcanic eruptions, outpourings of lava, the collapse of craters, ring fracturing around the volcano and the intrusion of magma into these fractures. The result was several concentric rings of igneous rock of different ages around the core of a volcano. Since then, the 7 000-m volcano has slowly subsided and eroded to a remnant of its former self, rising to only 700 m above the surrounding plains. Strictly speaking, the Pilanesberg is no longer an ancient volcano, but a cross-section through the magma pipes that were located at great depth beneath the volcano. The resulting structure is a ring-complex of concentric koppies composed of a unique suite of alkaline volcanic rocks, the highest being 1 669 m a.s.l., interspersed in a matrix of low-lying plains.
The Mankwe River and its five major tributaries provide most of the park's water. In the past, farmers constructed additional water storage dams for livestock in order to supplement non-perennial streams. The largest impoundment, Mankwe Dam, is in the centre of the park. Rain falls mainly in summer, in the form of violent thunderstorms accompanied by much lightning. Rainfall is highly variable from one year to the next.
More than 300 species occur in the park, thanks to its extensive range of habitats and the fact that it lies in the overlap between the dry western and wet eastern parts of the country. The site lies midway between the Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres colonies in the Magaliesberg and the Waterberg and Cape Vultures periodically forage in it. Small numbers of White-backed Vulture G. africanus and Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus also occasionally visit it. Pilanesberg supports several breeding pairs of Verreauxs' Eagle Aquila verreauxii, and other raptors, such as Wahlberg's Eagle Hieraaetus wahlbergi, African Hawk Eagle Aquila spilogaster, Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus, Black-chested Snake Eagle C. pectoralis and Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus, occur in small numbers. Individual Martial Eagles Polemaetus bellicosus, Bateleurs Terathopius ecaudatus and Tawny Eagles Aquila rapax occasionally visit. Mankwe River holds small populations of African Finfoot Podica senegalensis. White-backed Night Heron Gorsachius leuconotus is an occasional visitor. A large vlei with mixed grassland at the eastern end of Mankwe Dam provides habitat for African Grass Owl Tyto capensis.
The surrounding woodland–grassland mosaic is known to hold Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius and Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori. Other threatened species occasionally seen are European Roller Coracias garrulus and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse Pterocles gutturalis. Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus and Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis occur as occasional visitors. Other woodland specials include Monotonous Lark Mirafra passerina, Southern Pied Babbler Turdoides bicolor, White-throated Robin-chat Cossypha humeralis, Kalahari Scrub Robin Erythropygia paena, Burnt-necked Eremomela Eremomela usticollis, Striped Pipit Anthus lineiventris, Barred Wren-Warbler Calamonastes fasciolatus, Marico Flycatcher Bradornis mariquensis, Crimson-breasted Shrike Laniarius atrococcineus, Great Sparrow Passer motitensis, Scaly-feathered Finch Sporopipes squamifrons, Violet-eared Waxbill Uraeginthus granatinus, Black-faced Waxbill Estrilda erythronotos and Shaft-tailed Whydah Vidua regia.
The main trigger species are the globally threatened Kori Bustard, Secretarybird (breeding in the park) and European Roller, as well as the regionally threatened Verreauxs' Eagle (breeding in the park), Lanner Falcon, African Finfoot, African Grass Owl, Yellow-billed Stork, Marabou Stork and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse. Small numbers of all these species occur in the IBA. A number of biome-restricted species also occur, of which Kurrichane Thrush Turdus libonyanus, White-throated Robin-chat, White-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris talatala and Kalahari Scrub Robin are common and Barred Wren-Warbler is less common.
Several threatened large mammal species were re-introduced by a restocking programme, 'Operation Genesis', in the early 1980s. In total, 6 000 animals representing 22 species were released. These were later joined by large predators, which were introduced to restore ecological processes. Mammal species that were introduced and can still be found in the park include white rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum, black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis, African buffalo Syncerus caffer, sable antelope Hippotragus niger, tsessebe Damaliscus lunatus, African elephant Loxodonta africana, hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, lion Panthera leo and African wild dog Lycaon pictus. The secretive and nocturnal habits of brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea, aardvark Orycteropus afer, southern African hedgehog Atelerix frontalis, aardwolf Proteles cristatus, honey badger Mellivora capensis, pangolin Manis temminckii, African striped weasel Poecilogale albinucha and leopard Panthera pardus have enabled these species to maintained natural populations in the area without being hunted out.
The spectacular plant Erythrophysa transvaalensis is restricted to approximately 250 individuals, most of which occur in the Pilanesberg. Reptiles endemic to southern African found in the park are Kalahari tent tortoise Psammobates oculiferus, Duerden's burrowing asp Atractaspis duerdeni, two-striped shovel-snout Prosymna bivittata and shield-nosed snake Aspidelaps scutatus. Endangered reptiles include the African python Python sebae natalensis and the re-introduced Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus.
The IBA is relatively close to the large urban areas of Gauteng and Rustenburg. There are many roads, fences and infrastructure for electricity supply that pose potentially deadly threats, especially to large and wide-roaming birds such as raptors, cranes and bustards. It may not be sufficient to provide a place of refuge inside the park in order to conserve the local populations of these species. Pilanesberg National Park is bordered by quite large low-income human settlements. The poor socio-economic situation in these areas raises the risk of potential poaching incidents, either for food or to satisfy the increasing demand for wildlife products on the black market.
The establishment of a national park in the Pilanesberg was first suggested in 1969. When Sun City was built in 1978 a park became viable from a tourism perspective and Pilanesberg National Park came into being in 1980. Game was purchased for the 'Operation Genesis' re-introduction, for which WWF-SA provided a substantial portion of the funding. Since South Africa became a democracy in 1994, the park has been controlled by North West Parks. This IBA is a formally protected provincial nature reserve.
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