The Soutpansberg, an east–west trending mountain range, stretches some 130 km from 10 km west of Thohoyandou in the east to Vivo in the west. Louis Trichardt lies in the centre of the range, below its southern slopes. The range rises c.700 m from the surrounding plains to form spectacular peaks at Maditshwene (1,606 m) and Letjume (1,747 m) in the west and the lower-altitude Entabeni Peak (1,449 m) in the east. To the north, the plains drop into the lowveld of the Limpopo valley. The range holds the catchments of several important Northern Province rivers, including the Sand, Mutamba, Nzhelele, Nwanedzi, Mutale and Luvuvhu rivers. All of these flow north into the Province’s most important river, the Limpopo.The vegetation is primarily north-eastern mountain sourveld. Scrubby thornveld occurs on the mountain slopes. On the lower and middle slopes, sourish mixed bushveld dominates. The mountain peaks are covered with scattered clumps of Protea bushes. Patches of Afromontane forest, up to 30–40 m tall, are found in valleys and moist basins, especially where south-facing.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The Soutpansberg supports a colony of Gyps coprotheres, located on three separate adjacent cliffs. The thick forest vegetation in the valleys and basins supports a small population of Poicephalus robustusrobustus, as well as Stephanoaetus coronatus, Buteo oreophilus, Tauraco corythaix, Cossypha dichroa, Apaloderma narina, Coracina caesia, Telophorus olivaceus, T. multicolor, Mandingoa nitidula and Serinus scotops. The bushveld on the slopes holds Telophorus quadricolor, Cossypha humeralis and Eremomela usticollis. The Protea woodland is suitable for Promerops gurneyi. The rivers hold small numbers of Podica senegalensis, Gorsachius leuconotus and Scotopelia peli.
Non-bird biodiversity: Flora: the stapeliads Huernia nouhuysii, Stapelia clavicorona and Orbeanthus conjunctus are rare and endemic to these mountains. Other spectacular endemics restricted to the Soutpansberg include Aloe angelica, A. soutpansbergensis, Kalanchoe crundallii and Euphorbia soutpansbergensis. The cycad Encephalartos transvenosus, endemic to the Soutpansberg and northern Drakensberg escarpment, is known from near the site’s border. Amphibians: Australolacerta rupicola, and the subspecies taeniatus of the range-restricted Breviceps sylvestris, which may be a valid species, are endemic to the Soutpansberg. Two other species endemic to this range, Bradypodion sp. and Afroedura sp., are as yet undescribed. Reptiles: Cordylus warreni and Lygodactylus ocellatus (L. o. soutpansbergensis restricted to the Soutpansberg) are endemic to the Soutpansberg and Mpumalanga/Swaziland escarpment zone and occur in rocky montane grassland areas. Platysaurus guttatus, P. relictus (LR/nt) and Lygodactylus nigropuncatus have global ranges restricted to the Soutpansberg and nearby Waterberg (IBA ZA006), although the gecko also occurs patchily elsewhere in the central Northern Province.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The eastern portion of the massif has been extensively afforested with commercial timber plantations. Parts of the range are also used for subtropical fruit farming, mainly avocados, mangos, nuts and citrus. The western portion of the massif, with its limited water resources, agriculturally marginal soils and poor industrial potential, has remained relatively pristine. The eastern portion holds various forest reserves, including Timbadola Forest Reserve, Entabeni State Forest, Klein Australië Forest Reserve, Goedehoop Forest Reserve, Roodewal Forest Reserve and Hanglip State Forest, and the private Buzzard Mountain Retreat, 20 km west of Louis Trichardt. Most of these protected areas are partly afforested and partly covered by indigenous vegetation. Salt is the only economically exploitable mineral deposit in the Soutpansberg. Various farms in the western portion, covering over 20,000 ha to date, have been registered as Natural Heritage Sites. Owing to the unique nature of these mountains, and the taxa restricted to them, it is recommended that additional land be considered for formal protection. The river catchments require particular conservation attention.