Kruger National Park (KNP) is situated on the southern portion of the Mozambique coastal plain in the lowveld of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. The park is roughly rectangular in shape, stretching c.320 km from north to south and 65 km from east to west. The site includes the important Banyani flood-plain, just outside the park’s border, as well as several provincial and privately owned reserves that lie adjacent to the western border, and the large Onderberg area to the south of the park (managed by the Mpumalanga Parks Board). The area consists of flat, gently undulating plains that are occasionally broken by scattered inselbergs. The Lebombo mountains, a series of low hills, dominate the eastern border of the park. KNP is drained from west to east by two major river systems, the nKomati and the Limpopo, which form the southern and northern borders of the park respectively, and also by six other large rivers. Under natural conditions all of these rivers would be perennial, but owing to heavy water abstraction within their catchments (west of the IBA), all but one now dry out seasonally.The varied soils give rise to a plethora of different types of deciduous savanna and woodland, ranging from dense forest to open shrubby grassland. Savanna predominates overall, but there is dense broadleaved woodland in the south-west, dominated by Dichrostachys, Combretum and Terminalia, as well as mopane woodland in the central portion of the park, and more open woodland of Burkea, Pseudolachnostylis, Kirkia and baobab Adansonia in the drier, rugged northern region. Riverine forest and thicket occurs along all the major drainage lines.
See Box and Table 3 for key species. The park is known to support more than 490 bird species, about 55% of the species found in the southern African subregion. The diversity of birds can be attributed to the variety of habitats present and the ecotonal nature of the area. The park supports the healthiest populations of scavenging bird species in South Africa.The Luvuvhu, Olifants and Sabie rivers, with their associated riverine forest, support several nationally threatened bird species that are secretive and river-dependent, such as Scotopelia peli, Gorsachius leuconotus and Podica senegalensis. The rivers, flood-plains, pans, dams and vleis are important for many wetland-dependent and associated birds, such as Ciconia nigra, which breed in the gorges of the nearby Lebombo mountains, C. episcopus, Anastomus lamelligerus, Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis and Vanellus albiceps. The Banyini flood-plain, which falls just outside the park’s boundary near Pafuri, is of particular interest as in wet seasons it supports excellent pans and surrounding flooded grassy areas. The land is partially private and partially owned by the South African National Defence Force. The seasonally flooded grasslands lying to the north of Shingwedzi are also vital for wetland birds during years of heavy rain, particularly for Crex crex.Several wide-ranging species, which are now rare outside South Africa’s large national parks, are locally common in KNP, including the country’s largest populations of Leptoptilos crumeniferus, Necrosyrtes monachus, Gyps africanus, Torgos tracheliotus, Trigonoceps occipitalis, Polemaetus bellicosus, Terathopius ecaudatus, Aquila rapax, Ardeotis kori and Bucorvus cafer. Gyps coprotheres regularly forage within the park. Neotis denhami, Circus macrourus and Tyto capensis occur in small numbers. The thicket and forest areas support the following species restricted to the East African Coast biome: Poicephalus cryptoxanthus, Telophorus quadricolor, Lamprotornis corruscus, Hypargos margaritatus and Serinus citrinipectus (the latter two in the north-east only).
Non-bird biodiversity: KNP is one of the most important conservation areas in South Africa. Many threatened species occur throughout the park. Among mammals, there are important populations of Ceratotherium simum (LR/cd; more than 700 individuals), Diceros bicornis (CR), Lycaon pictus (EN), Loxodonta africana (EN; more than 7,000 individuals) and Acinonyx jubatus (VU). The highly localized Chrysospalax villosus and Amblysomus julianae (CR) have been recorded in the park. The park also holds populations of the more localized Chirindia langi, Zygaspis vandami and Afroedura langi; the latter is restricted to the Olifants river valley. Among the frogs, southern African endemics include Hemisus marmoratus, Hyperolius tuberilinguis, Afrixalus aureus, A. delicatus, Phrynobatrachus mababiensis, Hilderbrandtia ornata, Ptychadena mossambica, P. oxyrhynchus, Strongylopus grayii, Tomopterna krugerensis, T. marmorata and T. natalensis. Arthrolepis stenodactylus is a rare resident.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
KNP was primarily created to protect the populations of large mammals, and has been administered by the National Parks Board since 1926. Although the park continues to be managed primarily for its large mammals, several areas are of particular importance for birds, and should be managed accordingly.The six major rivers that flow into the park have their catchments in the great South African escarpment in the west. The escarpment has suffered considerable environmental modification in the form of forestry, urbanization, agriculture and industrial development, which have led to an inevitable degradation in the quantity and quality of water. Impoundments and other developments are also being planned along the rivers, further threatening the remaining riverine habitat. Of the six (formerly) perennial rivers, only the Sabie still flows permanently, and declining flow volumes suggest that even this river will periodically dry up in future. All but three pairs of South Africa’s remaining Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis breed along the threatened riverine habitat in the KNP.Scavenging raptors have suffered severely from persecution and poisoning in South Africa’s farming districts in the last 100 years. Raptor numbers have declined, even on properties directly adjacent to the KNP, which has acted as one of the last havens for these specialized and sensitive birds. The awareness programmes initiated during the 1980s have gone a long way towards changing farmers’ attitudes to raptors. Some species are beginning to move out of the park and recolonize adjacent farmland. If these birds are ever going to recover their former distribution, the KNP will act as an essential source population for large parts of the country.Leptoptilos crumeniferus is common in the KNP, almost exclusively because food is available at restcamps’ rubbish tips. They were extremely rare in the park before the restcamps were developed. The rubbish tips are in the process of being upgraded to prevent access by wildlife (baboon, hyaena, warthog, etc.), and numbers of Leptoptilos crumeniferus are expected to decline accordingly.
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Kruger National Park and adjacent areas. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 20/10/2020.