Camdeboo National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
This reserve is located in the southern foothills of the curving Sneeuberg range on the central Great Karoo plains. It is unusual in that it virtually surrounds the historic town of Graaff-Reinet. Both the reserve and town are included in the IBA. The reserve is largely mountainous and it ranges in altitude from the Sundays river up to the impressive peaks at Spandaukop (1,316 m), Valley of Desolation (1,399 m) and the tallest in the region, Drie Koppe (1,565 m) in the east. The northern edge of the Camdeboo Plain is located within the reserve. This plain is a large basin that is sharply dissected by the Sundays river and its tributaries, the Vöel, Melk, Klip and Swart rivers. The Van Rhyneveld’s Pass Dam, on the Sundays river, falls within the reserve and covers 1,000 ha when full.

The reserve’s vegetation is transitional between the characteristic scrub of the Great Karoo and the typical thornveld and bush clumps of the Eastern Cape, which accounts for the considerable diversity of veld-types found here. Dwarf shrubs dominate the karroid scrub, which covers much of the plains and lower escarpment, together with succulents and grasses. Dense and extensive thornveld, dominated by Acacia, forms belts of riverine woodland lining the mostly dry riverbeds that stretch throughout the plains of the reserve. The hills are essentially grassveld. The lower slopes of the mountains, especially where north-facing, are covered with dense stands of succulent mountain scrub, characterized by spekboom Portulacaria. Shrubland grows on rocky slopes and ridges, and includes Rhus, Maytenus, Lycium, Grewia, Buddleja and Olea.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. Over 200 bird species have been recorded in the diverse array of habitats in the reserve. The lowland karroid plains are particularly good for Ardeotis kori, Neotis ludwigii and N. denhami, and this is one of the few areas in South Africa where all three bustards are sympatric. The plains also hold Grus paradisea, Eupodotis vigorsii and Malcorus pectoralis. The belts of Acacia woodland hold Phragmacia substriata, Sylvia layardi, Parus afer and Sporopipes squamifrons. Monticola rupestris, Onychognathus nabouroup and Geocolaptes olivaceus occur in rocky gorges and kloofs. Other arid-zone species occurring within the reserve are Melierax canorus, Stenostira scita and Serinus albogularis. Serinus alario occurs seasonally, whenever there is seeding grass and water. Falco naumanni have a large roost near the town’s railway station and are frequently seen hawking over the reserve.

Non-bird biodiversity: The snake Bitis inornata (VU) has a minuscule range, confined to the Sneëuberg, near Graaff-Reinet, and it may occur within the reserve. The reserve supports other reptiles: Bradypodion karrooicum, Homopus boulengeri, H. femoralis, Psammobates tentorius, Chersina angulata, Lamprophis guttatus, Pseudocordylus microlepidotus, Pachydactylus capensis, P. bibronii, P. maculatus and P. mariquensis. It is conservation policy to restock the reserve with game species that roamed these plains prior to human intervention, and the threatened endemic mammal Equus zebra (VU) has been reintroduced.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The land for this reserve was purchased by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-South Africa) (formerly the Southern African Nature Foundation) in 1979, and the reserve was proclaimed in 1983, and is controlled by the Directorate of Nature Conservation of the Eastern Cape Province. The reserve is easily accessible to the public and contains the well-known scenic view site, ‘The Valley of Desolation’ which, with its sweeping panorama over the Plains of Camdeboo, attracts many visitors.

The reserve and surrounding farmland hold important habitat for South Africa’s three bustards, Grus paradisea and Polemaetus bellicosus. All of these threatened species are large and wide-ranging. They depend on private land surrounding the reserve, which is subject to overgrazing and resultant habitat degradation. The reserve, in isolation, probably would not support viable populations of these wide-ranging birds. Because the area provides a unique opportunity to safeguard all of these species within a single sanctuary, two options ought to be considered. (1) Enlarging the reserve. Atlas data suggest that all target species are more common to the south of the reserve on the Camdeboo Plains. Enlarging the area under formal protection, particularly to the south, would add considerably to the biological integrity of the reserve system. (2) The reserve fulfils an important educational function: the Camdeboo Environmental Centre was established to promote environmentally responsible lifestyles among South Africans and has various educational facilities and an education officer. An awareness campaign highlighting the reserve’s unique avifaunal nature should be launched within the Graaff-Reinet District. Farmers to the south of the reserve should be encouraged to create a conservancy, specifically for the management of bustards, cranes and large raptors.

Poisons and pesticides that affect raptors are used in the farming areas. Falco naumanni have been observed taking locusts in the midst of spraying operations. The effects that pesticides are having on this threatened species are currently unknown.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Camdeboo National Park. Downloaded from on 07/07/2022.