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South Africa has a unique number of areas which are recognised as floristic hotspots, most famously the spectacular Fynbos system found only in the Cape.

The Wolkberg Escarpment in the Biosphere is another, revelling in excess of 2,760 vascular species including 116 floral plants unique to the area, and sixty which are in the Red Data Book of species that are under threat.

There are seven distinguishable vegetation types in the Biosphere:

Lebombo Arid Mountain Bushveld;

Sweet Lowveld Bushveld;

Mixed Lowveld Bushveld

Mopane Bushveld (common in the Kruger north of the Olifants River);

Sour Lowveld Bushveld;

North Eastern Mountain Grasslands; and

Afromontane Forests.

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South Africa is the third most biologically diverse country in the world, thanks to its amazing geography and climate.

The Kruger to Canyons Biosphere contains widely diverse landscapes, ranging in altitude from 300 metres above sea level in the east to in excess of 2,000m in the Drakensburg Escarpment where the plateau basin begins.

As the geography and geology vary, the average rainfall differs significantly across the Biosphere region, averaging 368mm per annum in the plains, but increasing to up to eight times the quantity (3,000mm) on the plateau. These two factors in combination lead to a wide variety of habitats and niches for flora and fauna to exploit.

The Biosphere's Diverse Landscapes

The Kruger to Canyons Biosphere is of particular ecological importance. It contains three major biomes (distinctive biogeographic regions), namely dry savannah woodlands, Afromontane forest and Afromontane grassland.

As the altitude (and consequently rainfall) increases from east to west, a great biodiversity can be witnessed progressing from scrub and savannah upwards into South Africa’s unique fynbos floral system, rainforests, and climax grasslands on the top of the Escarpment where water is more abundant.

The dry savannah woodlands contain the richest distribution of large mammal species found in any sub region in the world. This is due to the high nutritional value provided in this vegetation and the extensive range supporting large populations of ungulates (hooved mammals) and their associates.

Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard, together with rare Antelope such as Tsessebe, Sable, Roan and Hartebeest are found here. This is also one of the last remaining viable habitats for the African Wild Dog in South Africa. The highest concentrations of Giraffe in Southern Africa are found in this central region between the Letaba and Sabie rivers with the main concentrations in the Klaserie valley.

In the Biosphere, a mere 1.4% of the country’s total land surface contains this unique, free ranging distribution of mammals together with a remarkable 55% of the total terrestrial biodiversity found in South Africa. This low percentage is accounted for by the wholesale destruction of game and the massive transformation of habitat which has taken place over the last three hundred years, most recently with the the introduction of fences.

The diversity of fauna and flora in the Lowveld is illustrated in the table below in terms of the total number of species (taxa) identified to date. The total number of species in the Lowveld is greater than exists in many whole countries in the world. The relatively small fraction of the South African flora is simply a reflection of the enormously rich plant diversity in this country (Cape Town's whole fynbos kingdom in particular) as a whole.

Species Number in the
% of Southern
African Species
% of African
Birds 520 72% 31%
Reptiles 118 41% 12%
Amphibians 35 40% 6%
Fish 53 18% 2%
Mammals 148 64% 18%
Plant 1,981 10% Unknown

Taxa found in the Lowveld Savannahs

The Escarpment region, consisting of the Blyde River catchment, the Valley of the Olifants, Legalametsi Nature Reserve and Wolkberg Wilderness Area contains 140 endemic species of plant, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate found to date. It is interesting to note that Mariepskop contains well over 2,000 plant species- more than the whole of the Kruger National Park and far exceeding Table Mountain’s plant diversity.

The whole region holds up to 75% of all terrestrial bird species, 80% of all raptor species (all the vulture species have been recorded) and 72% of all mammals found in South Africa.

This section

These pages bring together resources describing the physical relief of the area, its geological context and the importance of that heritage for local ecology, the climate, and the consequent nature of the flora and fauna of the region, characterised by its distinctive ecozones.