Pilanesberg National Park (called a national park because it used to belong to the homeland of Bophuthatswana) is managed by North-west Nature Conservation. It lies c.160 km north-west of Johannesburg, and is the fourth-largest protected area in South Africa. The park covers a wide range of habitats, including vleis, lakes, streams, thick bush, broadleaved and Acacia woodland, koppies, open grasslands and former farmlands. The park encompasses the Pilanesberg mountains. The resulting structure is a ring-complex of concentric koppies, the highest being 1,669 m, interspersed in a matrix of low-lying plains.The Mankwe river and its five major tributaries provide most of the park’s water. In the past, farmers constructed additional water-storage dams for livestock in order to supplement non-perennial streams. The largest impoundment, Mankwe Lake, is in the centre of the park. There is a sharp contrast between the tree-dotted hill-slope vegetation and the pure grassland of the pediments. Areas of secondary grassland occur on old cultivated fields. In the valleys, there are trees of Acacia, Spirostachys, Rhus, Ziziphus and Combretum. The pediment savannas hold trees of Faurea and to a lesser extent Acacia. The hill savanna is wooded mainly with trees of Combretum and Dombeya.
See Box for key species. The park holds over 300 species of bird. Situated midway between the colonies of Gyps coprotheres at Magaliesberg (IBA ZA018; c.100 km away) and at Waterberg (IBA ZA006; c.150 km away), this site regularly holds foraging birds of this species. The park also holds small numbers of Gyps africanus and occasionally Torgos tracheliotus. The reserve is also good for other raptors and supports small numbers of Polemaetus bellicosus, Terathopius ecaudatus, Aquila verreauxii, A. rapax, A. wahlbergi and Hieraaetus spilogaster. The surrounding woodland-grassland mosaic is known to hold Ardeotis kori and Grus paradisea. Other woodland species include Mirafra passerina, Cossypha humeralis, Cercotrichas paena, Eremomela usticollis, Bradornis mariquensis, Laniarius atrococcineus, Eurocephalus anguitimens, Passer motitensis, Sporopipes squamifrons, Uraeginthus granatina, Estrilda erythronotos and Vidua regia.
Non-bird biodiversity: The spectacular plant, Erythrophysa transvaalensis, is restricted to c.250 individuals, most of which occur within the Pilanesberg. Several threatened species of large mammal were reintroduced through ‘Operation Genesis’, the restocking programme of the early 1980s, including Ceratotherium simum (LR/cd), Diceros bicornis (CR), Loxodonta africana (EN) and Acinonyx jubatus (VU). Owing to their secretive nocturnal habits, Hyaena brunnea (LR/nt) and Manis temminckii (LR/nt) have maintained natural populations in the area without being hunted out.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The establishment of a national park (in the then homeland of Bophuthatswana) in the Pilanesberg was first suggested in 1969. Several commissions and inquiries were launched by the Bophuthatswana government into the potential of such a venture. The establishment of Sun City in 1978 made the park viable from a tourism perspective. The park came into being with the appointment of its first director in 1980. Game was purchased for reintroduction to the area, via ‘Operation Genesis’, for which WWF South Africa (formerly the South African Nature Foundation) provided a substantial portion of the funding.Since South Africa’s independence in 1994, and the amalgamation of the homelands back into the South African governmental structure, the park has been controlled by North-west Nature Conservation. All the streams flowing through the park originate within its boundaries; administrators are therefore able to take constructive steps to remedy any water-related problems. There is widespread and indiscriminate use of poison by small-stock farmers neighbouring the area, to combat mammalian predators such as jackals, caracals and domestic dogs. As a result, poisonings of scavenging raptors are regularly recorded in neighbouring farmland and pose a major threat to the re-establishment of large raptor populations within the park. Gyps coprotheres is particularly vulnerable, as it regularly forages within the park and throughout the area adjacent to it. The restoration of a pseudo-natural ecosystem in the Pilanesberg provides food (including vital bone fragments) for vultures, but owing to the relatively small numbers of top carnivores in the park and the paucity of carcasses, a vulture restaurant has been established, to supplement vulture diets further.