Kalahari - Gemsbok National Park

General Information


Global IBA (A1, A3)


Northern Cape


Fully Protected


959 970 ha



Additional Info

  • Site description

    The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park is situated in the sliver of land between Botswana and Namibia, 320 km north of Upington. It is an integral part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which together with neighbouring wildlife management areas in Botswana form one of the largest contiguous conservation areas in the world (3,7 million ha).

    The whole area is fairly homogeneous and for the most part consists of Kalahari Duneveld, which is characterised by camel thorn Vachellia (formerly Acacia) erioloba trees, three-thorn or driedoring Rhigozum trichotomum bushes and Bushman grass Schmidtia kalahariensis. It falls within the Savanna Biome. The vegetation structure is predominantly that of shrubby grassland, except in the north and along the Auob and Nossob rivers where open-tree savanna is present. The major landscape units are high and low dunes (with crests and valleys); highly irregular dunes; sandy plains with red to pinkish sand; rivers (including terraces and calcrete outcrops); and pans on whitish, compact calcareous sand and clay. The vegetation on fine-textured soils, such as those found in the pans, frequently shows a karroid nature. There are seven major vegetation types divided into 20 landscape units and 489 plant species (Van Rooyen et al. 2008).


    The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has a list of approximately 280 species, of which only about 92 are resident. The remainder comprises mainly nomadic (17), migratory (50) and vagrant (121) species. It is an important area for raptors, with at least 52 species recorded, and contributes significantly to their conservation.

    A total of 239 species has been reported in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park during the SABAP1 and SABAP2 projects. Four vulture species are present: White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus, Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotos, White-headed Vulture Aegypius occipitalis and Cape Vulture G. coprotheres. White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures show a preference for the Nossob and Auob riverbeds as both have large trees suitable for roosting and nesting. Other threatened breeding raptors include Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus and Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax. Six species of owls are protected in this IBA.

    Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori is common along both the Auob and Nossob riverbeds, and Ludwig's Bustard Neotis ludwigii occurs relatively frequently in summer. This IBA is seasonally important for larks and sparrow-larks, including Stark's Lark Spizocorys starki and Black-eared Sparrow-lark Eremopterix australis, particularly after good rains.

    Large numbers of visiting Abdim's Stork Ciconia abdimii can be seen feeding on insects along the riverbed, while less common species such as Black Stork Ciconia nigra and Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus may be found in limited numbers near waterholes. The introduction of permanent water in this IBA has probably artificially increased the number and species composition of water-dependent birds such as doves, Namaqua Sandgrouse Pterocles namaqua and Burchell's Sandgrouse P. burchelli. As a result, Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus and Gabar Goshawk Melierax gabar are likely to be more common around the waterholes due to the greater availability of birds as a food source there.

    IBA trigger species

    Globally threatened birds are White-backed Vulture (46 breeding pairs; M. Whittington pers. comm.), Lappet-faced Vulture, White-headed Vulture, Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius (four breeding pairs; M. Whittington pers. comm.), Martial Eagle (six breeding pairs; M. Whittington pers. comm.), Kori Bustard, Ludwig's Bustard and Lanner Falcon (80–100 breeding pairs; M. Whittington pers. comm.). Regionally threatened birds are Tawny Eagle (24 breeding pairs; M. Whittington pers. comm.) and Karoo Korhaan Eupodotis vigorsii. Biome-restricted species include Stark's Lark, Kalahari Scrub Robin Erythropygia paena, Sociable Weaver Philetairus socius, Burchell's Sandgrouse, Barred Wren-Warbler Calamonastes fasciolatus, Pale-winged Starling Onychognathus nabourou and Burchell's Starling Lamprotornis australis.

    Other biodiversity

    The major biodiversity characteristic of this IBA is that it is an arid ecosystem populated by large migratory and nomadic herbivores. As such it supports a fully functional large carnivore predator/prey system and is an important refuge for a large raptor community. The park has important populations of lion Panthera leo, leopard P. pardus, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea, spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta, African wild cat Felis lybica, aardwolf Proteles cristatus, aardvark Orycteropus afer, honey badger Mellivora capensis and pangolin Manis temminckii.

    The characteristic tree species – camel thorn, grey camel thorn Vachellia (formerly Acacia) haematoxylon and shepherd's tree Boscia albitrunca – are protected under the National Forestry Act. The camel thorn is regarded as a keystone species and the survival of many animal and plant species depend on it.

    The Gariep blind legless skink Acontias gariepensis is almost restricted to the park. The southern African endemic dwarf beaked snake Dipsina multimaculata, Kalahari spade-snouted worm lizard Monopeltis leonhardi, spotted desert lizard Meroles suborbitalis, Kalahari ground gecko Colopus wahlbergii and Woosnam's desert rat Zelotomys woosnami are all common within the park.

    Conservation issues


    Kalahari Gemsbok NPThis IBA is well managed, with far fewer threats than the surrounding landscape. The major threats that do exist are climate change; the slow pace at which the contractual land development with the local community is moving and associated land-use conflicts; the scarcity of fresh water; and the high petrol price, which will have an effect on visitor numbers. There is also a lack of funds for tourism management and development.

    Predictions on climate change for South Africa state that temperatures will increase and rainfall decrease sharply in arid areas. Not only is the highest level of warming predicted for the Kalahari Desert, but a decrease in rainfall and an increase in the frequency of severe weather are expected to be major effects of climate change in the region, potentially placing many species at risk. Temperatures in most South African parks have increased between 1 and 1.5 oC over the past 50 years. This IBA now experiences 36 more days a year above 35 oC than it did 50 years ago. Large, mainly resident and territorial birds dependent on rainfall are vulnerable to climate change, and certain behavioural traits, such as extended parental care and slow reproductive rates, are likely to increase their vulnerability. These species would include territorial eagles, such as Tawny Eagle and Martial Eagle.

    Historically, poisons were used extensively in the region to control damage-causing predators, such as black-backed jackal Canis mesomelas and caracal Caracal caracal. Poisoning incidents involving Bateleurs and White-backed Vultures have been recorded in this IBA, and the breeding failure in 1990 of the largest White-backed Vulture colony in the park was attributed to poisoning. The inadvertent poisoning of Secretarybirds is also suspected. Poisons may still be used in neighbouring small-livestock farming areas, but at a lower level than previously.

    Conservation action

    This IBA is a formally protected national park, established in 1931. It is an integral part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which was officially opened in 2000 but had been in existence since 1948 through a verbal agreement between the South African and Botswanan conservation authorities. The area represents a large ecosystem relatively free of human influence.

    In 1999 the Khomani San community won a land claim over 25 000 ha of the park. A joint management plan between the community and SANParks exists for the Ae!Hai Kalahari Heritage Contractual Park.

    Since the 1930s a total of 88 waterholes and a number of excavation dams on pans have been constructed within the park. The erection of permanent waterholes was motivated by the observation that increased human activity to the south and west of the park was apparently hindering the migratory movements of the indigenous ungulates; by the later fencing of some borders; and by the erroneous perception that the wildlife needed drinking water. Historically, vultures and raptors drowned in the water reservoirs. Poles or ladders were fitted into the reservoirs to enable raptors to escape from them and raptor drownings are now a rare occurrence. The monitoring of certain raptor species was reinstated by the EWT's Birds of Prey Programme Kalahari Raptor project in 2010.

    Related webpages



    If you have any information about the IBA, such as a new threat that could impact on it, please send an e-mail to iba@birdlife.org.za or call BirdLife South Africa +27 (11) 789 1122.

    Page last updated

    Monday, 02 February 2015

    Further Reading

    Anderson MD. 2000. Raptor conservation in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Ostrich 71: 25–32.

    Anderson MD, Kruger R. 1995. Powerline electrocution of eighteen African White-backed Vultures. Vulture News 32: 16–18.

    Anderson MD, Maritz AWA, Oosthuysen E. 1999. Raptors drowning in farm reservoirs: impacts on southern African populations. Ostrich 70: 139–144.

    Barnes K (ed.). 1998. The Important Bird Areas of southern Africa. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.

    BGIS online. 2014. Biodiversity GIS, SANBI. Available at www.bgis.sanbi.org. [Accessed September 2014.]

    Broekhuysen GJ, Broekhuysen MH, Martin JE, Martin R, Morgan HK. 1968. Observations on the bird life in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. Koedoe 11: 145–160.

    Cunningham SJ, Martin RO, Hojem CL, Hockey PAR. 2013. Temperatures in excess of critical thresholds threaten nestling growth and survival in a rapidly-warming arid savanna: a study of common fiscals. PLOS One 8:e74613.

    Dean WRJ, Barnard P, Anderson MD. 2009. When to stay and when to go: trade-offs for southern African arid-zone birds in times of drought. South African Journal of Science 105: 24–28.

    Du Plessis K. 2011. Heat tolerance of Southern Pied Babblers in the Kalahari Desert: how will they respond to climate change? MSc thesis, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

    Du Plessis KL, Martin RO, Hockey PAR, Cunningham SJ, Ridley AR. 2012. The costs of keeping cool in a warming world: implications of high temperatures for foraging, thermoregulation and body condition of an arid-zone bird. Global Change Biology 18: 3063–3070.

    EWT. 2012. Eagles and Farmers. Endangered Wildlife Trust. Available at http://www.ewt.org.za/eBooks/booklets/Eagles%20and%20Farmers%20booklet.pdf [Accessed October 2014.]

    Herholdt JJ. 1995. The breeding status (1988–1994) and management of raptors in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. MTech thesis, Pretoria Technikon, South Africa.

    Herholdt JJ, Anderson MD. 2006. Observations on the population and breeding status of the African White-backed Vulture, the Black-chested Snake Eagle and the Secretarybird in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Ostrich 77(3&4): 127–136.

    Herholdt JJ, De Villiers DJ. 1991. Breeding success and population density of the Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park. Gabar 6: 3–6.

    Herholdt JJ, Kemp AC. 1997. Breeding status of the Martial Eagle in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa. Ostrich 68: 80–85.

    Hole DG, Willis SG, Pain DJ, Fishpool LD, Butchart SHM, Collingham YC, Rahbek C, Huntley B. 2009. Projected impacts of climate change on a continental-wide protected area network. Ecology Letters 12: 420–431.

    IPCC. 2014. Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the 5th Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/WGIIAR5-TS_FGDall.pdf [Accessed October 2014.]

    Jenkins AR, Shaw JM, Smallie JJ, Gibbons B, Visagie R, Ryan PG. 2011. Estimating the impacts of power line collisions on Ludwig’s Bustards Neotis ludwigii. Bird Conservation International 21: 303–310.

    Kalahari Gemsbok National Park management plan. 2008. Available at http://www.sanparks.org/conservation/park_man/approved_plans.php [Accessed October 2014.]

    Knight MH. 1987. Factors affecting vulture numbers in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. Vulture News 17: 4–10.

    Liversidge R. 1994. Long-term population fluctuations of large raptors in the southern Kalahari. In: Meyburg BU, Chancellor RD (eds), Raptor conservation today. pp 55–59.

    McKechnie AE, Wolf BO. 2010. Climate change increases the likelihood of catastrophic avian mortality events during extreme heat waves. Biology Letters 6: 253–256.

    Midgley G, Rutherford M, Bond W. 2001. The heat is on… Impacts of climate change on plant diversity in South Africa. Cape Town: National Botanical Institute.

    Mucina L, Rutherford M. 2006. The vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Strelitzia 19. Pretoria: South African National Biodiversity Institute.

    Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. 2014. Predicting the impacts of climate change on desert birds: the ‘Hot Birds Programme’. Available at http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/docs/physiol.html [Accessed October 2014.]

    SANParks Research Report. 2012. Available at http://www.sanparks.org/assets/docs/conservation/reports/2012_research_report.pdf [Accessed October 2014.]

    SANParks Scientific Research Report. 2013. Available at http://www.sanparks.org/assets/docs/conservation/reports/2013_research_report.pdf [Accessed October 2014.]

    Simmons RE, Barnard P, Dean WRJ, Midgley GF, Thuiller W, Hughes G. 2004. Climate change and birds: perspectives and prospects from southern Africa. Ostrich 75(4): 295–308.

    Smit B, Harding CT, Hockey PAR, McKechnie AE. 2013. Adaptive thermo-regulation during summer in two populations of an arid-zone passerine. Ecology 94: 1142–1154.

    Van Rooyen MW, Van Rooyen N, Bothma J Du P, Van Den Berg HM. 2008. Landscapes in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa. Koedoe 50(1): 99–112.

Read 17705 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 November 2015 09:50