Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area

Major Features

Cultural Importance

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The mountains are of exceptional beauty and host the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara. There are some 600 known sites containing between 35 - 40 000 individual images, which were painted by the San people over a period of at least 4 000 years.

Geographic Description

The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area is  14 740km² in extent. The Drakensberg is the highest region in southern Africa, with altitudes ranging from 1 300 to over 3 400m above sea level. The area contains the largest and most important high altitude protected area on the subcontinent; it is also one of the largest continuous unmodified areas of land in the region. The area is well known for its rugged mountain scenery, the best known features being the Amphitheatre, a semi-circle of high cliffs with a sheer drop of 613m and the Tugela Falls. The high altitude streams, oxbow lakes and wetlands are tremendously important in terms of their indigenous flora and fauna and the area is an important watershed. The region has a high mean annual rainfall ranging from 800mm at lower altitudes to over 2 000mm near the escarpment. Most (80%) of the rain falls in summer, while snowfalls occur in winter.

Biophysical Features

The Drakensberg is an outstanding example of an escarpment mountain range, and consists of a number of horizontally bedded geological strata. The sedimentary layers form clearly defined steps, which constitute the foothills and the “Little and Main Berg”. These are covered by thick basaltic layers that form the prominent scarps at higher altitudes. Valley head erosion has resulted in unique and spectacular scenery, and the Drakensberg escarpment is consequently one of the major natural spectacles of the sub-continent. The junction between the Cave sandstone and the Drakensberg basalt occurs at unusually high altitude in Sehlabathebe National Park and has resulted in increased weathering into caves, pillars and arches.


The vegetation of the Maloti-Drakensberg TFCA falls within the grassland biome, and consists mainly of Alti Mountain Grassland, with some Moist Upland Grassland in the lower-lying areas.
The Moist Upland Grassland occurs at altitudes of 600m to 1 400m. The vegetation type is a dense, sour grassland with redgrass Themeda triandra, spear grass Heteropogon contortus, hairy trident grass Tristachya leucothrix, weeping lovegrass Eragrostis curvula and silky grass Elionurus muticus as some of the dominant species. The tall-growing common thatch grasses Hyparrhenia hirta and catstail dropseed Sporobolus pyramidalis are often prominent. Diagnostic species include hardy forbs such as Walafrida densiflora, spiky cucumber Cucumis zeyheri, wild cucumber C. hirsutus, Berkheya onopordifolia, Spermacoce natalensis, Kohautia cynanchica, Tephrosia macropoda, T. multijuga, Conyza obscura, Corchorus confusus, Phyllanthus glaucophyllus, Richardia brasiliensis, Gomphrena celosioides, Aster bakerianus, Alysicarpus rugosus, Helichrysum coriaceum and H. rugulosum. Trees and shrubs that occur on sheltered sites, rocky hills and ridges, include common spike thorn Maytenus heterophylla. In fire-protected areas the incidence of other species increases, including forest pioneers such as Cape beech Rapanea melanophloeos, and fynbos species, such as Cliffortia spp., heaths Erica spp., blombos Metalasia muricata and jakkalsstert Anthospermum aethiopicum.
Alti Mountain Grassland occurs on the steep, treeless, alpine upper mountain region of Lesotho and the adjacent KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg at altitudes of 2 500 to 3 480 m. Structurally, this vegetation type consists mainly of tussock grasses, ericoid dwarf shrubs and creeping or mat-forming plants. Diagnostic species include the grasses: mountain wiregrass Merxmuellera disticha, Drakensberg danthonia M. drakensbergensis, goat fescue Festuca caprina, caterpillar grass Harpochloa falx, mayhem's crest Rendlia altera, blue grass Poa binata, Eragrostis caesia, Pentaschistis galpinii, Agrostis barbuligera, Thunberg's pennisetum Pennisetum thunbergii and purple brome Bromus speciosus; the sedges: Carex clavata and Scirpus falsus; the forbs: Heliscrysum flanaganii, H. trilineatum, H. subglomeratum, H. cephaloideum, H. marginatum, H. witbergse, H. stoloniferum; and, the dwarf heaths: Erica algida, E. dominans and E. frigida. Patches of Afromontane vegetation affiliated to fynbos are scattered throughout this grassland. Large patches are restricted to the plateaux of the Drakensberg where altitudes range from 1 800 to 2 800m. These species include: Passerina monticola, Anthospermum monticola, Erica maesta, Selago galpinii, Cliffortia nitidula, Euclea coriacea, Metalasia muricata, Muraltia alticola, Watsonia densiflora and Dierama robusta, with prominent grasses including vlei bluegrass Andropogon appendiculatus and narrowleaf turpentinegrass Cymbopogon dieterlenii. Bogs are common in Lesotho. Diagnostic species include: Agrostis subulifolia, runner Limosella longiflora, Isolepis fluitans and Ranunculus meyerii. Other species are: junegrass Koeleria capensis, bog bluegrass Poa binata, goat fescue Festuca caprina, Mermuellera disticha, Haplocarpha nervosa, Cotula hispida, Helichrysum bellum, Anthrixia fontana, Thesium nigrum, Cerastium arabilis, Carex monotropa, Sebaea martlothii, Senecio cryptolanatus and Aponogeton junceus.
Several areas of Afromontane forest are found in sheltered valleys, these are usually dominated by yellowwood trees Podocarpus latifolius.
The Drakensberg is also an important centre of endemism for plants. For example, there are 1 390 plant species in the southern Drakensberg, of which approximately 30% are endemic. A further 317 species are restricted to montane and submontane areas in southern Africa, indicating that 53% of the southern Drakensberg flora is endemic to montane and submontane areas south of the Limpopo River. The Drakensberg is a centre of speciation where new species develop by hybridization and isolation. Some endemic species are relicts of species, which had wider distributions under previous climatic conditions. The endemic species appear to be focused in the high altitudes, which is why the protection of this area is so important.


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Although numbers of game are generally low, the area is home to a variety of ungulates, including bushbuck, eland, blue duiker, reedbuck, mountain reedbuck, grey rhebok, klipspringer and oribi. In addition, blesbok, red hartebeest and black wildebeest have been re-introduced to some areas. Other larger mammals include baboons, black backed jackal, aardwolf and serval. About 246 species of birds have been recorded. Of these, 14 species are listed in the Red Data Book.

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The bearded vulture (or lammergeyer) whose distribution in southern Africa is largely restricted to the Drakensberg, is found here as is the southern bald ibis, which is listed as rare in the Red Data Book. Other important species are the wattled crane, white stork, blackheaded heron, orangebreasted rock jumper and the Cape vulture. The Tsoelikana River harbours the threatened Maloti/Drakensberg minnow, Oreodaimon zuathlambae that was feared to be extinct.

Global Importance

The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is a transboundary World Heritage Site of cultural and natural value that is composed of the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho and the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa. The site has exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts as well as visually spectacular sculptured arches, caves, cliffs, pillars and rock pools. The site's diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally important plants. The site harbours endangered species such as the Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) and the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe National Park also harbours the Maloti minnow (Pseudobarbus quathlambae), a critically endangered fish species only found in this park.

This spectacular natural site contains many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara.There are some 600 known sites containing between 35 - 40 000 individual images, painted by the San people over a period of at least 4 000 years.

In addition, the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is also a Ramsar site.
The region is furthermore the most important catchment area for Lesotho and South Africa's Gauteng Province.

On 22 June 2013 the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe National Park as an extension to the uKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site in South Africa and it will now to be called the Maloti-Drakensberg Park.This is Lesotho's first World Heritage Site.It is a site of both cultural and natural value.