The Maloti Mountains in Lesotho are a unique yet fragile ecosystem. The region is dominated by inspiring mountain landscapes and is home to globally and locally significant biodiversity and cultural heritage. Conservation international identifies this area as one of the world's 20 mountain biodiversity "hot spots" with liigh endemism. The area also provides a variety of ecosystem services, including freshwater to users in Lesotho, South Africa, and Namibia due to a network of pristine alpine wetland system. It is on the remote eastern edge of this spectacular scenic mountain range in the Lesotho district of Qacha's Nek and the southernmost tip of the country where the 6500ha core of Sehlabathebe National Park (SNP) is located.
Initially known as Leqooa afier the river Leqooa which traverses the area, Sehlabathebe owes its current name to a first settler of the Baphuthi origin from Phamong in Mohale's Hoek District, who herded animals in the area and ended up establishing his home here.
The Park is situated on the eastern Maloti Drakensberg escarpment in the Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area where is shares a 12 km intersection on the border with uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park - World Heritage Site (UDP-WHS) in South Africa. Following its legal proclamation in 2001, it is presently declared a transfrontier park with the Garden Castle part of UDP-WHS. The western part of the park is bordered by a cluster of 14 villages which are part of the greater Khomo- PhatSoa community council - an area of 46ha managed as a managed resource area (MRA) with a community council endorsed natural and cultural heritage management plan. Hence, it is on the basis of this zoning that the process is underway to declare it a biosphere reserve. SNP is located at the interface of the lower lying sedimentary and overlying igneous secluences and due to prominent tectonic block faulting, the SNP region was upliited relative to the rest of the Drakensberg escarpment, leading to a very unique outcrop of Clarens Sandstone formation. 'The park stands at an average height of 2,450m above sea level. Its geology comprises the lower lying, late Triassic (215-195 million years) Elliot Formation (red inudstone and siltstone), overlain by late Triassic to early Jurassic (195 - 183 million years) Clarens Formation (cream coloured sandstone) and Jurassic (183-135 million years) Lesotho Formation (basaltic lava, referred to as the Drakensberg Formation in South Africa). Several prominent doierite dykes cut the sedimentary sequence in the park. Small localized patches of Tertiary (thousands of years) Masotcheni Formation material is present. The valleys of Sehlabathebe are tïlled with sandy alluvial material, sometimes interceded with layers of dolerite or basaltic boulders.
The vegetation of SNP is classified as Themeda-Festuca Alpine veld: high altitude; short grasslands consisting of a mixture of sub-tropical temperate grass species with a wide variety of monocotyledons and dicotyledons (Acocks, 1984). The five typical grassland vegetation types for the Park are:
- Cool slope and summit grassland dominated by species such as Thra~h~ypogon spicutus, Pentachistis species and Harpecloa falx;
- Cool mixed grassland dominated by species siich as Themeda triandra and Stiburus alopecuroides;
- Warm slope grassland dominated by species such as Themeda traindru Trachypogon spicutus and Stirbus aeopecuroides
- Dry steep grassland & Tristuchyu leucothrix grassland dominated by species such as Themeda triandra, Microchloa caffra, Hurpechloa cafia and Trisachyale ucothrix
Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionelle
Sehlabathebe National Park was established in 1970 as a "Wild Life Sanctuary and National Park" according to the provisions of the now-defunct Game Preservation Proclamation No. 33 of 1951 and was later gazetted in 2001 within the provisions of Environment Act 15, of 2001 as amended.
The park is pristine with a system of alpine wetlands supplying clean water to Lesotho, South Africa, and Namibia. it offers a significant habitat to a range of unique Afro-Alpine and Sub-Alpine plants, mammals, avifauna, reptiles, amphibians and fish. It has a spectacular scenery with unique rock formations . Most of the Park is laken up by a designated wilderness Area and although small by international standards, it retains its natural character and is uninhabited. Extensive sponge areas and wetlands as well as perennial rivers and streams, complete the picture of uniqueness. The park is home to various outstanding biodiversity species, some of which are endemic and endangered. This site hosts 23% of the plant species in the whole of Maluti Drakensberg area. Of the four evolutionary subunits (ESUs) of the maluti mino (Pseudobarbas quahlambae) which only occurs in Lesotho in the whole world, the only legally protected ESUs of this endangered fish is in SNP. The same applies to §NP water lily.
Apart from the unique floral presence in the park, there is a record number of rock art sites (65)which have been identified in the Park, and other forms of previous habitation of the site.
The declaration of SNP incorporating the adjacent communities would extend and bring value to the UDP-WHS with unique additional space and species. The adjacent MRA management mode1 provides an important buffer to the site.
Satements of authenticity and/or integrity
It bears testimony of outstanding san painting tradition that once existed in Lesotho and some parts of Southern Africa. The paintings occur in great variety of colours, sizes and idiosyncratic subject inatter, on occurrence that is not common with other rock art sites.
Park presents an excellent example of what the Afro-Alpine and Sub-Alpine regions of the eastern mountain ecosystems of Lesotho could and should look like. The Park's ecosystems are largely unspoiled and barring a low level of negative human impact and may be described as pristine. The Park offers significant habitat to, and protection for, a range of unique Afro-Alpine and Sub-Alpine plants, mammals, avifauna, reptiles, amphibians and fish. SNP offers spectacular scenery and a high incidence of snowfalls in winter. Most of the Park is taken up by a designated Wilderness Area and although small by international standards, it retains its natural character and is ininhabited. Extensive sponge areas and wetlands as well as perennial rivers and streams, contribute significantly to provision of water to Lesotho, South Africa and Namibia.
- With regards to palaeontology, several small outcrops of Elliot Mudstone produced small fragments of Dinosaur fossil remains.
- The park was later used as secluded spot for relaxation by Prime Minister Dr. Leabua Jonathan, with the development of a small lodge for accommodation. The park is also a favourite spot for the current Prime Minister. Situated in his home district, he has special attachment to the area, as he lived in the area for herding his parents cattle. This serves to indicate that the park is afforded protection from the highest government quarters.