Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Site description (2001 baseline):

Site location and context
These two parks are situated in the Rooiberg mountain range in the north-eastern Free State, along the border with Lesotho. Within the park, there is an altitude difference of some 1,140 m between the lowest point in the Little Caledon river valley (1,700 m) and the highest peak, Ribbokkop (2,840 m). The eastern sector of this IBA is characterized by deep valleys with dense vegetation. The only major feature is Qwaqwa mountain, on an isolated range near the south-east border of Qwaqwa National Park.

Highland sourveld dominates the vegetation, and alpine tussock-grassland is particularly common above 2,000 m. In the deeper valleys and krantzes, woody communities encroach; dominants in the thickets include Cliffortia, Cussonia, Rhus, Diospyros and Protasparagus. On the flatter, deeper soils of the mountain slopes and plateau, Protea woodland dominates. In the steeper, wetter gorges, shrubby patches of Leucosidea, Buddleja and Kiggelaria enter the landscape. An extensive marsh area, dominated by Phragmites, is situated along the Klerkspruit, Rietspruit and Rietvlei drainage lines.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Together these parks support at least 188 bird species. Two Geronticus calvus breeding colonies occur within the IBA, including the famous site at Cathedral Cave; they are regularly seen foraging alongside Grus paradisea, Balearica regulorum, Eupodotis senegalensis and E. caerulescens in the grasslands. The short, cropped, high-altitude grasslands also hold Anthus chloris. Gyps coprotheres, Gypaetus barbatus and Polemaetus bellicosus no longer breed in the IBA, but all are regular visitors. The high-altitude rocky outcrops support Chaetops aurantius, Anthus crenatus and Geocolaptes olivaceus. The intervening grassy slopes are home to Turnix hottentotta, Serinus symonsi, Saxicola bifasciata, Monticola explorator, Anthus hoeschi, Sphenoeacus afer and (on Protea-covered slopes) Promerops gurneyi, and Lioptilus nigricapillus occurs in wooded gullies. Falco naumanni is a regular summer visitor to the parks and Circus maurus is a regular winter visitor.

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park was established in September 1963. The Qwaqwa National Park was established in 1992; it is the newest national park in South Africa, and is under the jurisdiction of the Highlands Development Corporation. Once a common species in the Free State, Gyps coprotheres has declined dramatically since the nineteenth century. Desertion of the colonies at Thaba Nchu and Zastron, both in the Free State, are evidence of its contraction in distribution, which has been attributed to widespread poisonings by small-stock farmers attempting to poison mammalian predators such as caracals and jackals. Vultures are inadvertently attracted to the carcasses and unintentionally poisoned. Vultures are unlikely to return to the Free State as a breeding species unless there are dramatic changes in land-use patterns that are more sympathetic to vulture foraging habits.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Downloaded from on 22/09/2023.