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Namaqua National Park

History

The park was proclaimed on 29 June 2001 for the purpose of conserving the rich diversity of succulent plants.

NNP is in the process of development, having grown to its current size of 141,000ha (including the coastal contract area between the Groen and Spoeg rivers) in nine years, thus expanding the park to include more succulent habitats and an important coastal section.

The history of establishment

Year

Event

1988

WWF-SA purchases a section of the farm Skilpad and start managing it as a wildflower reserve.

1998

SANParks take over the management of the Skilpad Wildflower Reserve and surrounding farms that had been purchased.

1999

Official opening of the Namaqua National Park.

2000

Working for Water project begins. August 2000 official start of GEF project.

2001

Construction and refurbishments of infrastructure at the Skilpad Section of the Park begins.

2002

Official proclamation of the land that now formed the Namaqua National Park.

2002

GEF social ecology projects get under way.

2002

The first RARE Environmental Education Campaign in Africa begins in the Namaqua National Park.

2003

Land consolidation reaches 72 000ha

2004

Work begins on proposed corridor to coast

2005

Land acquisitions ongoing to consolidate corridor negotiations with De Beers Namaqualand Mines ongoing

2008

Contractual inclusion of the Groen-Spoeg River section as part of Namaqua National Park


The park has one access-controlled route; the main entrance gate at the Skilpad section. The use of this gate is normally restricted to between 06h00 and 18h00. The Groen-Spoeg River section can be entered at the Groenriver where a marine SANParks official is based.

Cultural History

The cultural history of Namaqualand stretches back hundreds of thousands of years. Hand axes, presumably made by humans Homo erectus, have been found in the Namaqua NP. The San (a hunter-gatherer people) inhabited the region for thousands of years, moving seasonally after game, edible plants and water. Evidence of hunter-gatherers and herders is dotted all over Namaqualand along the Gariep River, along the coast, in caves and on the rocky outcrops. The descendants of the herder people are still living in Namaqualand today, although having lost a great deal of their original culture and traditions. During colonial times, in the 1700’s, the Europeans moved in and settled as stock farmers. Technology became part of the Namaqualand cultural landscape in the form of copper and diamond mining.

General Information

Weather

The Namaqua NP falls within the winter rainfall region of South Africa. Rainfall is associated with cold fronts in winter and is not only predictable but more reliable than other arid regions. The biological uniqueness of the Succulent Karoo Biome can be attributed to the low but reliable rainfall patterns. The average annual rainfall measured over 15 years in the Skilpad section at 700 metres above sea level is 340mm. The average at Soebatsfontein just beyond the parks south-western boundary is 140mm per annum. The Namaqualand Coastal Duneveld has a mean precipitation of below 100mm annually.

Snow on the Kamiesberg is common with the last snow recorded in 2009.

Mist is frequent during autumn and winter and the associated moistening of the soil is thought to influence annual plant germination rates. The wind in winter is usually from the east, which can turn to a cold north-westerly with the approach of a frontal system. In summer the wind is predominantly from the south or east.

Geography

The bedrock within the Namaqua NP largely comprises Quartzo-feldspathic Gneiss of the Kookfontein subgroup within the Namaqualand Metamorphic Complex. Bedrock outcrops occur on koppies or mountains as smooth rock faces or large rounded boulders typical of the Namaqualand Hardeveld. Of further geological significance is the Soubattersfontein Quartzite that occurs as low laying ridges or koppies in the south and south-western sections of the park. Wolfhoek se Berg is the highest point above sea level in the park at 948m above sea level.

Sand movement corridors are a characteristic of the coastal plain landscape and form an integral part of the ecological dynamics of the vegetation and animals that inhabit this landscape. They are regarded as important medium to large scale ecological processes that need to be explicitly considered in conservation plans. Elsewhere in South Africa sand movement corridors have been truncated or destroyed by inappropriate coastal development and stabilization by alien plants. The Namaqualand coastal plain presents the only opportunity in South Africa to conserve these ecosystems.

The park covers an altitudinal range from sea level (western boundary) to 948m on the eastern boundary. The topography is dominated by the low-lying Swartlintjies River valley in the west with its catchment in the mountains of the escarpment to the east. On the Skilpad section the Wolwepoort River drains to the northwest ultimately flowing into the Haasrivier, a tributary of the Buffelrivier. The Namaqualand coastal plain and the escarpment (Hardeveld) are both features of the area. The area between the Groen and Spoeg Rivers include a 60km stretch of coastal line and 30km inland of coastal plain sandy material of aeolian origin.

Vegetation

The Namaqualand region of South Africa falls within the Succulent Karoo biome, identified as one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots (one of three hotspots in South Africa), and is the focus of both international and national groups/organisations to conserve this globally unique living landscape i.e. the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Lesley Hill Succulant Karoo Trust, Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Conservation International (CI) with initiatives such as the SKEP and Arid Eden Project.

Fifteen bioregions are represented within the boundaries of the Namaqua NP, namely: (i) Arid Estuarine Salt Marches, (ii) Kamiesberg Mountain Scrubland, (iii) Namaqualand Arid Grassland, (iv) Namaqualand Blomveld, (v) Namaqualand Coastal Duneveld, (vi) Namaqualand Heuweltjiesveld, (vii) Namaqualand Inland Duneveld, (viii) Namaqualand Klipkoppe Scrubland, (xi) Namaqualand Rivers, (x) Namaqualand Salt Pans, (xi) Namaqualand San Fynbos, (xii) Namaqualand Seashore Vegetation, (xiii) Namaqualand Strandveld, (xiv) Riethuis Wallekraal Quartz Vygieveld, and (xv) Oograbies Plains Sandy Grassland.

The Succulent Karoo has approximately 6,356 plant species, 40% (2,542) are endemic. Namaqualand alone has about 3000 species (1,500 are endemic) made up of 648 genera and 107 families. Seventeen percent are listed as Red Data species (International Union for Conservation of Nature 1994). When compared to regions with similar semi-arid environments the richness of this biome is exceptional. Namaqualand is further distinguished from other desert regions by the presence of the following families: Mesembryanthemaceae (vygies); Iridaceae (irids); Hyacinthaceae (lachenalias) and Crassulaceae (crassulas). There is a strong pattern of dominance by succulents and bulbs.

It is estimated that the Succulent Karoo bioregion has about 16% of the worlds approximately 10,000 succulent plant species. The high level of diversity is a result of a number of factors that include:

  • occasional droughts that increase generation turnover and population fragmentation
  • soil depth, moisture and texture
  • chemical composition of the bedrock
  • animal related disturbance regimes (e.g. heuweltjies)

The Succulent Karoo has its own characteristic fauna with the dominant animals being invertebrates, specifically monkey beetles, scorpions, bee flies, bees and masarid and vespid wasps have concentrations of diversity and endemism in the Succulent Karoo Biome. There is a strong faunal relationship between the Succulent Karoo and the Fynbos and Desert biomes and it is considered a transitional region.

The floral richness of the Succulent Karoo is mirrored in its faunal diversity especially the invertebrates and reptiles although this is not the case with birds and mammals. This high species- richness has been attributed to events such as the folding of the Cape mountains and the subsequent isolation of specific habitats and the high levels of plant diversity. The high barriers between the Succulent and Nama Karoo biomes have limited faunal movements between the two even by the more mobile organisms.

Birds & Mammals

The movement of birds within the biome appears to be related to the availability of resources, both food and nesting material. Fluctuations in bird and mammal populations (especially rodents) are related to major rainfall events or changes in rainfall seasonality. Historically, mammal numbers would have fluctuated with resource availability and the activity of predators. The animals that historically occurred in the area and which are now locally extinct include elephant, black rhino, lion, cheetah, wild dog, eland, red hartebeest, gemsbok, springbok and Hartmann’s mountain zebra. Many of these species were probably not resident but would have moved through the area related to the availability of food and water resources. The largest predator in the park is the leopard (Panthera pardus).

Existing populations of small mammals still occur within the present boundaries of the Namaqua NP. They include: common duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), steenbok (Raphicerus camprestis), bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis), black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas), caracal (Caracal caracal), baboon (Papio ursinus), klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus), Cape fox (Vulpes chama), aardvark (Crycteropus cafer) and African wildcat (Felis silvestris). Seventy-three mammal species occur within the Succulent Karoo with three endemic. Of these De Winton’s golden mole (Cryptochloris wintoni) and Van Zyl’s golden mole (Cryptochloris zyli) are insectivorous and the Namaqua dune molerat (Bathyergus janetta) is herbivorous.There are, however, five species known only from the dunes of the central Namaqualand coast. Some of these species are likely to occur in the corridor and coastal section of the park.

Springbok, Red Hartebeest and Gemsbok has been reintroduced by SANParks.


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