Mattheus-Gat Conservation Area

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
Situated due east of Pofadder, this site consists of four farms: Mattheus-Gat (18,000 ha), Gemsbokvlakte (10,000 ha), Pofadder East (14,000 ha) and Konkoonsies (10,000 ha). Mattheus-Gat forms the central portion of the site and, in the south of the property, holds the granitic Mattheus-Gat mountains which rise some 300 m above the surrounding plains and which provide habitat for both mountainous and mountain-slope bird species. Away from the mountains, there are sandy plains to the north, comprising perennial desert grasslands that change into a red-dune system that runs from north-west to south-east (the fossil Koa river valley).

The vegetation consists of grasses and shrubs scattered between bare sand patches. The koppies hold shrubs of Adenolobus and Rhus, especially on the mid-slopes and peaks, while the cobble-strewn bases are covered by melkboom Euphorbia in places. The gravel-plains are covered with a sparse dwarf shrubland, including species of Rhigozum, Pteronia, Tetragonia, Tarchonanthus, Ceraria, Lycium and Boscia on sandy patches. There are a few sparsely vegetated drainage lines that run from south to north. The drainage lines support taller woody vegetation and occasionally hold large Acacia trees, which provide good nesting habitat for larger bird species.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. This is one of few sites to hold both the globally threatened Certhilauda burra (200–300 pairs), which inhabits the red sand-dunes, and the near-threatened Spizocorys sclateri (up to 500 birds), which occurs occasionally on the barren stony plains. The site holds most of the species restricted to the Namib–Karoo biome, as well as a host of other arid-zone birds. The rocky outcrops of the Mattheus-Gat mountains are home to Geocolaptes olivaceus, Euryptila subcinnamomea and Onychognathus nabouroup. The plains hold Circus maurus, Polemaetus bellicosus, Ardeotis kori, Neotis ludwigii, Eupodotis vigorsii, Cursorius rufus, Pterocles namaqua, Eremalauda starki, Cercomela tractrac, C. sinuata, C. schlegelii , Eremomela gregalis and Malcorus pectoralis. During good rains, the nomadic Eremopterix australis, E. verticalis, Serinus alario and Emberiza impetuani can be superabundant. Low, scrubby vegetation holds Parus afer, Anthoscopus minutus, Sylvia layardi, Batis pririt, Stenostira scita, Nectarinia fusca, Sporopipes squamifrons and Serinus albogularis. The large trees occasionally hold the communal nests of Philetairus socius with Polihierax semitorquatus frequently in attendance. The newly recognized Certhilauda subcoronata also occurs in this region.

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
All the farms are privately owned and are not conserved in any manner. Individual properties are too small, on their own, to maintain viable populations of many of the species occurring there. It is important that these properties are managed as a unit and that the primary management problems are tackled from a holistic perspective. Heavy grazing and trampling by domestic livestock changes the vegetation on the red dunes, making it unsuitable for Certhilauda burra. Only 1,400 km² remains of the 5,625 km² of habitat that was once suitable for Certhilauda burra. Cattle uproot forbs and graze down the grasses, particularly Stipagrostis ciliata, an important element of Certhilauda burra habitat, leaving the shrubs untouched. Sheep selectively remove forbs and annual grasses. Goats impact Certhilauda burra habitat the least, by browsing shrubs (Monechma and Lycium) and some grasses (Cladoraphis and Centropodia), but mostly leaving Stipagrostis ciliata untouched.

If possible, some or all of these farms should be purchased by the State or an NGO and incorporated into a nature reserve. Alternatively, a private conservancy may be established. An appropriate conservation action for the entire region would be to eliminate or reduce cattle stocking in the sensitive red-dune areas within this IBA.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Mattheus-Gat Conservation Area. Downloaded from on 20/09/2020.