The Augrabies Falls National Park is situated on the vast Bushmanland peneplain where it straddles the Orange River, c. 35 km north-west of Kakamas. Before reaching the falls, the Orange River flows through a wide, flat valley where mainly commercial viticulture farming is practised. After cascading down the 56-m-high falls it meanders down a deep, narrow gorge for 18 km before reaching the level surface of the surrounding plains at Blouputs, where viticulture continues.
The largest section of the park is flat with low relief and scattered rocky hills. Large rounded granite domes and black granulite hills provide a variety of habitats. Ephemeral riverbeds and drainage lines are sandy, gravelly and dry and are mostly very shallow; some, however, are deeper with rocky sides and broad beds. The very low rainfall is sporadic and unpredictable, and this IBA is prone to long periods of drought.
The IBA belongs to the Bushmanland Bioregion, and lies within the Nama Karoo Biome. The ecosystem status for most of the area is Least Threatened with one vegetation type, Lower Gariep Alluvial, classified as Endangered. The remaining vegetation types are Bushmanland Arid Grassland, Kalahari Karroid Shrubland, Blouputs Karroid Thornveld and Lower Gariep Broken Veld. Very little transformation has taken place.
Despite having a low species diversity, this IBA is important for many biome-restricted assemblage birds and a host of other arid-zone species. A total of 192 species has been recorded in the park. The total number of species recorded during SABAP2 is 186, with the pentads having been fairly well atlased at the time the IBA was assessed.
The lowland plains support large wide-ranging species such as Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori, Ludwig’s Bustard Neotis ludwigii and Karoo Korhaan Eupodotis vigorsii. Karoo Chat Cercomela schlegelii, Tractrac Chat C. tractrac, Sickle-winged Chat C. sinuata and Rufous-eared Warbler Malcorus pectoralis frequent the plains. Black-headed Canary Serinus alario is common where there is seed and water.
Large trees, including camel thorn Vachellia (formerly Acacia) erioloba and quiver tree Aloe dichotoma, occasionally support Sociable Weaver Philetairus socius nests, with the associated Pygmy Falcon Polihierax semitorquatus frequently present. In very wet years, large numbers of nomadic Black-eared Sparrow-lark Eremopterix australis and Stark’s Lark Spizocorys starki move in for a brief period and breed. Verreauxs’ Eagle Aquila verreauxii, Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Pale-winged Starling Onychognathus nabouroup, Bradfield’s Swift Apus bradfieldi and Cinnamon-breasted Warbler Euryptila subcinnamomea occur in the river’s steep gorges and associated rocky kloofs.
The belts of riparian Vachellia (formerly Acacia) karroo woodland hold Kalahari Scrub Robin Erythropygia paena, Namaqua Warbler Phragmacia substriata, Layard’s Tit-Babbler Sylvia layardi, Marico Flycatcher Bradornis mariquensis, Scaly-feathered Finch Sporopipes squamifrons and Rosy-faced Lovebird Agapornis roseicollis. Waterbirds are associated with the river, although no globally important populations are supported.
Globally threatened birds are Martial Eagle, Kori Bustard and Ludwig’s Bustard. Regionally threatened birds are Karoo Korhaan, Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus and breeding Verreauxs’ Eagle (4 to 6 birds; N du Plessis pers. comm.). Biome-restricted species are Stark’s Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark Certhilauda subcoronata, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Karoo Chat, Tractrac Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Namaqua Warbler, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Sociable Weaver, Pale-winged Starling and Black-headed Canary.
This IBA conserves populations of various near-endemic and endemic species. These include the distinctive quiver tree, the endemic marbled rubber frog Phrynomantis annectens and Broadley’s flat lizard Platysaurus broadleyi. The healthy population of Hartmann’s mountain zebra Equus zebra hartmannae (Vulnerable) is closely monitored.
After being re-introduced to the AFNP in 1985, black rhinos Diceros bicornis (Critically Endangered) were relocated to the Addo Elephant National Park in 1998. There are plans to re-introduce a small population again soon.
This IBA is well managed, with far fewer threats than the surrounding landscape. Overgrazing of the surrounding farmland is, however, a threat. It results in degradation of habitat outside the park, potentially reducing populations of wide-ranging species such as bustards, which depend on large foraging areas that fall mostly outside the IBA’s borders. Invasive alien plants are a continuing threat, especially in the riparian vegetation zone. Three invasive species are being actively controlled.
Historically, poisons were used extensively in the region to control damage-causing predators, such as black-backed jackal Canis mesomelas and caracal Caracal caracal. Poison use may be continuing in the surrounding livestock farming areas, but is likely to be at a lower level than previously. The potential impacts of poison use on several threatened raptor species has not been quantified.
Renewable energy developments, including hydropower, are a new threat. There are two approved applications to develop solar energy facilities on neighbouring farms at the southern boundary of this IBA. Possible impacts on birds are loss of habitat, breeding disturbance during construction, collisions with the reflective solar panels and, in the case of concentrated solar plants with power towers, solar flux injuries. Existing and new power lines from substations to renewable energy facilities are significant threats to trigger species.
The Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo Biomes, which hold 76% of southern Africa’s endemic birds, are under serious threat from climate change. Restricted-range and biome-restricted species tend to show greater sensitivity to climate change, arising from their comparatively narrow climatic niches. Large, mainly resident species dependent on rainfall are also more vulnerable to climate change. This would include the slow-breeding Verreauxs’ Eagle and Martial Eagle, which also exhibit extended parental care. Temperatures in most South African parks have increased between 1 and 1.5 oC over the past 50 years.
This IBA is a formally protected national park, established in 1966. It is an important tourist attraction, drawing up to 89 000 visitors per annum. The highest numbers were recorded during recent floods in 2010 and 2011.
Land claims on two property portions are still in process, and discussions are ongoing to find mutually beneficial co-management arrangements. Negotiations are in progress to contractually include private land in the western section of the park, which will increase its extent by approximately 5 392 ha.
Because of the threat of climate change to this region’s biodiversity in the coming decades, it is critical to maintain the ability of species to migrate to new locations in response to changing conditions across the landscape. The effective conservation of much of the planet’s biodiversity under climate change will depend upon rigorously defined networks of protected areas displaying functional connectivity at regional and continental scales.
The National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy priority areas are included in the buffer zone that surrounds the park. The priority expansion footprint of the buffer zone just reaches the eastern extent of the Mattheus-Gat Conservation Area IBA (SA034). Privately owned land in this area linking the two IBAs should be considered for declaration as protected environments under the Biodiversity Stewardship programme.
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