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Maloti-Drakensberg Park

Maloti-Drakensberg Park

The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is a transboundary site composed of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and the Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho. The site has exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts as well as visually spectacular sculptured arches, caves, cliffs, pillars and rock pools. The site's diversity of habitats protects a high level of endemic and globally important plants. The site harbors endangered species such as the Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres) and the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). Lesotho’s Sehlabathebe National Park also harbors the Maloti minnow (Pseudobarbus quathlambae), a critically endangered fish species only found in this park. This spectacular natural site contains many caves and rock-shelters with the largest and most concentrated group of paintings in Africa south of the Sahara. They represent the spiritual life of the San people, who lived in this area over a period of 4,000 years.

Parc Maloti-Drakensberg

Le Parc Maloti-Drakensberg est un site transfrontalier composé de l’uKhahlamba / Parc national de Drakensberg en Afrique du Sud et du Parc national de Sehlathebe au Lesotho. Le site offre une beauté naturelle exceptionnelle qui s’exprime tant à travers ses contreforts de basalte vertigineux, ses arrière-plans incisifs et spectaculaires et ses remparts de grès dorés que par ses grottes, falaises, piliers et bassins dans la roche. La diversité des habitats du site protège un grand nombre d’espèces de plantes endémiques et capitales au niveau mondial. Le site accueille des espèces menacées tel le vautour du Cap (Gyps coprotheres) et le gypaète barbu (Gypaetus barbatus). Le Parc national de Sehlathebe au Lesotho accueille également le poisson Cyprinidé (Pseudobarbus quathlambae), une espèce de poisson en voie d’extinction vivant exclusivement dans ce parc. Ce bien naturel spectaculaire compte également de nombreuses grottes et abris rocheux où l’on trouve le plus important et le plus dense groupe de peintures rupestres d’Afrique, au sud du Sahara. Ces peintures représentent la vie spirituelle du peuple San, qui a vécu sur ces terres pendant plus de quatre millénaires.

Parque Maloti-Drakensberg

source: UNESCO/ERI

Maloti-Drakensberg park

Het Maloti-Drakensberg park is van uitzonderlijke schoonheid met z'n stijgende basaltische steunpilaren, dramatische dieptes, gouden zandsteenwallen, graslanden, steile rivierdalen en rotsachtige kloven. Het park strekt zich uit langs de grens met Lesotho, waardoor het een belangrijk toevluchtsoord is voor meer dan 250 endemische plantensoorten en bijbehorende fauna. Het gebied kent veel grotten en rotsen, met daarin de grootste, meest geconcentreerde groep rotstekeningen in Afrika ten zuiden van de Sahara. De tekeningen werden 4.000 jaar lang gemaakt door het inmiddels uitgestorven volk San. Ze weerspiegelen hun spirituele leven en zijn van uitstekende kwaliteit, divers qua onderwerpen en de manier waarop dieren en mensen worden weergegeven.

Source: unesco.nl

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Sehlabathebe National Park © UNESCO
Outstanding Universal Value
Please note that the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value is a provisional version. The final version will be adopted at the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee in 2014.

Brief synthesis

The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park is renowned for its spectacular natural landscape, importance as a haven for many threatened and endemic species, and for its wealth of rock paintings made by the San people over a period of 4000 years. The Park, located in the Drakensberg Mountains, covers an area of 242,813 ha making it the largest protected area along the Great Escarpment of southern Africa.

With its pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges, the property has numerous caves and rock shelters containing an estimated 600 rock art sites, and the number of individual images in those sites probably exceeds 35,000. The images depict animals and human beings, and represent the spiritual life of this people, now no longer living in their original homeland. This art represents an exceptionally coherent tradition that embodies the beliefs and cosmology of the San people over several millennia. There are also paintings done during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, attributable to Bantu speaking people.

Extending along most of KwaZulu-Natal’s south-western border with Lesotho, the property provides a vital refuge for more than 250 endemic plant species and their associated fauna. It also holds almost all of the remaining subalpine and alpine vegetation in KwaZulu-Natal, including extensive high altitude wetlands above 2,750m and is a RAMSAR site. The Park has been identified as an Important Bird Area, and forms a critical part of the Lesotho Highlands Endemic Bird Area.

Criterion (i): The rock art of the Drakensberg is the largest and most concentrated group of rock paintings in Africa south of the Sahara and is outstanding both in quality and diversity of subject.

Criterion (iii): The San people lived in the mountainous Drakensberg area for more than four millennia, leaving behind them a corpus of outstanding rock art, which throws much light on their way of life and their beliefs.

Criterion (vii): The site has exceptional natural beauty with soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks and golden sandstone ramparts. Rolling high altitude grasslands, the pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges also contribute to the beauty of the site.

Criterion (x): The property contains significant natural habitats for in situ conservation of biological diversity. It has outstanding species richness, particularly of plants. It is recognised as a Global Centre of Plant Diversity and endemism, and occurs within its own floristic region – the Drakensberg Alpine Region of South Africa. It is also within a globally important endemic bird area and is notable for the occurrence of a number of globally threatened species, such as the Yellow-breasted Pipit. The diversity of habitats is outstanding, ranging across alpine plateaux, steep rocky slopes and river valleys. These habitats protect a high level of endemic and threatened species.


The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, composed of 12 protected areas established between 1903 and 1973 has a long history of effective conservation management. Covering 242,813 ha in area, it is large enough to survive as a natural area and to maintain natural values. It includes 4 proclaimed Wilderness areas almost 50% of the Park, while largely unaffected by human development, the property remains vulnerable to external land uses including agriculture, plantation forestry and ecotourism, although agreements between Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and local stakeholders have been implemented to manage these threats.

Invasive species and fire also threaten the integrity of the site, along with land claims in certain areas, infrastructural developments, soil erosion caused by fire and tourist impacts on vulnerable alpine trails, and poaching. The lack of formal protection of the mountain ecosystem over the border in Lesotho exacerbates these threats.

Boundary issues highlighted at time of inscription included the gap belonging to the amaNgwane and amaZizi Traditional Council between the northern and much larger southern section of the Park. While planning mechanisms restrict development above the 1,650m contour to maintain ecological integrity, it was recommended that a cooperative agreement between the amaNgwane and amaZizi Traditional Council and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife be envisaged. Extending conservation areas by agreements with privately-owned land along the escarpment to the south of the property was also recommended. Finally an important step to strengthening integrity has been the development of the Drakensberg Maloti Transfrontier Conservation and Development Area, which has recognised the importance of a Transboundary Peace Park linking the Sehlabathebe National Park (and eventually the contiguous Sehlabathebe and Mohotlong Range Management Areas) in Lesotho with uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Project Coordinating Committees in both KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho are cooperating in a planning process.

The property contains the main corpus of rock art related to the San in this area. Although the area has changed relatively little since the caves were inhabited, management practices, the removal of trees (which formerly sheltered the paintings) and the smoke from burning grass both have the capacity to impact adversely on the fragile images of the rock shelters, as does unregulated public access.


The authenticity of the paintings, and their shelter and cave settings, as a reflection of the beliefs of the San peoples, are without question. The images are however vulnerable to fading that could lessen their ability to display their meaning.

Protection and management requirements

Management of the Park is guided by an Integrated Management Plan with subsidiary plans, and is undertaken in accordance with the World Heritage Convention Act, 1999 (Act No. 49 of 1999); National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003 (Act 57 of 2003); National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No 10 of 2004); KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Management Amendment Act (No 5 of 1999); World Heritage Convention Operational Guidelines; and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife policies. In terms of these legislation, all development within or outside the property is subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment, which considers the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. In addition all World Heritage Sites are recognized as protected areas, meaning that mining or prospecting will be completely prohibited from taking place within the property or the proclaimed buffer zone.  Furthermore, any unsuitable development with a potential impact on the property will not be permitted by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs who is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

Invasive species and fire are major management challenges. At the time of inscription 1% of the property was covered with alien vegetation, including existing plantations and wattle infestations. This poses a threat to the ecological integrity of the Park as well as to the yield of water from its wetlands and river systems. Park management is actively addressing the removal of alien species. The interaction between the management of invasive species and the management of fire should also be carefully considered, taking into account the effects of fire on fire-sensitive fauna such as endemic frogs.  Management of fire and invasive species needs to be addressed jointly by Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal, ideally within the framework established for transboundary protected area cooperation.

There is a need to ensure an equitable balance between the management of nature and culture through incorporating adequate cultural heritage expertise into the management of the Park, in order to ensure that land management processes respect the paintings, that satisfactory natural shelter is provided to the rock art sites, that monitoring of the rock art images is conducted on a regular basis by appropriately qualified conservators, and that access to the paintings is adequately regulated. Furthermore, there is a need to ensure that Cultural Heritage Impact Assessments are undertaken in conjunction with Environmental Impact Assessments for any proposed development affecting the setting within the property.