Karoo National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
The semi-arid Karoo National Park is situated in the central Great Karoo, just north of Beaufort West. The IBA incorporates the park, the town of Beaufort West and its sewage works. The dominant topographical feature is the impressive Nuweveld escarpment, which towers over the lower plains. Riverbeds, which are dry for most of the year, descend sharply from the escarpment to meander across the flat plains in the far west and east of the park.

The stark variation in altitude yields a wide diversity of microhabitats, resulting in a distinct contrast between the harsher vegetation of the upper plateau, where grassveld intruded by fynbos elements is dominant, and the lower plain where dwarf scrub dominates and thornveld occurs in the moister valleys and watercourses. The scrub vegetation, which covers much of the plains and lower escarpment, is dominated by Nama Karoo shrubs seldom exceeding 70 cm in height. The vegetation becomes non-succulent as the altitude increases, with thicket of Dodonaea and Rhus occurring at height. Grasses begin to dominate on the Nuweveld Plateau. Belts of riverine Acacia thicket line the mostly dry riverbeds, creating a network of tree-lines that stretch throughout the park’s plains.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. A total of 170 species have been recorded in the park; 77 are resident and 29 are breeding visitors. The lowland plains are particularly good for Neotis ludwigii, Eupodotis vigorsii, Chersomanes albofasciata, Certhilauda albescens, Eremopterix verticalis, Cercomela tractrac, C. schlegelii, Eremomela gregalis and Malcorus pectoralis. Serinus alario occurs whenever there is seeding grass and water. The belts of riverine Acacia woodland hold Phragmacia substriata. The thicket and scrub on the slopes support Sylvia layardi and Parus afer. In very wet years, nomadic Eremopterix australis and Emberiza impetuani move in and breed in large numbers, and are then absent until the next heavy rains, which may be decades apart. The secretive and localized Euryptila subcinnamomea, Anthus crenatus, Onychognathus nabouroup and Geocolaptes olivaceus occur in rocky gorges and kloofs, while Cercomela sinuata is found on the grass and scrub of the plateau. The newly described Certhilauda subcoronata is common throughout the park. The town of Beaufort West is included in the IBA because it has several large Eucalyptus trees which support thousands of roosting Falco naumanni in summer; the birds disperse during the day to forage on the plains surrounding the town.

Non-bird biodiversity: Among reptiles, Goggia braacki and Pachydactylus kladeroderma both have global ranges restricted to the eastern portion of the Nuweveld escarpment, and they may occur within the park. Cordylus cloetei, another Nuweveld-escarpment endemic, occurs at nearby Fraserberg and should be searched for in the park. It is conservation policy to restock the park with mammalian game species that roamed these plains prior to human intervention, and the threatened Diceros bicornis (CR), Equus zebra (VU; the second largest population in the world) and Bunolagus monticularis (EN) have been reintroduced.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The park, controlled by the National Parks Board, was purchased with financial assistance from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-South Africa) (formerly the Southern African Nature Foundation), and proclaimed in September 1979 to protect a portion of the Nama-Karoo. The park originally encompassed 80% mountainous Karoo, with only 20% being typical Karoo plains. This imbalance was corrected when the park was enlarged to include more arid plains habitat. The neighbouring farms Doringhoek and Sandrivier were incorporated into the reserve in 1983 and 1989 respectively, expanding the total conserved area to 330 km². Gamka Dam and Grootplaat in the north-east are in the process of being exchanged for the farm Die Hoek on the plains boundary of the park. This action is to obviate the management problems of having the park split by the Molteno Pass. The National Parks Board hope to purchase more land on the plains with the ultimate aim of increasing the total park area to 1,000 km². Gamka Dam is important for various cliff-nesting species and waterbirds, and it should remain under conservation management, despite its newly acquired privately owned status.

General threats include overgrazing of the farmland surrounding the park, resulting in habitat degradation and potential population reduction in wide-ranging species, such as Neotis ludwigii. Poisons and pesticides used in the surrounding farming areas may affect scavenging raptor populations. This probably led to the extinction of the colony of Gyps coprotheres, which is thought to have occurred on the Nuweveld Escarpment as recently as the 1970s. The National Parks Board is amenable to a reintroduction programme and would be prepared to help provide food at a vulture restaurant. Falco naumanni have been observed taking locusts in the midst of spraying operations just outside the park boundary. The effects that the pesticides are having on this threatened species are currently unknown.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Karoo National Park. Downloaded from on 15/07/2020.