Upper Quthing Valley

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
This site consists of the near-vertical cliffs flanking the 230-m-deep gorge of the Qanatu river, together with the surrounding mountainous area, including Letšeng-la-Letsie. These highlands support a traditional pastoral economy with a low-density population. Approximately 35% of the surrounding area (within a 25 km radius) is cultivated, the remainder being open pasture. The vegetation is primarily montane grassland, but thick bush and scrub flank the lower gorge walls. High-altitude shrubs form a heath of Erica, Chrysocoma and Helichrysum. The summits are generally rocky with bare, shallow soil patches and rock sheets near the escarpment.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. This site supports two ‘nucleus’ breeding colonies of Gyps coprotheres, Upper Quthing Valley (the largest single colony in Lesotho) and Seforong, which together hold over 200 birds (95 pairs). The nests are concentrated on the upper third of the cliff, on gorge walls and basalt pinnacles. The rare but widespread Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis also forages widely across this area. Other cliff-nesting species include Buteo rufofuscus, Falco biarmicus and Ciconia nigra. The high-altitude rocky, boulder-strewn slopes and outcrops (above 2,000 m) support Chaetops aurantius, and the surrounding grassy slopes and plateau hold Anthus hoeschi, which breeds in large numbers during the austral summer (especially above 3,000 m). The grassy slopes and valleys also hold Sagittarius serpentarius. Serinus symonsi occurs commonly above 1,500 m, and has become commensal with humans, occupying and foraging in villages and among fallow and harvested crop fields. Anthus crenatus, Monticola explorator and Geocolaptes olivaceus occur commonly in the vicinity of rocky outcrops. Cercomela sinuata hypernephela, Sylvia layardi barnesi and Circus maurus are uncommon. The small, isolated, Lesotho subspecies Parus afer arens occurs at the site. Small numbers of Geronticus calvus occasionally forage in this area and it is thought that there may be breeding colonies in the vicinity.

Non-bird biodiversity: The alpine floral communities found in the Maloti/Drakensberg mountains are unique in southern Africa, holding a remarkable number of endemic plant species. A recent botanical survey of three valleys in the Maloti yielded many species that could not be identified, and some may be new to science.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site is located on communally owned tribal land. There seems to have been a decline in the number of Gyps coprotheres breeding at these colonies. Apparently, local people kill vultures here—the birds are utilized extensively for traditional medicinal and ceremonial purposes and are targeted by rural residents who use either poisoned carcasses or gin-traps to kill them. As the site holds more than 2% of the world’s breeding population of Gyps coprotheres, it urgently needs to be monitored, and the rural residents should be the target of a vigorous awareness campaign, to improve the public understanding of vultures and the significance of the site. Fortunately, this area also holds some fine rock art, and there is currently a UN-sponsored project under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to develop reserves in Quthing District. This initiative may help to secure conservation of the natural environment and improve management practices within the area.Geronticus calvus may occasionally be taken by local people for food or medicinal purposes. Buteo rufofuscus and Falco biarmicus are sometimes persecuted as chicken thieves, and Bubo capensis is occasionally used for medicinal purposes. There is no conservation concern for these common and widespread birds, provided that levels of persecution and utilization do not increase. Overgrazing, trampling, agriculture and other human activities have not seriously affected any of the globally near-threatened, restricted-range or biome-restricted birds. Some species, such as Serinus symonsi, benefit from an association with humans.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Upper Quthing Valley. Downloaded from on 28/01/2022.