South Africa has a wide range of climatic conditions and
many variations in topography, such as a narrow coastal
plain, a steep escarpment and a large plateau.
The country is rich in diverse species. Though it has a land
surface area of 1,2 million km2 – representing just 2% of the
Earth's total land surface – South Africa contains almost 10%
of the world's total known bird, fish and plant species, and
over 6% of the world's mammal and reptile species.
The vision of the Department of Environmental Affairs is to create a prosperous and equitable society living in harmony with the environment.
Government leads protection of the environment by example. At regional level, the provincial conservation agencies are major role players, and independent statutory organisations such as South African National Parks(SANParks) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) are valuable partners in the country's total conservation effort.
South Africa has taken several concrete steps to implement the United Nations' Agenda 21 on Sustainable Development. These include reforming environmental policies, ratifying international agreements and participating in many global and regional sustainable-development initiatives.
South Africa became a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol on
Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable
Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation to the Convention on Biological Diversity on 11 May 2011. South
Africa is the third-most biologically diverse country in the
world, after Indonesia and Brazil. These countries harbour
most of the Earth's species and collectively contain more
than two thirds of global biodiversity. Therefore, South Africa
attaches great importance to the Nagoya Protocol.
South Africa occupies only 2% of the world's surface area
but is home to nearly 10% of the world's plants (approximately
24 000 species), around 7% of the world's vertebrate
species and 5,5% of the world's known insect species (only
about half of the latter have been described).
In terms of the number of endemic species of mammals,
birds, reptiles and amphibians, South Africa ranks as the fifth richest
country in Africa and the 24th-richest in the world.
Marine biological diversity is also high. Over 11 000
species are found in South African waters, which is about
15% of global species, with more than 25% of these marine
species (or 3 496 species) being endemic to South Africa. A
high proportion are threatened, especially in river ecosystems
(82%) and estuaries (77%).
Three internationally recognised biodiversity hotspots are
found in South Africa: the Cape Floral Kingdom (equivalent
to the Fynbos Biome), Succulent Karoo Biome (shared with
Namibia) and the Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany Centre of
Plant Endemism, which stretches from the Albany Centre in
the Eastern Cape, through the Pondoland Centre of Plant
Endemism and KwaZulu-Natal, the eastern side of Swaziland
and into southern Mozambique and Mpumalanga. The
Succulent Karoo Biome is one of only two arid biodiversity
hotspots in the world, the other being the Horn of Africa.
Biodiversity is protected and promoted through institutions and initiatives such as the:
There are eight major terrestrial biomes, or habitat types, in South Africa. These biomes can, in turn, be divided into 70 veld types.
The biomes are the Savanna, Nama-Karoo, Succulent Karoo, Grassland, Fynbos, Forest, Thicket and Desert. The Fynbos Biome is one of only six floral kingdoms worldwide.
By mid-2011, South Africa had 528 protected areas, ofwhich
20 were marine, totalling 7,5 million ha or 6,2% of the land area.
South Africa aims to expand the conservation areas under
formal protection to the international standard of 10% of the
total area of the country. The Department of Environmental
Affairs has developed mechanisms for the establishment and
expansion of protected areas.
These are sensitive, undisturbed areas managed for research, monitoring and maintenance of genetic sources. Access is limited. Examples are Marion Island and the Prince Edward islands near Antarctica.
These areas are extensive in size, uninhabited, and underdeveloped, and access to them is strictly controlled. Examples are the Cederberg Wilderness Area and Dassen Island in the Western Cape.
National parks and equivalent reserves
SANParks manages a system of parks which represents the indigenous fauna, flora, landscapes and associated cultural heritage of the country. Of all the national parks, most have overnight tourist facilities, with an unrivalled variety of accommodation in arid, coastal, mountain and bushveld habitats.
National parks offer visitors an unparalleled diversity of
adventure-tourism opportunities, including game viewing,
bush walks, canoeing and exposure to cultural and historical
experiences. Conferences can also be organised in many of
South Africa has the following national parks:
Between 2007/08 and 2010/11, SANParks acquired
147 040 ha of land. Despite the global economic downturn,
average occupancy grew by 7,5% (from 56,2% to 58%).
South Africa is in the process of establishing transfrontier
conservation areas (TFCAs) in cooperation with its
The conservation status of the areas within these TFCAs
varies from national parks, private game reserves and
communal natural-resource management areas to hunting
concession areas. Though fences, highways, railway lines
or other barriers separate the constituent areas, they are
managed jointly for long-term sustainable use of natural
TFCAs aim to facilitate and promote regional peace,
and socio-economic development. The success
of TFCAs depends on community involvement. In turn,
TFCAs are likely to provide local communities with opportunities
to generate revenue.
TFCAs allow tourists easy movement across international
boundaries into adjoining conservation areas.
The seven TFCAs are as follows:
The National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Amendment Act, 2004 (Act 8 of 2004) [PDF] protects South Africa’s biosphere reserves, which are generally formed around existing core conservation areas.
Biosphere reserves include outstanding natural beauty and biological diversity, exist in partnership with a range of interested landowners and can incorporate development, as long as it is sustainable, while still protecting terrestrial or coastal ecosystems.
South Africa added a sixth biosphere reserve to its register when the Vhembe region of Limpopo became one of 22 newly proclaimed reserves by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
The new biospheres, located
in 17 countries, were added to Unesco's World Network of
Biosphere Reserves during the 21st session of the International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme. By June 2012, the total stood at 580 sites in
The other biosphere reserves are:
The Gouritz Cluster has been nominated for incorporation
into the World Network of Biosphere Reserves as South
Africa's seventh biosphere reserve.
National and cultural monuments
These are natural or cultural features, or both, and may include botanical gardens, zoological gardens, natural heritage sites and sites of conservation significance.
World heritage sites
By June 2012, the World Heritage List included 936 properties
forming part of the cultural and natural heritage. These included
725 cultural, 183 natural and 28 mixed properties in 153 state
parties. By March 2012, 189 state parties had ratified the World
South Africa has eight world heritage sites proclaimed by
Habitat and wildlife management areas
These areas include conservancies; provincial, regional or private reserves created for the conservation of species, habitats or biotic communities; marshes; lakes; and nesting and feeding areas.
These areas emphasise the sustainable use of products in protected areas such as the Kosi Bay Lake System in KwaZulu-Natal.
Wetlands include a wide range of inland and coastal habitats – from mountain bogs, fens and midland marshes to swamp forests and estuaries, linked by green corridors of streambank wetlands.
By 2011, about 115 000 wetlands, covering over four million
ha and comprising close to 4% of the country's total
surface area, had been mapped in South Africa.
The Working for Wetlands Programme focuses on wetland restoration, while maximising employment creation, support for small, medium and micro-enterprises and skills transfer.
Many wetland plants have medicinal value. In South Africa, traditional medicine is the preferred primary healthcare choice for about 70% of the people. Wetlands provide some of the 19 500 tons of medicinal plant material, which are used by some 28 million South Africans every year.
Sanbi manages the Working for Wetlands Programme, with its offices based at the Pretoria National Botanical Garden.
In 2011/12, the Working for Wetlands Programme rehabilitated
427 wetlands and created some 10 000 short-term
work opportunities for people from vulnerable and marginalised
The South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi) manages eight national botanical gardens in five of South Africa’s nine provinces. The gardens collectively attract over 1,25 million visitors a year, are signatories to the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation and founding members of the African Botanic Gardens Network.
The largest garden is Kirstenbosch, situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town. There are more than
7 000 species in cultivation at Kistenbosch, including many
rare and threatened spies.
The other gardens in the national network are the:
The Pretoria National Botanical Garden houses the National Herbarium of South Africa, the largest in the southern hemisphere.
There are a number of zoological gardens in South Africa. The 85-ha National Zoological Gardens (NZG) of South Africa in Pretoria is one of the world’s 10 best. It attracts more than 600 000 visitors annually. The national zoo is responsible for the biodiversity conservation centres in Lichtenburg and Mokopane, and the satellite zoo and animal park at the Emerald Animal World complex in Vanderbijlpark.
The NZG is a national research facility, which presents an
opportunity for the zoo to reposition itself as one of the world
leaders in breeding and researching endangered species.
The NZG in Pretoria as well as the two biodiversity conservation centres and the Emerald Animal World Complex collectively houses 3 117 specimens of 209 mammal species, 1 358 specimens of 202 bird species, 3 871 specimens of 190 fish species, 388 specimens of four invertebrate species, 309 specimens of 93 reptile species and 44 specimens of seven amphibian species. The total length of walkways in the zoo is about 6 km.
Marine protected areas
MPAs conserve natural environments and assist in the
management of fisheries by protecting and rebuilding
economically important stocks. They are also used to develop
and regulate coastal ecotourism opportunities.
Government shares joint responsibility for South Africa's
MPAs with SANParks and Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.
South Africa's MPAs include the:
- Aliwal Shoal MPA, KwaZulu-Natal
- Betty's Bay MPA, Western Cape
- Bird Island MPA, Eastern Cape
- De Hoop MPA, Western Cape
- Dwesa-Cwebe MPA, Eastern Cape
- Goukamma MPA, Western Cape
- False Bay MPA, Western Cape
- Hluleka MPA, Eastern Cape
- Robberg MPA, Western Cape
- Sardinia Bay MPA, Eastern Cape
- Stilbaai MPA, Western Cape
- Table Mountain MPA, Western Cape
- Trafalgar MPA, KwaZulu-Natal
- Tsitsikamma MPA, Western Cape
- iSimangaliso MPA, KwaZulu-Natal
- Langebaan Lagoon, Sixteen Mile Beach, Malgas Island,
- Marcus Island, Jutten Island MPA, Western Cape
- Pondoland MPA, Eastern Cape.
In September 2011, the Amathole MPA was announced. It is an important addition to South Africa's network of coastal
MPAs. It comprises three separate marine areas, namely the Gxulu, Gonubie and Kei areas. It will provide formal
and long-term protection to the inshore marine habitat and
biodiversity of the Eastern Cape.