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Succulent Karoo Protected Areas

Date of Submission: 08/07/2009
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Western Cape Nature Conservation Board
State, Province or Region:
South Africa and Namibia
Ref.: 5458
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Most northerly point: S26 15 04 E14 56 33

Most easterly point: S32 44 22 E25 44 22

Most south westerly point: S33 55 47 E19 17 20

The Succulent Karoo biome is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot, and is the world's only arid hotspot. The 116 000 km2 biome extends from the south-west through the north-western areas of South Africa and into southern Namibia. The biome is home to 6 356 plant species, 40% of which are endemic and 936 (17%) of which are listed in the Red Data Book. In addition to its floral diversity, 27 amphibian species, 29% of which are endemic; 121 reptile species, 20% of which are endemic; 68 mammal species, 9% of which are endemic; and 431 bird species have thus far been recorded.

The rich biodiversity of the Succulent Karoo is due to an extensive and complex array of habitat types derived from topographical and climatic diversity in the region's rugged mountains, semi-arid shrublands, and coastal dunes. The hallmark of the Succulent Karoo is its exceptionally diverse and endemic-rich flora. This biodiversity is due to massive speciation of an arid-adapted biota in response to unique climatic conditions and high environmental heterogeneity. The conditions have remained relatively stable for a long period, thus facilitating the persistence of the products of evolution. The high regional plant richness is the result of high compositional change of species-rich communities along environmental and geographical gradients. Many species are extreme habitat specialists, mainly related to soil-type, of limited range size. Local endemism (i.e. the restriction of species to extremely small ranges of less than 50 km2) is most pronounced among succulents, especially Mesembryanthemaceae, and bulbs. Similar patterns of compositional change along gradients have been observed for certain groups of invertebrates.

Land ownership : The Protected Areas that will be evaluated for inclusion in the proposed transnational serial nomination are all formally protected and under the management of, in Namibia, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, and in South Africa of either SANParks, Western Cape Nature Conservation Board or the Northern Cape Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, Environment and Conservation.

Management structure:  Currently there is no coordinating management structure for this potential transnational, serial, natural world heritage property. However the recently constituted "Joint Management Committee" for the CFRPA WHS could feasibly be expanded to include the additional management authority and State Party. This would facilitate collaboration and integration across these two internationally recognised biodiversity hotspots which form a mosaic across the landscape. It would have the added advantage of not duplicating management structures, thus optimising resources.

Budgetary matters: The protected areas that will potentially form the World Heritage Property are funded by the three authorities mentioned in 1 above.

Site readiness: All potential sites either have up to date management plans or are in the process of updating them. Management structures are all in place.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Succulent Karoo biome is an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot, and the worlds' only arid hotspot. The hallmark of the Succulent Karoo is its exceptionally diverse and endemic rich flora, especially succulents and bulbs.

Criterion (ix): Due to the relative lack of transformation of the landscape and the size and location of the protected areas there are significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of this terrestrial ecosystem.

Criterion (x): The Succulent Karoo biome is home to 6 356 plant species, 40% of which are endemic and 936 (17%) of which are listed in the Red Data Book and is the most biodiverse arid area in the world and contains the most important and significant natural habitat for the in-situ conservation of biological diversity.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

From results of the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Planning (SKEP) process, funded by Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund an ecosystem profile was compiled, identifying nine priority areas for conservation within the Succulent Karoo Hotspot. Through the SKEP process, specific areas within each of these nine priority areas are being identified and targeted for elevated conservation status.  Many of the priority areas do however already have legally conserved national and provincial protected areas. These protected areas are generally of sufficient size to cater for criteria (ix) and are placed in areas that capture the maximum biodiversity thus satisfying criteria (x). They are adequately managed and are not threatened by development pressures. Less than 5% of the Succulent Karoo Biome has been irreversibly transformed, thus fragmentation is not a major problem. Several areas outside the protected areas have been over-utilised by small stock but in most areas this is still reversible and is being addressed. Mining impacts within the Succulent Karoo are generally localized and are subject to EIA legislation and regulations. The SKEP process will verify the contribution of these protected areas and whether or not they are correctly placed and have the correct configuration to meet the conservation targets that have been set for conservation of biodiversity "pattern and process". It is envisaged that the existing legally conserved areas will be evaluated with regard to their suitability to contribute to a Succulent Karoo Protected Areas (SKPA) WHS transnational serial nomination and be submitted as phase 1. Once the SKEP process of land identification and acquisition has been finalised these additional protected areas will then also be evaluated and those qualifying will be submitted as an extension nomination (phase 2).

Comparison with other similar properties

The only other comparable serial nomination for an entire internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot is the adjacent CFRPA WHS.  Due to large regions of "overlap" between these two contiguous hotspots, where transition from one to the other can occur over very small distances, the addition of the SKPA would, in many cases, be mutually complementary.

The IUCN has identified the Succulent Karoo as a very definite gap on the World Heritage list, being the most biologically diverse arid area in the world.