The area encompasses the catchments of the Sehonghong and Matebeng rivers, bounded on the west by the Senqu. The IBA covers a set of nucleus vulture colonies and one satellite colony located on steep basalt lava cliffs in the lower reaches of the Senqu (Orange) river. The river and its tributaries are situated near the Lesotho/KwaZulu-Natal border on the fringe of the Drakensberg. The IBA consists of three colonies and the surrounding foraging area. The tributaries of the Senqu system have incised deeply into the basalt, thus creating near-vertical cliffs suitable for occupation by cliff-dwelling species. The colonies are at an altitude of c.2,750–2,950 m. The vegetation is primarily montane grassland. High-altitude shrubs form a heath of Erica, Chrysocoma and Helichrysum. The summits are generally rocky, with bare, shallow soil patches and rock sheets near the escarpment.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. This site supports 75 pairs of breeding Gyps coprotheres (220 individuals in total), which is approximately 2% of the world’s breeding population. The two main nucleus colonies, Mohlokohloko (29°41’S 28°53’E) and Monyetleng (29°41’S 28°52’E), each support between 25 and 45 breeding pairs. Monyetleng means ‘the place with a narrow passage’, probably referring to the route up the cliff. To the south-east of these two nucleus colonies is a satellite breeding colony, Matebeng Pass (29°53’S 28°55’E), which holds between five and 10 birds. The Matebeng catchment holds a colony on Thaba-li-Maqhoa (meaning ‘the icy mountains’).The rare but widespread Gypaetus barbatus meridionalis also forages widely across this area. Other cliff-nesting species include Ciconia nigra, Buteo rufofuscus, Falco biarmicus and Bubo capensis. The high-altitude rocky, boulder-strewn slopes and outcrops (above 2,000 m) support Chaetops aurantius, and the surrounding grassy slopes and plateau hold Anthus hoeschi, which breeds in large numbers during the austral summer (especially above 3,000 m). Serinus symonsi occurs commonly above 1,500 m, and has become commensal with humans, occupying and foraging in villages and among fallow and harvested crop fields. Anthus crenatus, Monticola explorator and Geocolaptes olivaceus occur commonly in the vicinity of rocky outcrops. Cercomela sinuata hypernephela, Sylvia layardi barnesi and Circus maurus are uncommon. The site supports the small, isolated, Lesotho subspecies Parus afer arens. Small numbers of Geronticus calvus occasionally forage in this area and it is thought that there may be breeding colonies in the vicinity.
Non-bird biodiversity: The alpine floral communities found in the Maloti/Drakensberg mountains are unique in southern Africa, holding a remarkable number of endemic plant species. A recent botanical survey of three valleys in the Maloti yielded many species that could not be identified, and some may be new to science. The high-altitude streams and seepages hold the Drakensberg-endemic frogs Strongylopus hymenopus and Amieta vertebralis.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Owing to the dramatic population declines that Gyps coprotheres has experienced in parts of its range, it is essential that a survey of all the Gyps coprotheres colonies in Lesotho be conducted to determine the species’ current conservation status. These sites urgently require monitoring. Vultures are utilized extensively for traditional medicinal and ceremonial purposes, and they are targeted by rural residents who use either poisoned carcasses or a gin-trap to kill them. Geronticus calvus may occasionally be taken by local people for food or medicinal purposes. Buteo rufofuscus and Falco biarmicus are sometimes persecuted as chicken thieves, and Bubo capensis is occasionally used for medicinal purposes. There is no conservation concern for these common and widespread birds, provided levels of persecution and utilization do not increase. Overgrazing, trampling, agriculture and other human activities have not seriously affected any of the globally near-threatened, restricted-range or biome-restricted birds. Some species, such as Serinus symonsi, benefit from an association with humans.