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Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, South Africa

The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is situated in the Bushveld district in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The Waterberg, as the name implies, serves as a water reservoir for this arid region. The area consists of low mountain ranges and escarpments with poor soils and a relatively low level of economic activity. The vegetation is dominated by different veld types characteristic of mountainous savannah areas which creates a rich biodiversity with more than 5,500 species of plants.

The area has been inhabited over hundreds of thousand of years and is one of the most important San rock art areas in South Africa. Tourism is the major source of income, however people also practise cattle raising and crop production, and are increasingly switching from game-farming to eco-tourism.

Designation date: 2001


Regional network:  AfriMAB

Ecosystem-based network: 




    Surface : 654,033 ha

    • Core area(s): 104,179 ha
    • Buffer zone(s): 185,517 ha
    • Transition zone(s): 364,336 ha

    Location: 23°55’S – 28°05’E

    Administrative Authorities

    Waterberg  Biosphere Reserve 
    PO BOX 907
    Vaalwater, 0530
    South Africa

    Tel.: +27 (0)14 755 4002


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    Ecological Characteristics

    The Waterberg Mountain Range is one of three major mountain ranges in the Limpopo Province. There are four main drainage rivers within the area: the Lephalala, Mokolo, Matlabas and the Mogalakwena. These rivers, together with numerous lesser rivers and streams, constitute a major water catchment area for the Limpopo basin.

    The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve represents a considerable area of the savannah biome of Southern Africa. The savannah biome, or wooded grasslands, has a rich biodiversity with more than 5,500 species of plants, 43% of which are endemic to Southern Africa. The area is characterized by seven different vegetation types: Central Sandy Bushveld, Limpopo Sweet Bushveld, Makhado Sweet Bushveld, Roodeberg Bushveld, Waterberg Mountain Bushveld, Waterberg-Magalies Summit Sourveld and Western Sandy Bushveld.

    At least 18 threatened or scarce plants species, 11 bird species, 4 reptile species, 4 species of fish, one butterfly species and 18 mammals occur in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve. All are deemed of the utmost importance for biodiversity conservation. Red Data List species include the white-backed night-heron (Gorsachius leuconotus), the Cape vulture (Gyps coprotheres), the aardvark (Orycteropus afer), the brown hyaena (Parahyaena brunnea) and the critically endangered black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis).

    The Nylsvley Nature Reserve in the south-east of the reserve is a recognized wetland and registered Ramsar site.

    Socio-Economic Characteristics

    The 26 rural villages that fall within the proposed transition zone and the western district of the province are inhabited by an average of 1,800 people per village. Other farms and towns, such as Vaalwater, which also fall within the transition zone, number approximately 30,000 people. The communities consist mainly of white farmers and black rural communities, the majority of which are Pedi-speaking people.

    Tourism and hunting are major activities in the buffer zone and range from basic self-catering to luxury tourism. Hunting is carried out by local (South African) hunters and international hunters from different countries. This zone also includes an environmental education centre and some cattle farming.


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    Last updated: March 2019