1. MALOTI - DRAKENSBERG PARK ==========================


The Maloti-Drakensberg Park formerly uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park extends along 200 kilometres of a mountain range of spectacular natural beauty, which is a also a major centre of endemism with a great diversity of birdlife and plants. Its double escarpment of sheer basalt cliffs and ramparts of golden sandstone rise above high rolling grasslands, rocky gorges and pristine steep-sided valleys. It also harbours in hundreds of caves and rock shelters, the largest concentration of early rock art in sub-Saharan Africa. These are outstanding in their quality and diversity of subjects, their depiction of animals and human beings, and as a record of the beliefs and way of life over 4,000 years of the Khoisan people who used to inhabit the region. Sehlabathebe National Park over the border in the Maloti Mountains of Lesotho is a continuation to the south of the great escarpment in yet higher cliffs and a remote alpine plateau in the highest country in southern Africa.


South Africa, Lesotho


Maloti-Drakensberg Park


2000: uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park inscribed on the World Heritage List under Natural Criteria (vii) and (x) plus Cultural Criteria (i) and (iii).

2013: uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage site extended by incorporation of Sehlabathebe National Park, Lesotho, under the same criteria (i), (iii), (vii) and (x).


The UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value on the designation of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park:

Brief Synthesis

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is renowned for its spectacular natural landscape, importance as a haven for many threatened and endemic species, and for its wealth of rock paintings made by the San people over a period of 4000 years. The Park, located in the Drakensberg Mountains, covers an area of 242,813 ha making it the largest protected area along the Great Escarpment of southern Africa.

With its pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges, the property has numerous caves and rock shelters containing an estimated 600 rock art sites, and the number of individual images in those sites probably exceeds 35,000. The images depict animals and human beings, and represent the spiritual life of this people, now no longer living in their original homeland. This art represents an exceptionally coherent tradition that embodies the beliefs and cosmology of the San people over several millennia. There are also paintings done during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, attributable to Bantu speaking people.

Extending along most of KwaZulu-Natal’s south-western border with Lesotho, the property provides a vital refuge for more than 250 endemic plant species and their associated fauna. It also holds almost all of the remaining subalpine and alpine vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal, including extensive high altitude wetlands above 2,750m and is a RAMSAR site. The Park has been identified as an Important Bird Area, and forms a critical part of the Lesotho Highlands Endemic Bird Area.

Criterion (i): The rock art of the Drakensberg is the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara and is outstanding both in quality and diversity of subject.

Criterion (iii): The San people lived in the mountainous Drakensberg area for more than four millennia, leaving behind them a corpus of outstanding rock art, which throws much light on their way of life and their beliefs.

Criterion (vii): The site has exceptional natural beauty with soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts. Rolling high altitude grasslands, the pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges also contribute to the beauty of the site.

Criterion (x): The property contains significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity. It has outstanding species richness, particularly of plants. It is recognised as a Global Centre of Plant Diversity and endemism, and occurs within its own floristic region – the Drakensberg Alpine Region of South Africa. It is also within a globally important endemic bird area and is notable for the occurrence of a number of globally threatened species, such as the Yellow-breasted Pipit. The diversity of habitats is outstanding, ranging across alpine plateaux, steep rocky slopes and river valleys. These habitats protect a high level of endemic and threatened species.


The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, composed of 12 protected areas established between 1903 and 1973 has a long history of effective conservation management. Covering 242,813 ha in area, it is large enough to survive as a natural area and to maintain natural values. It includes 4 proclaimed Wilderness areas almost 50% of the Park, while largely unaffected by human development, the property remains vulnerable to external land uses including agriculture, plantation forestry and ecotourism, although agreements between Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and local stakeholders have been implemented to manage these threats.

Invasive species and fire also threaten the integrity of the site, along with land claims in certain areas, infrastructural developments, soil erosion caused by fire and tourist impacts on vulnerable alpine trails, and poaching. The lack of formal protection of the mountain ecosystem over the border in Lesotho exacerbates these threats.

Boundary issues highlighted at time of inscription included the gap belonging to the amaNgwane and amaZizi Traditional Council between the northern and much larger southern section of the Park. While planning mechanisms restrict development above the 1,650m contour to maintain ecological integrity, it was recommended that a cooperative agreement between the amaNgwane and amaZizi Traditional Council and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife be envisaged. Extending conservation areas by agreements with privately-owned land along the escarpment to the south of the property was also recommended. Finally an important step to strengthening integrity has been the development of the Drakensberg Maloti Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area, which has recognised the importance of a Transboundary Peace Park linking the Sehlabathebe National Park (and eventually the contiguous Sehlabathebe and Mohotlong Range Management Areas) in Lesotho with uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Project Coordinating Committees in both KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho are cooperating in a planning process.

The property contains the main corpus of rock art related to the San in this area. Although the area has changed relatively little since the caves were inhabited, management practices, the removal of trees (which formerly sheltered the paintings) and the smoke from burning grass both have the capacity to impact adversely on the fragile images of the rock shelters, as does unregulated public access.


The authenticity of the paintings, and their shelter and cave settings, as a reflection of the beliefs of the San peoples, are without question. The images are however vulnerable to fading that could lessen their ability to display their meaning.

Protection and management requirements

Management of the Park is guided by an Integrated Management Plan with subsidiary plans, and is undertaken in accordance with the World Heritage Convention Act, 1999 (Act No. 49 of 1999); National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003 (Act 57 of 2003); National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No 10 of 2004); KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Management Amendment Act (No 5 of 1999); World Heritage Convention Operational Guidelines; and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife policies. In terms of these legislation, all development within or outside the property is subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment, which considers the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. In addition all World Heritage Sites are recognized as protected areas, meaning that mining or prospecting will be completely prohibited from taking place within the property or the proclaimed buffer zone.  Furthermore, any unsuitable development with a potential impact on the property will not be permitted by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs who is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

Invasive species and fire are major management challenges. At the time of inscription 1% of the property was covered with alien vegetation, including existing plantations and wattle infestations. This poses a threat to the ecological integrity of the Park as well as to the yield of water from its wetlands and river systems. Park management is actively addressing the removal of alien species. The interaction between the management of invasive species and the management of fire should also be carefully considered, taking into account the effects of fire on fire-sensitive fauna such as endemic frogs.  Management of fire and invasive species needs to be addressed jointly by Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal, ideally within the framework established for transboundary protected area cooperation.

There is a need to ensure an equitable balance between the management of nature and culture through incorporating adequate cultural heritage expertise into the management of the Park, in order to ensure that land management processes respect the paintings, that satisfactory natural shelter is provided to the rock art sites, that monitoring of the rock art images is conducted on a regular basis by appropriately qualified conservators, and that access to the paintings is adequately regulated. Furthermore, there is a need to ensure that Cultural Heritage Impact Assessments are undertaken in conjunction with Environmental Impact Assessments for any proposed development affecting the setting within the property.


1997: The Natal Drakensberg Park area designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention (242,813 ha).


II: National Park, Nature Reserves, State Forests and Game Reserve:

Royal Natal National Park Mkhomazi State Forest
Sehlabathebe National Park Cathedral Peak State Forest
Loteni Nature Reserve Garden Castle State Forest
Kamberg Nature Reserve Cobham State Forest
Vergelegen Nature Reserve Highmoor State Forest
Rugged Glen Nature Reserve Monk’s Cowl State Forest
Giant’s Castle Game Reserve

Ib: Wilderness Areas contained within State Forests:

Mkhomazi Wilderness Area In Mkhomazi State Forest

Mzimkulu Wilderness Area In Garden Castle State Forest

Mdedelelo Wilderness Area In Cathedral Peak State Forest

Mlambonja Wilderness Area In Cathedral Peak State Forest


South African Highlands (3.22.12)


uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park crowns the 200 km-long Drakensberg mountain range in Kwazulu-Natal Province on its western border with Lesotho. It lies between S 28°55’ to 29°55’ and E 29°05’ to 29°45’ with a northern outlier, Royal Natal National Park, between S 28°38’ to 28°46’ and E 28°52’ to 29°00’.

Sehlabathebe National Park in the Maloti Mountains of southeastern Lesotho, a continuation of the Drakensberg Mountains, runs for 12 km along the border of Kwa-Zulu province and the larger park. It is located 100 km northeast of Qacha's Nek centred on S 29°53'56”and E 29°07'16”.


Maloti-Drakensberg Transboundary Conservation Area is comprised of 13 protected areas established between 1903 and 2013 under four different designations: two National Parks, four Nature Reserves, six State Forests, and one Game Reserve.

1903: A Game Reserve near Giant’s Castle established by Government Notice 735;

1905: The area declared a Demarcated Forest;

1907: Proclaimed a Game Reserve by Government Notice 356;

1916: The Natal National Park formally established by the Provincial administration;

1922: The first forest reserve in the region proclaimed (Cathkin Forest Reserve);

1927-51: State Forests demarcated to ensure the protection of water-producing areas;

1947: Northern section renamed Royal Natal National Park after a royal family visit;

1951: Kamberg Nature Reserve proclaimed under the Nature Conservation Ordinance;

1953: Loteni Nature Reserve proclaimed under the Ordinance;

1967: Vergelegen Nature Reserve proclaimed under the Ordinance;

1973: Mdedelelo and Mkhomazi areas within State Forests proclaimed Wilderness Areas;

1979: Mzimkulu and Mlambonja areas within State Forests proclaimed Wilderness Areas;

1992: All State Forest areas in the Drakensberg assigned to the Natal Provincial Administration;

1993: Control of all protected areas in the Drakensberg assigned to the Natal Parks Board;

1993: The uKhahlamba/Drakensberg Park established;

1997: The whole area designated a Ramsar Wetland site;

1998: The Natal Parks Board and Kwazulu Department of Nature Conservation are amalgamated in the Kwazulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service;

1969: Sehlabathebe Wildlife Sanctuary & National Park established; 2001: declared a National Park;

2013: Sehlabathebe National Park united with the uKhahlabamba-Drakensberg Park in the Maloti-Drakensberg Transboundary Conservation Area following international agreement.


Both parks are state owned. The Drakensberg section is administered by the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service (KNNCS). Sehlabathebe is managed by the Director of Parks under the Lesotho Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture.

  1. AREAS

The total area of the Conservation Area is 249,313 ha. It comprises the following protected areas:

National Park, Nature Reserves and State Forests (excluding Wilderness Areas):

Royal Natal National Park 8,094 ha Mkhomazi State Forest 49,156 ha
Sehlabathebe National Park 6,500 ha Cathedral Peak State Forest 32,246 ha
Loteni Nature Reserve 3,984 ha Garden Castle State Forest 30,766 ha
Kamberg Nature Reserve 2,980 ha Cobham State Forest 30,498 ha
Vergelegen Nature Reserve 1,159 ha Highmoor State Forest 28,151 ha
Rugged Glen Nature Reserve 762 ha Monk’s Cowl State Forest 20,379 ha
Giant’s Castle Game Reserve 34,638 ha

Wilderness Areas within State Forests (117,764 ha, 48.5%):

Mkhomazi Wilderness Area 56,155 ha Mzimkulu Wilderness Area 28,340 ha
Mdedelelo Wilderness Area 27,000 ha Mlambonja Wilderness Area 6,270 ha

Sehlabathebe Range Management Area is a buffer zone, outside the World Heritage site, of 46,630 ha.


Drakensberg Mountains: 1,280m to 3,446m (Mafadi). The Sehlabathebe plateau averages 2,450m.


The Conservation Area unites the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in South Africa with the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho which it adjoins for 12 km along the international border. The Drakensberg Mountains extend 200 km along most of the border with Lesotho in a landscape of exceptional natural beauty forming a double rampart of escarpments (the Barrier of Spears or uKhahlamba) on the rim of the Lesotho plateau. The higher wall of sheer basalt-capped cliffs, the High Berg, which has several peaks over 3,000m, is a range of jagged rocky peaks with a great variety of summits and plateaus, cliffs, buttresses and deep valleys between high spurs. A thousand metres lower is a terrace of rolling high-altitude grassy slopes banded with basalt above a second escarpment, the Little Berg, of cream to golden fine-grained sandstone. This falls away in pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges containing patches of forest, thickets and grassland, waterfalls, cascades and rock pools. The ecological heterogeneity of the region is due to its geologic and geomorphic diversity, its range of altitudes, extremes of temperature, high rainfall, and numerous high altitude mountain wetlands: springs, tarns, bogs, marshes and streams. Ten rivers or major streams originate in the Park including the Boesman’s, Mkhomaasi and Mzimkhulu rivers and tributaries of the Tugela River.

Geologically, the Drakensberg consists of some 7,000m of stepped horizontally bedded sandstone and mudstone strata, the Karoo supergroup, laid down in late Triassic to early Jurassic times, in a basin developed during compressional tectonic movements in the Cape Fold belt to the south and south-east. Rifting formed a dome, the erosion of the edge of which formed the coastal lowlands, isolating the escarpment far from the sea. It was capped by an accumulation of Jurassic basalt lava which, in the Amphitheatre in Royal Natal National Park, forms a massive crescent of basalt cliffs over 600m high and 5 km long. The sandstone succession is up to 150m thick, accumulated as desert dunes and wadi systems during the arid Late Jurassic period. Its most distinctive feature is the high cliffs of cream to maroon fine-grained sandstone of the Clarens Formation. Thinly-bedded lacustrine and interdune sediments preserve footprints of quadrupedal and bipedal dinosaurs which are exposed in the roofs of caves and overhangs. Large blocks of massive sandstone litter the slopes below the cliffs. Hundreds of caves or overhangs once inhabited by the Khoisan people preserve their rock art. The soils are largely acidic lithosols.

Sehlabathebe also has great natural beauty. It is a remote, high and undulating grassy plateau under the escarpment of the Maloti Mountains to the east, a rugged and desolately beautiful wilderness crossed by ridges of resistant dolerite, where the wealth of plants make a brilliant show of color in spring and summer. The Park lies at the interface between the underlying sedimentary strata with the capping igneous rock. Its striking sandstone rock formations were formed by fault block uplifting of part of the sandstone Maloti Drakensberg above the rest of the scarp. Subsequent periglacial weathering created basaltic buttresses, dramatically notched cliffs, golden sandstone ramparts, steep sided valleys which carve into the Lesotho Plateau, and rocks sculpted into cliffs, pillars, arches and caves which are not seen in the larger site. The plateau has extensive nearly pristine wetlands: tarns, riparian marshy ox- bow lakes and river marshes with the meandering main river, the Tsoelikane, flowing through a gorge and a picturesque waterfall towards the westward-draining Senqu and Orange Rivers. With the ten east-flowing rivers, the Conservation Area is the most important water catchment in South Africa.


The Drakensberg is dominated by the influence of subtropical anticyclones and is one of the best watered, least drought-prone areas of southern Africa, where precipitation exceeds evaporation. In winter, the subsidence of cold air causes atmospheric stability and a distinct dry season. In summer, the subsidence inversion may rise above the escarpment resulting in an influx of humid air from the Indian Ocean on southeasterly winds. Precipitation is often in the form of thunderstorms. The annual precipitation is between 1,000mm and 2,000mm on the escarpment on both sites. Precipitation between November and March is 70% of the annual total, in the winter months, less than 10%. In Sehlabathebe, the plateau's average annual rainfall of some 740mm is unpredictable, falling mainly between December and March. There is often thick mist. Winter is cold, clear and driest between July and August; frosts and snow are common. By 2030, the abundant rainfall may be supplying 70% of the region’s water needs.

The mean annual temperature of all of the sites is about 16°C, but both seasonal and diurnal variations are considerable. The highest temperatures (up to 35°C) occur during summer on north-facing slopes at lower latitudes, while the lowest temperatures (down to -20°C) occur during winter nights on the summit plateau. There are about 180 days of frost between mid April and October at higher elevations, but the local topography controls its distribution and intensity. It also occurs lower down, when cold air from the high plateaus drains into lower valleys. Sehlabathebe is cooler, with temperatures averaging 21.2°C in summer and 8.2°C in winter.


The flora is very rich. The Drakensberg Alpine Centre cites over 2,800 species for the Drakensberg area, including 450 endemic angiosperms (16%). It is a mixture of the floras of the Cape, Afromontane, and Afroalpine regions with, at lower levels, subtropical biota, in a much dissected terrain of great topographic diversity, with wetlands, a large altitudinal range and strong climatic gradients. The infertile slightly acid upland soils may limit the growth of competing grasses and shrubs, and the land has long been used lightly. All of these features favor a wide range of habitats, species isolation and consequent speciation. The Park is known as a centre of plant diversity and endemism, and the Maloti Drakensberg is a key hotspot for the protection of globally threatened plant species. There are 1,390 plant species in the southern Drakensberg, approximately 30% of which - concentrated at high altitudes - are endemic. Some of these endemics are relicts of species more widely distributed under earlier climatic conditions. 317 plants are restricted to montane and submontane areas.

The vegetation is largely grassland and reflects the effects of climate, fire and the varied topography, elevation, geology, soils, drainage and aspect. It occurs in three main belts: the low altitude montane belt (1,300-1,800m) to the foot of the basalt cliffs (mainly grassland with Podocarpus latifolius forest in sheltered areas and Protea parkland on spurs); the mid altitude sub-alpine belt (1,800-2,800m) grassy, with Passerina-Phillipia-Widdringtonia fynbos and Helichrysum and Senecio species; and a high island of Afro-alpine moorland (2,800-3,500m), which includes Sehlabathebe, with Erica-Helichrysum climax heath (Killick, 1990,1997). The vegetation of the high-altitude wetlands supports 36 endemics and a high diversity of restricted species. Scrub and small trees grow in areas protected from fire.

In the combined parks 2,520 angiosperm plants with 334 endemic species are recorded (Sehlabathebe Nomination, 2012). In 2005, 2,153 species of plants were described, specifying 1,993 species of angiosperms, 5 gymnosperms, 70 ferns and 85 mosses in 41 families and 119 genera (Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, 2005). It was stated then that at least 247 Afro-alpine species occurred in the Park, of which some 98 species were endemic or near-endemic. The area's two outstanding features are the high percentages of Compositae (285 species) and of monocotyledons (five families), which together comprise over 55% of the flora. Of these, 109 are internationally and 109 nationally threatened. Among the large number of endemic species are Protea nubigena and the Drakensberg cycad Encephalartos ghellinckii (VU).

Sehlabathebe Park is an uncultivated treeless grassland with a high level of endemic plants. Its ecosystems also occur in three belts: a highland grassland zone to 1,800m, sub-alpine montane grassland to 2,500m, and peaty alpine moorland and tundra above 2,500m. The last adds notably to the value of the larger Drakensberg site. On the plateau, the dense, sour mountain grassland is dominated by Themeda triandra grading to Festuca alpine grassland, mixed with a wide variety of herbs, forbs, orchids, and scattered patches of Afromontane vegetation similar to fynbos. The alpine vegetation consists mainly of tussock grasses, ericoid dwarf shrubs and creeping or mat-forming plants. The park has 515 plant species in 75 families and 242 genera, 59 of which are endemic to the park. It contains 20% of the plant species of the whole Maloti Drakensberg Area, and 11.5% of its plant species are endemic. Its rivers lakes, marshes and tarns protect the globally endangered endemic water lily Aponogeton ranunculiflorus (EN).


In 2005, the fauna of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage site included 48 mammal, 299 bird, 48 reptile, 26 frog and 8 fish species. 11 mammal species were listed in the Red Data Book for South Africa and seven listed under CITES Appendices I or II. There are 16 species of rodents, 11 of which are endemic to South Africa. The Park is the only protected area in Kwazulu-Natal known to have populations of Sclater’s golden mole Chlorotalpa sclateri, Cape mole rat Georychus capensis and vlei or ice rat Otomys sloggetti, as well as whitetailed mouse Mystromys albicaudatus (EN). The larger mammals include chacma baboon Papio cynocephalus ursinus, black-backed jackal Canis mesomelas, striped weasel Poecilogale albinucha and the largest populations of African clawless otter Aonyx capensis and spotted-necked otter Lutra maculicollis in KwaZulu-Natal, possibly in South Africa. The Cape grey mongoose Herpestes pulverulentus, aardwolf Proteles cristatus, brown hyena Hyaena brunnea and serval Leptailurus serval are also found. There are large populations of 11 antelope species including 1,500-2,000 endemic grey rhebok Pelea capreolus, approximately 2,000 eland Tragalaphus oryx, bushbuck T. scriptus, 1,000 southern reedbuck Redunca arundinum, klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus, oribi Ourebia ourebi and blue duiker Philantomba monticola.

A total of 299 species of birds was recorded for uKhahlabamba-Drakensberg, 37% of the non-marine bird fauna of South Africa. 10 species are internationally threatened and 18 listed in the Red Book for South Africa. The Park lies in one of the world’s Endemic Bird Areas: 43 species are endemic, and several of restricted range such as the whitewinged crake Sarothrura ayresi (EN), Cape eagle-owl Bubo capensis, ground woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus, buff-streaked chat Oenanthe bifasciata, yellow-tufted pipit Anthus crenatus, Cape rock thrush Monticola rupestris, sentinel rock thrush M. explorator, Drakensberg prinia Prinia hypoxantha and, in woodland, Gurney’s sugarbird Promerops gurneyi. High altitude species are yellowbreasted pipit Anthus chloris (VU), mountain pipit A. hoeschi, Drakensberg rockjumper Chaetops auranticus, Drakensberg siskin Serinus symonsi and banded marten Riparia cincta. On alpine heath, there are grey tit Parus afer, sickle-wing chat Cercomela sinuata and Layard’s warbler Sylvia layardi. Recorded on cliffs are Cape vulture Gyps coprotheres (VU: 215 breeding pairs), bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus, lanner falcon Falco biarmicus, jackal buzzard Buteo rufofuscus and black stork Ciconia nigra (10-15 pairs). Grasslands with marshes support black-headed heron Ardea melanocephala, blue crane Grus paradisea (VU), wattled crane G. carunculatus (VU), southern bald ibis Geronticus calvus (VU: 60-100 pairs), Denham’s bustard Neotis denhami, black harrier Circus maurus (VU), African marsh harrier C. ranivorus, lesser kestrel Falco naumanni (VU), white stork Ciconia ciconia and corncrake Crex crex. Forests and gully thickets have chorister robin-chat Cossypha dichroa, bush blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus, African scrub warbler Bradypterus barratti and forest canary Serinus scotops.

The Park contains 26 species and subspecies of amphibians, 21% of the national total of 124. Rare species include Natal and Hewitt’s ghost frogs Heleophryne natalensis and H. hewitti (EN), the long-toed tree frog Leptopelis xenodactylus (EN) and Hewitt’s moss frog Anhydrophryne hewitti. Even more interesting are several species limited to very high altitudes and low temperatures: ice frog Amietia vertebralis, Drakensberg river frog A. dracomontana (VU), Drakensberg stream frog Strongylopus hymenopus (VU), Karoo toad Vandijkophrynus gariepensis (VU) and small dainty frog Cacosternum parvum (VU). There are 25 species of snakes, one being endemic, the cream-spotted mountain snake Montaspis gilvomaculata, and 23 species of lizards, including the Nile water monitor Varanus niloticus and three endemic species, Lang’s crag lizard Cordylus langi, Tropdosaura cottrelli and T.essexi, as well as the spiny crag lizard Cordylus spinosus and Drakensberg dwarf chameleon Bradypodion dracomontanum. 8 species of fish have been recorded, including the rare endemic Drakensberg minnow Pseudobarbus quathlambae (EN) and rock catfish Austroglanis sclateri; and two introduced salmonidae, rainbow and brown trout Oncorhynchus mykiss and Salmo trutta.

The invertebrate fauna of the parks is less well known, but includes many species endemic to the region. This fauna includes for example 24 millipede plus 4 mollusk species endemic to the park. Endemic genera and species of mussel shrimp (ostracod), copepod, fairy shrimp (anostraca: 4 species) and crustaceans occur in rock pools, tarns, rivers and streams. There are also 32 craneflies, 21 danceflies, 4 lacewings, 44 dragonflies (28% of the country’s total), one being endemic, and 74 species of butterfly (11.7% of the country’s total) (Mittermeier et al., 2005).

In Sehlabathebe, a 1988 survey recorded 32 mammals including Lesueur's hairy bat Cistugo lesueuri, Winton's long-eared bat Laephotis wintoni, occasional chacma baboon, golden mole, ice rat, white-tailed rat (EN), black-backed jackal, striped weasel, spotted-necked and clawless otters, Cape grey mongoose, aardwolf, southern African wildcat Felis s.caffra, and serval. The numbers of game animals are low, but the area has several antelope species: eland, bushbuck, blue duiker, southern and mountain reedbuck, grey rhebok, oribi and klipspringer. Red hartebeest Alcelaphus caama, black wildebeest A. buselaphus and blesbok Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi, have been re-introduced. There are six species of fish, four native and two trout introduced for sport fishing. These last prey on the formerly common Maloti minnow Pseudobarbus quathlambae (EN), once thought extinct, now only preserved in an isolated pool above the Tsoelikane Waterfall.

Kopij (2002) lists 117 species of birds in Sehlabathebe: 70 breeding and probable breeding residents, 18 visitors and 29 vagrants; 14 are listed in the Red Data Book for South Africa. The bearded vulture nests in the park and the Cape vulture (VU), southern bald ibis (VU) and wattled crane (VU) feed there. High altitude species found are yellow-breasted pipit (VU), mountain pipit, Drakensberg rockjumper, Drakensberg siskin, banded martin and sentinel rock thrush. The lack of trees and shrubs for nesting, and of cultivated fields for feeding, as well as competition with related species for food and nesting sites, may exclude several species. No reptile and amphibian surveys have been carried out in Sehlabathebe, but anecdotal reports indicate 31 reptile species and a number of amphibian species adapted to cold mountain waters.


The Park is within the Drakensberg Centre of Endemism, an outstanding centre of plant diversity with a huge range of habitats from Afro-alpine tundra to lowland forest. The region has been important in the distribution of ancient invertebrate lineages and as a refuge for relictual palaeogenic invertebrate taxa. 665 caves and rock shelters harbor the largest, finest and most diverse concentration of early rock art in sub-Saharan Africa; 65 such sites exist in Sehlabathebe. The Park lies in a Conservation International-designated Conservation Hotspot, in two WWF Global 200 Eco-regions, is in a global Centre of Plant Diversity and one of the world’s Endemic Bird Areas, is an Important Bird Area and is designated a Ramsar wetland site.


The Drakensberg region is one of the most important archaeological areas in South Africa. Sites from the Early, Middle and Late Stone Ages and the Late Iron Age are present, showing that the region has been occupied by man over the last million years. The first evidence dates from the Middle Stone Age, 20,000 years ago, but it was the Late Stone Age Khoisan people who inhabited the area from about 8000 years ago. The population of the Park area was probably never more than a thousand, and therefore had little significant impact on the vegetation or wildlife (Wright, 1971). The Bushmen were hunter-gatherers, often living in caves and rock shelters, 665 of which were decorated with some 35,000 rock paintings vividly depicting the beliefs and way of life of their now extinct culture. These date from 6,000 and 2,000 years ago up to the 18th century when they were displaced by Bantu and European settlers. Several caves containing important Khoisan rock art were declared National Monuments: Battle Cave, Main Caves, Game Pass Cave 1 and Kanti Cave 1.

The settlement of Iron Age farmers, in the foothills east of the escarpment, who brought cattle and sheep into the region, may date from the 1200s or earlier and probably contributed to the diversity of habitats. By the late 17th century, Nguni Bantu cattle-herders had permanently settled in areas near the northern and central Drakensberg. The 19th century relations between these people and the Khoisan were complex. From 1816, under the leadership of Shaka, the rise of Zulu military power in Zululand far to the north-east destroyed peace in the region, as successive waves of refugees displaced by the Zulu army settled near the Drakensberg, attacking those already there, the amaNgwane and amaZizi who still live in the area. They named the mountains the Barrier of Spears, uKhahlamba. White settlers (voortrekkers) arrived in late 1837. Many became livestock farmers and hunted down the wild game. This caused conflict with the Khoisan who partly depended on hunting and raided livestock in return. The Natal colonial authorities therefore organized their containment, pursuit and destruction. By 1871, Khoisan communities no longer existed in the Drakensberg.


There are no permanent residents in the Park, except for staff employed by the KNNCS. The local amaNgwane and amaZizi people are pastoralists who depend on the sale of wool, but their poverty has led to overgrazing and the over-harvesting of natural resources. As ecotourism and conservation can provide local employment and benefits to nearby communities, the park has a nature-based tourism plan to protect the most fragile areas, while preserving access to its resources and the fair distribution of benefits to the local people. In the north, the protected area is in the Mnweni Tribal Area, where the tribe is beginning to run ecotourism programs compatible with those of the government. In Sehlabathebe, pastoralists lived from 600-400 years ago to the mid-20th century, when the people and livestock were evicted for the Wildlife Sanctuary. This created tension between the Lesotho and the park authorities since resolved though a Community Conservation Forum that allows for local input into decisions. 14 people live in the core area, with Sehlabathebe village on its western boundary. 8,263 people, mostly sheep farmers, live in its buffer zone.


Ecotourism is the Park’s great attraction. The number of visitors increased from 224,000 in 1994-1995 to 288,200 in 1996-1997 and has continued to rise. There are 15 entrance gates to the Park. Members of the public enter either as day or overnight visitors using caravan and camping areas, caves and mountain huts. The Park can accommodate 2,000 people per night in ten centers. Tendele in Royal Natal National Park and Giant’s Castle both have lodges and multi-person chalets. In addition, almost 2,200 beds are provided privately outside the Park. Activities include day-walks, guided and overnight hiking, nature interpretation, education, camping and caravanning, game and plant viewing, bird watching, mountaineering, rock and ice climbing, paragliding, and even religious worship. Access to these is provided by the Nature Conservation Service and by private operators using vehicles and horses via wilderness trails. As the Drakensberg is liable to heavy winter snowfalls and summer floods with landslides on mountain slopes, a mountain rescue service has been established.

Sehlabathebe is remote and difficult to reach, and in 2007, had only 781 visitors. It offers riding and hiking, trout fishing and camping; a Heritage Centre is planned. Park Lodge (14 beds, self-catering) is in the park, and there is accommodation outside the park in Sehlabathebe or Mavuka. Access from South Africa is by the Sani Pass road (by 4WD or mountain bike) or the Bushman's Nek Pass (by horse and foot). There is a road from Maseru, the capital, to Qacha's Nek, which has the nearest airport.


There is a research station at Cathedral Peak run by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. A large number and wide range of projects have been researched over the past 25 years, and a high level of monitoring continues. Knowledge of many taxonomic groups in the Park is poor, particularly of the lower plant and invertebrate groups. Palynological studies on wetland deposits in areas surrounding the Drakensberg show evidence of significant changes in plant communities in response to cyclic climate change during the Quaternary period. The Late Pleistocene Hypothermal resulted in a regional desiccation and lowering of temperatures by up to 6°C, which led to a spread of fynbos vegetation, typical of high altitudes, to distant river valley areas as much as 900m lower. The effect of vegetation change on faunal populations during these climatic changes has been documented from fossils at numerous sites around the Drakensberg. Research, particularly into the rock art, has been done by several archaeologists in recent decades, and is described by Mazel (1989).


The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, now in the Drakensberg-Maloti Transfrontier Conservation Area, is composed of thirteen long established largely undisturbed well protected areas, including four wilderness areas covering almost half the Park. The laws establishing it as a conservation area are the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Management Act (1997), as amended, and the Republic of South Africa National Forest Act (1998). The control and management component of state forests were reassigned from the Forestry Ministry to the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service (KNNCS). Other relevant laws are the Water Acts of 1956 and 1998, the National Monuments Act (1969), the Environment Conservation Act (1989), the KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Act (1997), and the National Environmental Management Act (1998). The Drakensberg is rated a Special Case Area where restrictions on development preserve the unique and fragile features which make the region exceptional. The property contains the main corpus of San rock art in the area.

In June 2001, in the Giant’s Castle Declaration, the National Environment Secretariat of Lesotho and the KNNCS, with help from the GEF and World Bank, established the Drakensberg-Maloti Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area, which includes over 80% of the Afro-alpine zone of southern Africa. It endorsed the concept of a Transboundary Peace Park, and a project coordinating committee in which both KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho cooperate in a planning process led by a Bilateral Steering Committee, which meets twice a year to manage both parks and their buffer zones. Management plans for the whole area as well as Sehlabathebe were completed in 2008. The KNNCS has a comprehensive community conservation program for the whole Park, with partnership forums established with all communities and interest groups. A program known as the Partners in Mountain Conservation has been running for several years. Sustainable use of certain products is permitted: harvesting of grass and sedge species for construction, thatching and handicrafts, the collection of medicinal plant seeds and biological material for scientific research, the removal of timber of alien species for fuel wood, and the translocation of surplus herbivores to other conservation areas or private game ranches; fishing and fly fishing for trout in rivers and dams are also allowed.

Selabathebe National Park was established in 2001 under the Historical Monuments, Relics, Fauna & Flora Act 1967, National Parks Act 1975, National Environmental Policy Act (1996), National Livestock & Range Management Policy (1996), Nature Conservation Act (2005), and Environment Act (2008). A Joint Management Plan was prepared in 2007 by the Lesotho & South African governments. The park has a Manager under Lesotho's Director of Parks and the Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture. Delineated zones are: I. Special Use, II. Wilderness, III. Natural Environment, IV. Recreation, and V. Service. There is regular monitoring of lammergeier, rock art, wetland degradation and stray livestock. Management capacity is limited at present with few technical and support staff on site: their numbers and funding could be improved. However, local involvement is strong thanks to a supportive local leadership reinforced by a Community Conservation Forum to strengthen the partnership required with the community and allow for their input to decision making. Sustained implementation of a tourism business plan, along with the park management plans, is needed to reduce the risks associated with the development of tourism. The Peace Parks Foundation has supported the development of Sehlabathebe's management and tourist plans.


The park is largely unaffected by human development, but there is a lack of protection of the ecosystem over the border in Lesotho. Threats to the integrity of the Park are: land claims in certain areas, invasive species, fire, soil erosion by tourists on the vulnerable alpine trails, and damage to caves and rock art. In 2003, the total area of the Park degraded by alien species and infrastructural developments was approximately 3,452 ha (1.4% of the area). Other threats come from arson and fires which also lead to soil erosion, poaching and hunting with dogs, cross-border trafficking in drugs, fire-arms and cattle rustling, infrastructural developments and reductions in funding. The property remains vulnerable to agricultural uses, plantation forestry, although agreements between Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and local stakeholders have been made to manage these incursions.

Alien invasive plants are considered the most serious threat but the area currently affected is limited. The principal trouble is from black wattle Acacia mearnsi, silver wattle A. dealbata, patula pine Pinus patula, American bramble Rubus cuneifolus, grey poplar Populus canescens and Cotoneaster spp. As part of the South African Working for Water campaign, areas within the mountain catchments of the Drakensberg have been cleared of major infestations of alien trees. Controlled burning is also part of routine maintenance. At lower elevations, overgrazing pressure is heavy. There are periodic requests from local communities to graze domestic stock inside the Park or to establish water supply schemes, and from developers wishing to establish resorts. For claims to land in the Park to be successful, claimants must prove prior ownership or occupation and intend to restore the land.

There are several threats to the rock art. The main causes of deterioration to the paintings are the natural weathering of both rock and paint, and vandalism. Smoke from camp fires in painted rock shelters blackens them, and visitors often wet paintings to bring out the colors, even using destructive carbonated drinks. Management practices such as the removal of trees which sheltered the paintings, the smoke from burning grass and unregulated public access can all spoil the fragile images. Research is being done on ways to reduce the natural threats, and human degradation has been reduced as the location of most painted sites no longer appears on maps available to the public. Access to the entire region and camping in painted caves is now strictly controlled, and a few sites (Maiin Caves, Game Pass and Battle Cave) have been fenced, access to them being permitted only with a guide. A rock art interpretative centre has been planned. Present threats to the Sehlabathebe site are minimal: invasive species, fires and damage to rock art are nevertheless a threat. Poaching, grazing, plant resource use and encroachment have largely been contained because of the hope of tourism. A business plan should bring employment opportunities, increased income and reduce the risks associated with tourism. The only potential threat to the biota is to the endangered Maloti minnow, by the introduction of predatory trout.


Physically, the range is comparable to the World Heritage Site of the Simien Massif in Ethiopia, in its igneous basalts that have been eroded to form precipitous cliffs and deep valleys, but it is longer, grander, biotically far richer and far less vulnerable to human encroachment. This is also true if it is compared with other sites in South Africa which occur on the Great Escarpment edge of the central plateau. But in addition, the Drakensberg is one of the most important archaeological areas in South Africa, with sites that show that the region has been occupied by man over the last million years. The Late Stone Age Khoisan people who inhabited the area from about 8000 years ago left the most striking rock art, and later Khoisan left thousands of rock paintings 2-3,000 years ago continuing until the 18th century when invasions began to extinguish the people.


The main park is administered by a Chief Conservator and a staff of 604 permanent and part-time employees in three divisions: conservation (with four sub-directorates), scientific services (with three sub-directorates) and administration (with three sub-directorates). There are three administrative centers: Royal Natal National Park at the northern end of the Park with five management stations, Giant’s Castle Game Reserve in the central region with six management stations, and Himeville in the southern region outside the Park, with four management stations within the Park. In addition to conservation, staff undertake construction, planning, public relations, secretarial services, accounting and accommodation bookings. Staff stationed in reserves are responsible for implementing wildlife management programs, for the management of visitor facilities, for the provision of environmental awareness programmes, and for research and monitoring projects. Sehlabathebe has a park manager with 11 staff members, mostly ranger-guides who have tertiary qualifications, and there is a rangers' station, but effective management will need adequate funding.


The KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Legislature provides 60% of the main park's total funding. It earned US\$1,316,140 in revenues during the 1998/1999 financial year. The government, the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation have helped to establish ecotourism through the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development project, including infrastructure, an entrance gate-arrival centre and a Heritage Centre in Sehlabathebe. For this, funding of US\$15,240,000 was granted by the World Bank through the Global Environment Facility and US\$255,100 came from the Lesotho Government.


The Director, South African National Parks, P.O. Box 787, Pretoria 0001, South Africa.

The Director, KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service, P.O.Box 662, 3200 Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

The Chief Conservator, KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service, P.O. Box 13053, South Africa.

The Principal Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Environment & Culture, 7/F, Post Office Building, P.O.Box 52, Maseru 100, Lesotho.

The Director, Sehlabathebe National Park, P.O.Box 26, Qacha's Nek, Lesotho.


The principal sources for the above information were the original nominations for World Heritage status, IUCN site evaluation reports and Decision 36 COM 8B.18 of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

BirdLife International (2007). BirdLife's Online Wild Bird Database. Version 2.1. Cambridge, U.K.

Bowie, R. & Frank, A. (2001). Drakensberg Alti-Montane Grasslands and Woodlands. WWF Report.

Branch, W. (1998). Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.

Carbut, C. & Edwards, T. (2003). The flora of the Drakensberg Alpine Centre. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 3: 581-607.

Cowling, R., Richardson, D. & Pierce, S. (1997). Vegetation of South Africa. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Dely, J. et al. (1995). A Pilot Project to Compile an Inventory and Classification of Wetlands in the Natal Drakensberg Park. Report No.101, Institute of Natural Resources, Pietermaritzburg.

Dowsett, R. (1986). Origins of the high-altitude avifaunas of tropical Africa. In Vuilleumier, F. & Monasterio, M. (eds). High Altitude Tropical Biogeography. Oxford Univ. Press, New York. Pp.557-58.

Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife (2003). The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site Draft Wilderness Management Plan. EKZNW, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

---------- (2005). Integrated Management Plan. uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, South Africa. EKZNW, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. 79 pp.

Fishpool, L. & Evans, M.(eds) (2001). Important Bird Areas for Africa and Associated Islands. Priority Sites for Conservation. BLI.Conservation Series No.11. Pisces Publications and Birdlife International, Newbury & Cambridge, U.K.

Governments of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa (2008). Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Government of the Republic of South Africa in respect to the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area.

Hedberg, O. (1986). Origins of the Afroalpine flora. in Vuilleumier, F. & Monasterio, M. (eds). In High Altitude Tropical Biogeography. Oxford University Press, New York. Pp. 443-465.

Hilliard, O. & Burtt, B. (1987). The Botany of the Southern Natal Drakensberg. National Botanical Gardens, Pretoria. CTP Book Printers, Cape Town.

Irwin, D. & Irwin P. (1992). A Field Guide to the Natal Drakensberg. The Natal Witness, Pietermaritzburg.

IUCN (2012). IUCN Technical Evaluation: Sehlabathebe National Park (Lesotho). Proposed Extension of uKhahlabamba-Drakensberg (South Africa). Gland, Switzerland.

------- (2012). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species .http://www.iucnredlist.org/search.

------- (1999). Technical Evaluation: uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park (Republic of South Africa). Online: http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/985.pdf.

Killick, D. (1990). Field Guide to the Flora of the Natal Drakensberg. Jonathan Ball & Ad Donker Publishers. Johanesburg.

---------- (1994). Drakensberg alpine region. In Davis, S. & Heywood, V. (1994). Centres of Plant Diversity: a Guide and Strategy for Their Conservation. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

---------- (1997). Alpine tundra of southern Africa. In Wielgolaski, F.(ed.). Ecosystems of the World 3: Polar and Alpine Tundra. Elsevier, Amsterdam.

Kopij, G. (2002). The birds of Sehlabathebe National Park, Lesotho. African Protected Area Conservation and Science Vol.45 (1): 65-78. National University, Lesotho.

KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service (1999). Nomination Proposal for the Drakensberg Park Alternatively Known as Okhahlamba Park to be Listed as a World Heritage Site. Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism, South Africa.

Lewis-Williams, J. & Dowson, T. (1992). Rock Paintings of the Natal Drakensberg. University of Natal Press, Pietermarirzburg.

Little, R. & Bainbridge, W. (1992). Birds of the Drakensberg Park. Wildlife Society of S. Africa, Durban.

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Mazel, A. (1989). People making history: the last ten thousand years of hunter-gatherers communities in the Thukela basin. Natal Museum J. Humanities 1:1-168.

Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Culture (2012). Nomination of Sehlabathebe National Park (as an extension to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site - South Africa). Maseru. 51pp + maps.

---------- (2008). Sehlabathebe National Park Management Plan 2008 – 2013. Maseru, Lesotho.

---------- (2008). Sehlabathebe National Park Tourism Business Plan. Maseru, Lesotho.

Mittermeier, R. et al. (2005). Transboundary Conservation. A New Vision for Protected Areas. CEMEX- Agrupación Sierra Madre-Conservation International, Mexico. 372 pp.

Passmore, N. & Carruthers, V. (1995). South African Frogs: a Complete Guide. Witwatersrand University Press, Johannesburg.

Rowe-Rowe, D. et al. (1994).The Ungulates of Natal. .Natal Parks Board, Pietermaritzburg.

Smits, L. (1983). Rock paintings in Lesotho: their content and characteristics. South African Archaeological Bulletin 38:62-76.

Stuart, C. & Stuart, T. (1995). Field Guide to the Mammals of Southern Africa. Struik, Cape Town.

Ward, V. (1997). A Century of Change: Rock deterioration in the Natal Drakensberg, South Africa. Natal Mus. J. Humanities 9:75-97.

Wright, J. (1971). Bushman Raiders of the Drakensberg. University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg.


January 2000. Updated 2-2003, 10-2005, 5-2011, November 2013.