Makgadikgadi Pans

Site description (2001 baseline):

Site location and context
A very large and diverse area between 19°40’S and 21°30’S, and 24°10’E and 26°20’E, once the flat bottom of the old Kalahari Lake, in north-west Botswana. The Makgadikgadi Pans comprise seasonally inundated salt-pans, surrounded by grasslands, low tree-and-bush Acacia savanna and stunted mopane woodland. Along the Boteti river there is well-developed riparian woodland, with tall trees also near Gweta and Odiakwe. Hyphaene palms fringe many drainage courses and extend north to Nxai Pan.There are two main pans, the Sua Pan, fed by the Nata river in the east, and the Ntwetwe Pan in the east. These two large pans are alkaline flats akin to the soda lakes of the Kenyan Rift Valley. The Nata Delta section of Sua Pan rarely dries out completely and is therefore particularly important for waterfowl. Flows vary greatly from year to year; 1987/88 had double the inflow to Sua Pan since records started in 1967. A number of small pans lie to the north and south, including Rysana Pan west of Orapa.The Boteti river flows from the Okavango Delta to the west of the Pans and then across and into the southern part of the site; after heavy rains, pools remain throughout the winter and attract a variety of waterfowl. The Boteti, when it flowed strongly, also discharged into Lake Xau just south of Mopipi, although the Mopipi Dam (more than 16 km²) now intercepts any water. There are concentrations of settlements to the north of the Pans and in the west along the Boteti from Mopipi to Rakops and up to Xhumaga and to the Maun road.Land-uses include tourism (including motorbike safaris), hunting (for trophy, subsistence and bird-trade), and cattle-grazing, which is widespread over adjacent areas of the Pans. There is heavy use of the Boteti river fringes by people and stock, with pressure on the Makgadikgadi National Park from livestock.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 2 for key species. When flooded, Sua Pan attracts breeding Phoenicopterus minor and P. ruber, colonies of both being first detailed as recently as 1978, although there were prior reports of flamingos (Phoenicopteridae) breeding here. In 1978 the colony of P. ruber was the largest known in Africa. Flamingos also bred in 1988, 1996, 1997, 1999/2000 and 2000/1. In April 1988, 25,000–26,000 P. ruber chicks were counted, and in mid-1988 some 2,000 fledged young of P. minor. One colony of P. minor in November 1988 contained c.60,000 birds. Such breeding occurs sporadically, depending on water levels.Over 1,000 non-breeding Grus carunculatus used to be recorded on the Pans during the 1960s and 1970s, coincident with flooding of the Kafue Flats in Zambia, but only c.100 occur now. The pans, when flooded, also attract breeding Pelecanus onocrotalus and P. rufescens, Podiceps nigricollis, many Anatidae—including Anas erythrorhyncha, A. capensis, Dendrocygna bicolor, Netta erythrophthalma and Thalassornis leuconotus—as well as Glareola pratincola and Sterna caspia. At times, very large numbers of waders visit the flooded pans, e.g. Tringa stagnatilis, T. glareola, Himantopus himantopus and Philomachus pugnax may exceed the 0.5% criterion. Palearctic visitors to the grassland include Circus pygargus and C. pallidus, Charadrius asiaticus and Glareola nordmanni, which occur also to the south over Mopipi Dam and Lake Xau. Regionally threatened raptors, such as Terathopius ecaudatus, Trigonoceps occipitalis, Polemaetus bellicosus and Aquila rapax, forage over the area. Few birds use the pans when they are dry, other than Charadrius pallidus and C. pecuarius. The grasslands and woodlands have important populations of Ardeotis kori, as well as of Struthio camelus, Sagittarius serpentarius, Falco chicquera, Francolinus levaillantoides (on the periphery up to Nxai Pan), Rhinoptilus africanus, Pterocles burchelli and P. gutturalis, Mirafra africanoides, Chersomanes albofasciata and Spizocorys conirostris.

Non-bird biodiversity: Large ungulates are all declining. Panthera leo (VU) are under severe pressure from livestock owners.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The north-west of the site, up to the edge of the Boteti river in the west, is protected as the Makgadikgadi National Park. This park, which includes only a small section of Ntwetwe Pan, abuts Nxai Pan National Park in the north, comprising Nxai Pan and Kudiakam Pan. In the extreme north-east of the site there is a community-run nature reserve, the Nata Sanctuary, overlooking the Nata Delta area of Sua Pan.Habitat degradation has been caused by humans in the many settlements, especially along the Boteti, by overgrazing by domestic stock and by arable farming, especially on the south-western fringes. There has been over-hunting of mammals and large birds, even of protected or game species such as Eupodotis afra, E. ruficrista and sandgrouse Pterocles, and little enforcement of a hunting ban on Ardeotis kori. However, following pressure from the former Botswana Bird Club, there is now a close season on sandgrouse during their main breeding season.Low rainfall in the Angolan highlands in recent years has meant that little if any water has flowed from the Okavango Delta into the Boteti river. Veterinary cordon fences restrict the movement of game and, in the south-east corner of Sua Pan, a mesh fence protruding into the pan (an offshoot of the veterinary fence running north to south on the east side of the pan) causes entanglement of juvenile flamingos and their consequent death from exhaustion or from predatory birds and mammals. It was, however, agreed by the Department of Animal Health in 1997 that this fence would be modified so as not to cause further deaths. A soda-ash factory operates by the north-east edge of Sua Pan, and there is concern that its abstraction of water from the pan may impact on the breeding flamingos.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Makgadikgadi Pans. Downloaded from on 01/12/2023.