Site description

The Kouga–Baviaanskloof Complex encompasses large areas of mountainous terrain in the western part of the Eastern Cape, covering approximately 172 000 ha in total. The Kouga and Baviaanskloof ranges are about 120 km long and run parallel to one another from Uniondale in the west to Patensie in the east. The Baviaanskloof Valley, which separates the two ranges, lies about 40 km due north of the coastline. To the south, the Langkloof Valley and Tsitsikamma Mountains lie between these ranges and the coast. Kouga, the larger and more extensive of the two ranges, contains many high peaks in its central and western sections, of which Smutsberg is the highest at 1 757 m a.s.l. At its eastern end the range is less rugged, consisting of plateaus and rolling hills below 900 m a.s.l. Relative to Kouga, the linear Baviaanskloof range is far narrower and much more uniform in shape, with Scholtzberg (1 625 m a.s.l.) as its highest peak. The north-facing slopes drop steeply to the Great Karoo.

Three main rivers drain the area: the Baviaans and Kouga rivers flow eastward into the Kouga Dam, while the Groot River flows through a spectacular gorge before joining the Gamtoos River, which runs to the coast. Quartz sandstone sediments of the Table Mountain Group dominate the area. To the north, the fynbos-covered sandstone gives way to sandstone slopes of arid fynbos, which in turn make contact with the Bokkeveld Shales of the Great Karoo plains. The temperature regime in these mountains is temperate, ranging from an annual average minimum of 5 °C to a maximum of 32 °C. Rain can fall at any time of year, brought mostly by cut-off lows. These systems are slow-moving pockets of cold air from the mid-latitude South Atlantic Ocean that are trapped in the south and east of the country by high-pressure cells. In the lower-lying areas (<350 m a.s.l.) rainfall averages less than 250 mm p.a., whereas the high-altitude areas (>800 m a.s.l.) generally receive more than 800 mm p.a. In the west there is no marked seasonal pattern; in the east rainfall tends to be higher in summer. The local topography has a dramatic influence on rainfall events.

The mainly leached and acid soils, derived from sandstones and quartzites of the Table Mountain Group, support mesic mountain fynbos dominated by a multitude of communities, although Proteaceae, Ericaceae and Restionaceae are foremost among these. Afro-temperate forest patches dominated by trees are found in deep, secluded, mesic gorges. Arid veld occurs on the xeric northern slopes. Spekboomveld is found on the steepest slopes at the lowest altitudes, primarily due to grazing pressure on more gentle slopes, and is dominated by Portulacaria afra and Putterlickia pyracantha. On the plains of the Great Karoo, karroid scrub appears. Local patches of renosterbos, dominated by Elytropappus rhinocerotis, are found on the higher hills and ridges.


The Kouga–Baviaanskloof Complex, together with the surrounding plains, supports a remarkable number of avian habitats, making it home to approximately 300 bird species, with a total of 262 having been recorded so far during SABAP2. All the Cape Fynbos restricted-range and biome-restricted assemblage species are found in the mountain ranges. Several South African Forest restricted-range species occur in the forest patches, and the Great Karoo plains in the northern foothills support several Namib-Karoo biome-restricted assemblage species. Striped Flufftail Sarothrura affinis and Hottentot Buttonquail Turnix hottentottus are found in the low fynbos scrub. Orange-breasted Sunbird Anthobaphes violacea is widespread among ericas, while Cape Sugarbird Promerops cafer and Protea Seedeater Crithagra leucoptera occur in the proteoid elements and tall scrub. Cape Spurfowl Pternistis capensis, Cape Bulbul Pycnonotus capensis and Cape Siskin Crithagra totta are widespread in the fynbos. Victorin’s Warbler Cryptillas victorini is found in moist seeps in the hilly areas. Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus and Cape Rockjumper Chaetops frenatus are common on most rocky slopes above 1 000 m a.s.l.

The mountain peaks and associated cliffs of the complex hold Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus, Verreauxs’ Eagle Aquila verreauxii, Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus, Cape Eagle-Owl Bubo capensis and Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus. Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus is a rare, widespread resident. The isolated forest patches, particularly in the south, hold several forest endemics, including Knysna Woodpecker Campethera notata, Forest Canary Crithagra scotops, Olive Bush-Shrike Chlorophoneus olivaceus and Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher Trochocercus cyanomelas.

The Great Karoo plains and the northern foothills of the Kouga–Baviaanskloof Complex host Karoo Korhaan Eupodotis vigorsii, Sickle-winged Chat Cercomela sinuata and Rufous-eared Warbler Malcorus pectoralis. Black-headed Canary Serinus alario occurs occasionally, whenever there is seeding grass and water. The belts of riverine Vachellia (formerly Acacia) karroo woodland hold Namaqua Warbler Phragmacia substriata, while the thicket and scrub on the slopes support Layard’s Tit-Babbler Sylvia layardi and Grey Tit Parus afer. Other arid-zone species occurring just to the north of the complex include Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus, Pririt Batis Batis pririt, Fairy Flycatcher Stenostira scita and White-throated Canary Crithagra albogularis. Several small Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni roosts occur, from which the birds disperse during the day to forage on the plains. The coastal grassland belt to the south holds Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus, Denham’s Bustard Neotis denhami, Ludwig’s Bustard N. ludwigii, Black Harrier Circus maurus and White Stork Ciconia ciconia, which regularly forage within the agricultural matrix in the southern part of the complex.

As is the case for many of the Cape Fold Mountain IBAs, to fully understand the status of this IBA it is essential that population estimates be obtained for certain trigger species. A small number of flagship trigger species could be selected and regularly monitored and counted to obtain population estimates.

IBA trigger species

Globally threatened species are Hottentot Buttonquail, Blue Crane, Knysna Woodpecker, Ludwig’s Bustard, Denham’s Bustard, Crowned Eagle and Black Harrier. Regionally threatened species are African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus, Cape Rockjumper, Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus, Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Karoo Korhaan and Verreauxs’ Eagle.

Restricted-range and biome-restricted species common in the IBA include Cape Bulbul, Cape Spurfowl, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Cape Siskin, while locally common species in this category include Olive Bush-Shrike, Victorin’s Warbler, Cape Rockjumper, Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia, Swee Waxbill Coccopygia melanotis, Forest Canary, Protea Seedeater and Black-headed Canary. Uncommon species in this category include Hottentot Buttonquail, Karoo Korhaan, Sickle-winged Chat, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Namaqua Warbler and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus ruficapilla.

Other biodiversity

This area is thought to hold more than 2 000 plant species, including many endemic ericas and restios in the south of the complex. Comprehensive botanical surveys would probably lead to the discovery of many more endemics.

Most of the global range of Hewitt’s dwarf leaf-toed gecko Goggia hewitti is restricted to the Baviaanskloof Mountains. The rare yellow-bellied house snake Lamprophis fuscus has been recorded here, as has the highly localised southern ghost frog Heleophryne regis and an as-yet-undescribed species of dwarf chameleon Bradypodion sp. The Endangered Hewitt’s ghost frog Heleophryne hewitti is confirmed at Cockscomb and is likely to occur at several sites in the Baviaanskloof Mountains, pending genetic confirmation of the species. If not H. hewitti, the ghost frogs in the Baviaanskloof range are probably a new species. Also in the Cockscomb area is an undescribed gecko of the Afroedura genus. Many southern African endemic reptiles have been recorded in the complex, including the spectacular black thread snake Leptotyphlops nigricans, Sundevall’s shovel-snout Prosymna sundevallii, cross-marked grass snake Psammophis crucifer, Cape cobra Naja nivea, many-spotted snake Amplorhinus multimaculatus, berg adder Bitis atropos, Cape legless skink Acontias meleagris, red-sided skink Mabuya homalocephala, spotted sand lizard Pedioplanis lineoocellata, Cape mountain lizard Tropidosaura gularis, common mountain lizard T. montana, Cape girdled lizard Cordylus cordylus, southern rock agama Agama atra, ocellated thick-toed gecko Pachydactylus geitje and spotted thick-toed gecko P. maculatus.

Cape grysbok Raphicerus melanotis also occurs within the IBA. Threatened mammals include leopard Panthera pardus, Cape mountain zebra Equus zebra zebra, black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis bicornis, Cape spiny mouse Acomys subspinosus and striped weasel Poecilogale albinucha.

Conservation issues


The large size of the IBA means that threats affecting it vary across the entire site. Agricultural activities are widespread and include Angora goat and seed farming (predominantly onions, which is an increasing crop, but other seed types too) in the central and western sections of the reserve in the kloof along the R342; and cattle grazing on the southern slopes of the Kouga range, where the natural veld has been transformed into pasture. Large-scale fruit farming also occurs on the southern slopes of the Kouga mountain range near the Langkloof and in the eastern section, where large-scale citrus farming is expanding in the Gamtoos River valley. Activities such as these transform land and reduce natural vegetation habitat for birds of conservation concern, such as Black Harrier, but they can also provide habitat for non-threatened species that have adapted to agricultural landscapes, such as Pied Crow Corvus albus, Hadeda Ibis Bostrychia hagedash and Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca.

In association with intensive agriculture in the Langkloof, dam construction is widespread and having consequences for birds of wetland or stream habitats (warbler species), but favouring birds of open water (duck species). Some effort has been made to restore wetland in certain parts and this may recreate suitable habitat for waterbirds. As well as land transformation, threats associated with agricultural landscapes are the run-off of fertiliser and other pollutants into waterbodies and the associated eutrophication; the abstraction of water from natural systems; and pesticide drift. However, there is also movement towards ecotourism in the central section of the IBA, particularly on farms adjacent to the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site. This is a positive development that can provide benefits to conservation.

Stands of alien vegetation (including commercial pine plantations) reduce the extent of fynbos and Afro-temperate forest habitats in this area. The stands support little to no indigenous bird diversity, apart from certain raptor species that utilise this habitat now but previously would not have occurred in these areas. Hakea, Pinus and Australian Acacia species occur to varying degrees across the IBA. Prickly pear Opuntia species is considered to be naturalised in the eastern thicket sections, although there are plans to eradicate it from some areas. Escaped cactus species and the mother-of-millions plant represent an unquantified threat in certain areas. Invasive alien trees pose a serious threat to the conservation of water and natural vegetation in these mountains. They are known to accelerate riverbank erosion and reduce in-stream flow and are responsible for changes in the fire regime and the composition of plant communities. Bio-control agents, including insects and a fungus, have been introduced and some have been extremely successful, spreading throughout the biome. Physical removal, bio-control and fire are now incorporated into most management plans for the control of alien species, as may be appropriate. Some private landowners and farmers, as well as the Working for Water Project, are clearing alien vegetation in certain areas and there is a high-altitude clearing team in the Kouga and Kromme catchments.

Fortunately there is little residential or commercial development in the core sections of the IBA (the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve and surrounding farmlands), and what there is mainly involves the construction of tourism infrastructure such as guesthouses. However, the Gamtoos and Langkloof valleys are experiencing high population growth and immigration from poor regions of the Eastern Cape. While most residential development to cope with the population increase is concentrated around towns, secondary impacts include the utilisation of resources for construction and firewood – and for food, in which case resources may include large-bodied bird species, especially terrestrial ‘game’ species.

The harvesting of the indigenous honeybush (Cyclopia spp.) is an important informal economic activity. To encourage the growth of these plants, fynbos may be burned every seven years, although often a shorter cycle of 4–5 years is implemented. This burning regime is detrimental to Protea species that do not resprout, many of which are important sources of nectar for the fynbos-endemic Cape Sugarbird. This is particularly the case at the drier eastern limit of these plants’ range, where growth rates appear to be slower than at the western limit (scientific evidence is required to confirm this). Seeds released after mature protea stands have been burnt are important food resources for the fynbos-endemic Protea Seedeater. The harvesting of wildflowers is known to occur in the area, but is currently presumed to be at a small scale within the IBA.

Fynbos is a fire-maintained ecosystem and it has been recognised that fire can be used as a conservation and management tool. According to the management principles implemented for the Baviaanskloof, natural fires are allowed to burn whereas man-made fires are extinguished where possible. The fire regime is monitored and annual meetings are held with the relevant stakeholders to develop management responses when concerns are raised, such as that areas are burning too frequently or not frequently enough.

The greater human usage of this mountain area increases the likelihood that the exotic Argentine ant Iridomyrmex humilis will enter the ecosystems. This ant ousts the indigenous ants that are responsible for dispersing the seeds of the many myrmecochorous fynbos species. The loss of the indigenous ants could have a major negative impact on the local biota.

A number of wind-energy facilities are being constructed or are already operating in areas adjacent to the IBA. Their potential impacts on birds and other animals include collisions with the infrastructure and loss of habitat. BirdLife South Africa is aware of the potential threats from such facilities and is engaging with industry and other role players to mitigate them wherever possible.

Conservation action

Historically most of this terrain fell within the Kouga/Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, which comprised 172 208 ha of State forest (155 323 ha demarcated and 16 885 ha undemarcated) plus 157 829 ha of proposed wilderness area. The majority of the IBA now falls within the boundaries of the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site, which includes farms in private ownership. Although the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve is still awaiting formal proclamation as a provincial nature reserve under NEM:PAA, it is actively managed by ECPTA to enhance the biodiversity of the area and to promote limited ecotourism. ECPTA and CapeNature are expanding the protected area estate through their Biodiversity Stewardship programme and the formation of conservancies, as well as other projects such as the Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve.

Alien vegetation is being cleared by Working for Water in certain areas and by private landowners. ECPTA and the Southern Cape Fire Protection Association are involved in fire management and intervention to prevent fires from occurring too frequently. Private nature reserves and agricultural and other privately owned land buffer the protected area along its borders. The primary management objectives in the Kouga and Baviaanskloof Mountain catchments and reserves are to produce potable water and conserve nature; secondary objectives are to reduce fire hazards and manage wildflower harvesting, recreational use and grazing.

The importance of these mountains for both water management and biodiversity conservation cannot be over-emphasised. Many of the freshwater systems in the Eastern Cape, including a large proportion of the catchments of the Gamtoos, Krom and Seekoei rivers, have their source in the Kouga and Baviaanskloof ranges. Historically the largest conservation areas in the Cape Floral Kingdom were proclaimed by DWAF in order to protect water catchment areas. Land was acquired rapidly in the 1960s after it was shown that mature forest plantations used much more water than neighbouring natural fynbos vegetation. Afforestation was strictly controlled under the Mountain Catchment Areas Act of 1970 to protect South Africa’s limited water supply. The fact that these water catchment areas coincided with the areas of greatest plant biodiversity and endemism was entirely fortuitous.

Budget constraints currently limit the manpower and resources available to conservation authorities for management. However, the presence of nature reserves and other formal protection in parts of this IBA does improve its overall conservation status and reduce threats to bird conservation. ECPTA, through its stewardship officer Tracy Potts, is engaging with landowners in the centre of the Baviaanskloof Valley to develop stewardship agreements and thus add properties to the reserve. In addition, in September 2012 it facilitated a bird survey using SABAP2 techniques in the reserve, which resulted in a combined bird list of 149 species. Access to some of the IBA is restricted due to the ownership of certain segments by private landowners on the northern and southern boundaries of the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site. The IBA also falls within the Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site.

The Formosa Nature Reserve, managed by ECPTA, lies on the northern slopes of the Tsitsikamma Mountains and forms a potential corridor between the Baviaanskloof and the Tsitsikamma–Plettenberg Bay IBAs. Such corridors will be essential to enable species to adapt and move in response to predicted climate change. The Eden to Addo Corridor Project is actively seeking to develop such corridors in this area and has employed an extension officer to work alongside the ECPTA Stewardship Programme in engaging with private landowners .

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 or call BirdLife South Africa +27 (11) 789 1122.

Page last updated

Monday, 19 January 2015

Further Reading

Boshoff A. 2005. The Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve: an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable conservation and development initiative. Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit Report No. 52. Port Elizabeth: University of Port Elizabeth.

Boshoff A, Cowling RMC, Kerley GIH. 2000. The Baviaanskloof Conservation Area: a conservation and tourism development priority. Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit Report No. 27. Port Elizabeth: University of Port Elizabeth.

Cowling RM (ed.). 1992. The ecology of fynbos: nutrients, fire and diversity. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

ECPB. 2009. Strategic management plan for the Baviaanskloof Cluster. Unpublished report. East London: Eastern Cape Parks Board.

Euston-Brown D. 1995. Environmental and dynamic determinants of vegetation distribution in the Kouga and Baviaanskloof mountains, Eastern Cape. MSc thesis, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Euston-Brown D. 2006. Baviaanskloof Mega-Reserve Project vegetation mapping contract: report on methodology, vegetation classification and short descriptions of habitat units. Unpublished report. East London: Eastern Cape Parks Board.

Lee ATK. 2013. Fynbos enigma: Hottentot Buttonquail in the Kouga Mountains. African Birdlife 1(6): 20–22.

Lee ATK, Barnard P. 2013. The Birds of Blue Hill Nature Reserve: the fynbos endemic bird survey. Afring News 42: 21–28.

Lee ATK, Barnard P. 2014. Aspects of the ecology and morphology of the protea seedeater Crithagra leucopterus, a little-known Fynbos endemic. African Zoology 49(2): 295–300.

McGill L. 1992. Birding in the Baviaanskloof. Birding in Southern Africa 44: 51–53.

Richardson DM, Macdonald IAW, Holmes PM, Cowling RM. 1992. Plant and animal invasions. In: Cowling RM (ed.), The ecology of fynbos: nutrients, fire and diversity. Cape Town: Oxford University Press. pp 271–309.

Van Wilgen BW, Bond WJ, Richardson DM. 1992. Ecosystem management. In: Cowling RM (ed.), The ecology of fynbos: nutrients, fire and diversity. Cape Town: Oxford University Press. pp 345–372.