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.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

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.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Parque Maloti-Drakensberg

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0


source: NFUAJ

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.


  • English
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Japanese
  • Dutch
Sehlabathebe National Park © UNESCO
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Maloti Drakensberg Transboundary World Heritage Site is a transnational property spanning the border between the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa. The property comprises Sehlabathebe National Park (6,500ha) in Lesotho and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park (242,813 ha) in South Africa. Maloti Drakensberg Transboundary World Heritage Site 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 property covers an area of 249,313 ha making it the largest protected area complex along the Great Escarpment of southern Africa.

The Maloti Drakensberg range of mountains constitutes the principal water production area in Southern Africa. The areas along the international border between the two countries create a drainage divide on the escarpment that forms the watershed for two of southern Africa’s largest drainage basins. The Thukela River from uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park flows eastwards into the Indian Ocean. The rivers of southern Maloti Drakensberg including SNP drain into the Senqu/Orange River which flows westwards into the Atlantic Ocean, and extension of the UDP WHS to include SNP will add special hydrologic qualities to the area. The Senqu/Orange River from Sehlabathebe National Park flows westwards into the Atlantic Ocean.

With its pristine steep-sided river valleys and rocky gorges, the property has numerous caves and rock shelters containing an estimated 665 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 the San people, representing an exceptionally coherent tradition that embodies their beliefs and cosmology 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 Maloti-Drakensberg Park 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 Maloti-Drakensberg area for more than four millennia, leaving behind them a corpus of outstanding rock art, providing a unique testimony 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 Mokhotlong 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 extension of the area to include SNP (6,500ha) has been protected since 1970 as a wildlife sanctuary and a national park, and gazetted in 2001 to enhance protection of the biodiversity and scenic qualities of the property. This area, added to the UDP World Heritage Site is sufficient to protect the biodiversity and cultural values of the area.

The property contains the main corpus of rock art related to the San in this area. A comparatively high concentration of rock art sites seems present in the western buffer zone in Lesotho and future surveys of these should be undertaking with the surveys for rock art in the Maloti-Drakensberg Park to judge their potential contribution to the Outstanding Universal Value. 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 synthesis of rock art sites and their natural setting in Maloti-Drakensberg Park convey a very strong sense of authenticity in setting, location and atmosphere but also material, substance and workmanship. It should be noted as a positive factor that in large parts of the property no systematic conservation or consolidation treatment has been attempted, which has left the rock art sites perhaps more fragile but with the utmost possible degree of authenticity. The sites remain closely integrated with their surrounding landscape and credibly convey the narratives of San life and activity in respect to the harsh climatic conditions of the area and necessary exploitation of natural resources and shelter. Potential influences of UV rays and weathering on the images could lead to fading of colors and reduce the clarity of image content, which in turn that could lessen their ability to display their meaning. It is important that explanatory materials assist the interpretation of the image content as understood by the San people.

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 (South Africa, Act No. 49 of 1999); National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, 2003 (South Africa, Act 57 of 2003); National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act, 2004 (South Africa, Act No 10 of 2004); KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Management Amendment Act (South Africa, No 5 of 1999); the Game Preservation Proclamation (Lesotho, No. 55 of 1951); the Historical Monuments, Relics, Fauna and Flora Act (Lesotho, No. 41 of 1967); the National Heritage Act 2011 and Environment Act (Lesotho, No. 10 of 2008); World Heritage Convention Operational Guidelines; Environment policies in Lesotho and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife policies. In terms of these legislation, all development within or outside the property is subjected to an Environmental Impact Assessment and Heritage Impact Assessments respectively, which consider 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 South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs and the Lesotho Minister of Environment and Culture who are 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 and providing the responsible cultural heritage authorities with adequate budgets for the inventory, conservation and monitoring tasks. This shall ensure that all 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 Heritage Impact Assessments are undertaken in conjunction with Environmental Impact Assessments for any proposed development affecting the setting within the property.