The semi-arid Karoo National Park is situated in central Great Karoo, just north of Beaufort West, and is now c. 90 000 ha in extent. The original national park was declared in the 1980s and covered c. 33 000 ha, with additional land being incorporated in subsequent years. The IBA follows the boundary of the Karoo National Park. The dominant topographical feature is the impressive Nuweveld escarpment which, with peaks of over 1 900 m a.s.l., towers over plains averaging 900 m a.s.l. Riverbeds, which are dry for most of the year, descend sharply from the escarpment to meander across the flat plains in the far west and east of the park. Although the annual average minimum and maximum temperatures are 10 °C and 24 °C respectively, the climate is one of extremes: temperatures range from -15 °C on the plateau in winter to higher than 40 °C on the plains in summer. The park receives an average rainfall of 260 mm p.a. and is prone to periods of drought.
The stark variation in altitude yields a wide diversity of micro-habitats, resulting in a distinct contrast between the harsher vegetation of the upper plateau, where grassland intruded by fynbos elements is dominant, and the lower plain, where dwarf scrub dominates and thornveld occurs in the moister valleys and watercourses. Nama Karoo shrubs seldom exceeding 70 cm in height are the major component of the scrub vegetation that covers much of the plains and lower escarpment. The vegetation becomes non-succulent as the altitude increases and thicket species such as Dodonaea angustifolia and Searsia (formerly Rhus) lucida occur at height. Belts of riverine Vachellia (formerly Acacia) karroo thicket line the mostly dry riverbeds, creating a network of tree-veins that stretch throughout the park’s plains. Other habitats within the IBA are constructed dams, human habitation, gardens and stands of exotic Eucalyptus and Populus species. The Gamka Dam no longer forms part of the park, and water is provided mostly by seasonal tributaries, springs and artificial water points. The only other open water in the district is found at the Gamka Dam and the Beaufort West sewage works, which lies 4 km south of the town on the old dirt road to Oudtshoorn.
A total of 231 species has been recorded so far in the park during SABAP2. The park is extremely important for Namib-Karoo biome-restricted assemblage species and it supports a host of other arid-zone specials and threatened species. The lowland plains are particularly good for Ludwig’s Bustard Neotis ludwigii, Karoo Korhaan Eupodotis vigorsii, Spike-heeled Lark Chersomanes albofasciata, Karoo Lark Calendulauda albescens, Grey-backed Sparrow-lark Eremopterix verticalis, Tractrac Chat Cercomela tractrac, Karoo Chat C. schlegelii, Karoo Eremomela Eremomela gregalis and Rufous-eared Warbler Malcorus pectoralis. Black-headed Canary Serinus alario occurs when seeding grass and water are available.
The belts of riverine Vachellia karroo woodland hold Namaqua Warbler Phragmacia substriata and provide food, shelter and breeding habitat for many other species. They are of particular interest in the Great Karoo because they act as corridors along which many species are able to move in otherwise unsuitable terrain. The thicket and scrub on the slopes support Layard’s Tit-Babbler Sylvia layardi and Grey Tit Parus afer. In very wet years, nomadic Black-eared Sparrow-lark Eremopterix australis and Lark-like Bunting Emberiza impetuani move in and breed in large numbers. They are subsequently absent until the next heavy rains, which may be decades later. In exceptional rain years, Sclater’s Lark Spizocorys sclateri has also been recorded.
The secretive and localised Cinnamon-breasted Warbler Euryptila subcinnamomea, as well as African Rock Pipit Anthus crenatus, Pale-winged Starling Onychognathus nabouroup and Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus occur in rocky gorges and kloofs, while Sickle-winged Chat Cercomela sinuata is found on the grass and scrub of the plateau. The newly described Karoo Long-billed Lark Certhilauda subcoronata is common throughout the park. Other arid-zone species occurring in it are Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus, Pririt Batis Batis pririt, Fairy Flycatcher Stenostira scita, Cape Penduline-Tit Anthoscopus minutus, Dusky Sunbird Cinnyris fuscus and White-throated Canary Crithagra albogularis.
The cliffs near the Gamka Dam hold breeding Verreauxs’ Eagle Aquila verreauxii, Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus and Black Stork Ciconia nigra. The other extensive patch of open water in the district, the Beaufort West sewage works, is particularly important for waterfowl in times of drought and when the surrounding farm dams and ephemeral waterbodies dry up. Both Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus and Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor have been recorded at the sewage works, where South African Shelduck Tadorna cana and Cape Shoveler Anas smithii are regularly present in large numbers. The town of Beaufort West is included in the IBA because it has several large blue gum trees Eucalyptus species that support thousands of roosting Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni in summer; the birds disperse during the day to forage on the plains surrounding the town.
Globally threatened species are Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus, Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, Black Harrier Circus maurus, Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori and Ludwig’s Bustard. Regionally threatened species are Verreauxs’ Eagle, Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus, Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Karoo Korhaan and African Rock Pipit.
Biome-restricted species that are common in the IBA include Karoo Long-billed Lark, Karoo Chat, Namaqua Warbler, Pale-winged Starling, Black-headed Canary, Layard’s Tit-Babbler and the locally common Karoo Korhaan. Uncommon species in this category include Ludwig’s Bustard, Karoo Lark, Sclater’s Lark, Black-eared Sparrow-lark, Tractrac Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Karoo Eremomela and Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.
The global ranges of both Braack’s dwarf leaf-toed gecko Goggia braacki and thin-skinned thick-toed gecko Pachydactylus kladeroderma are restricted to the eastern section of the Nuweveld escarpment and these species may occur in the park. Cloete’s girdled lizard Cordylus cloetei, another Nuweveld escarpment endemic, occurs at nearby Fraserburg and may also be found in the park. Other South or southern African endemic species whose ranges embrace the park and which occur in it are Grant’s rock mouse Aethomys granti, Karoo dwarf chameleon Bradypodion karrooicum, greater padloper Homopus femoralis, Boulenger’s padloper H. boulengeri, tent tortoise Psammobates tentorius, spotted house snake Lamprophis guttatus, common long-tailed seps Tetradactylus tetradactylus, Namaqua chameleon Chamaeleo namaquensis, Namaqua plated lizard Gerrhosaurus typicus, Karoo sandveld lizard Nucras livida, spotted desert lizard Meroles suborbitalis, Burchell’s sand lizard Pedioplanis burchelli, southern rock agama Agama atra, Cape crag lizard Pseudocordylus microlepidotus, Cape thick-toed gecko Pachydactylus capensis, golden spotted thick-toed gecko P. oculatus, Bibron’s thick-toed gecko P. bibronii, spotted thick-toed gecko P. maculatus, western spotted thick-toed gecko P. serval and Marico thick-toed gecko P. mariquensis.
It is conservation policy to restock the park with game species that roamed these plains prior to human intervention. The threatened black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis and the endemic Cape mountain zebra Equus zebra (the second largest population in the world), as well as gemsbok Oryx gazella, red hartebeest Alcelaphus caama, eland Taurotragus oryx, kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros, riverine rabbit Bunolagus monticularis and springbok Antidorcas marsupialis have been re-introduced. Threatened species such as black-footed cat Felis nigripes, aardwolf Proteles cristatus, aardvark Orycteropus afer, Sclater’s golden mole Chlorotalpa sclateri, Melck’s serotine bat Nycteris thebaica, Lesueur’s hairy bat Cistugo lesueuri and spectacled dormouse Graphiurus ocularis occur naturally in the park. Lion Panthera leo and brown hyaena Hyaena brunnea have also been re-introduced.
Habitat transformation and environmental degradation outside the park, which are the result of various agricultural practices, reduce the habitat available to the larger, wide-ranging trigger species of this IBA, such as Ludwig’s Bustard. Although these threats exist in the surrounding landscape rather than the IBA itself, they are still a threat to these birds. Poisons and pesticides used in the surrounding farming areas may affect scavenging raptor populations. Their use probably led to the extinction of the Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres colony on the Nuweveld Escarpment, which is thought to have occurred as recently as the 1970s. SANParks is amenable to a re-introduction programme and would be prepared to help provide food at a vulture feeding station. Lesser Kestrels have been observed taking locusts during spraying operations just outside the park boundary. The long-term effects of pesticides on this threatened species are currently unknown. Poisoning is a serious threat to the avifauna, not only for large birds that may scavenge on poisoned carcasses, but also as a result of the increased use of pesticides and insecticides, which accumulate in prey and are transferred to, and accumulate in, birds higher up the food chain.
Climate change is predicted to lead to lower precipitation and higher temperatures for this region. The reduction in surface water available to birds will have a direct impact on them and could cause mortality through dehydration, which is increased as birds pant in an attempt to cool down in hot weather. The link between decreased precipitation and warmer temperatures can, therefore, have dangerous implications for birds.
This IBA occurs within a South African national park and thus receives the highest level of formal protection in the country. Managed by SANParks, the park was purchased with financial assistance from WWF-South Africa and proclaimed in September 1979 to protect a section of the Nama Karoo. It originally encompassed 80% mountainous Karoo and only 20% typical Karoo plains. This imbalance was corrected when the park was enlarged to include more arid plains habitat. The neighbouring farms Doringhoek and Sandrivier were incorporated into the reserve in 1983 and 1989 respectively, expanding the total conserved area to 330 km2. Gamka Dam and Grootplaat in the north-east were exchanged for the farm Die Hoek on the plains boundary of the park in order to avoid the management problem of having the park split by the Molteno Pass. SANParks has subsequently purchased more land on the plains, increasing the park’s total area to 90 000 ha. Gamka Dam is important for cliff-nesting species and waterfowl, and should remain under conservation management if possible.
The park itself is safe from habitat transformation due to development. However, the surrounding agricultural landscape should be managed as a buffer zone, which should include farming practices that take into account impacts on the environment and biodiversity. A review of the Protected Area Management Plan should be conducted during the relevant public participation process to ensure that park authorities manage the area appropriately for the existing avifauna. The expansion of the protected area boundaries through contractual stewardship arrangements with private landowners could also be considered for the future.
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