The Soutpansberg is an east–west trending mountain range that stretches c. 130 km from 10 km west of Thohoyandou in the east to Vivo in the west. Louis Trichardt lies in the centre of the range, below its southern slopes. The mountains rise c. 700 m from the surrounding plains to form the spectacular peaks of Maditshwene (1 606 m a.s.l.) and Letjume (1 747 m a.s.l.) in the west and Entabeni (1 449 m a.s.l.) in the east. To the north, the plains drop into the Lowveld of the Limpopo Valley. The Soutpansberg is made up of an ancient sequence of sedimentary rocks and basaltic lavas that have been strongly faulted and displaced along east–west trending fractures, giving rise to the characteristic series of ridges and troughs that make up most of the range.
The mountains hold the catchments of several important Limpopo Province rivers, including the Sand, Mutamba, Nzhelele, Nwanedzi, Mutale and Luvuvhu. All of these flow north into the province's most important river, the Limpopo. Rainfall is highly variable, ranging up to an average of 1 860 mm p.a. for Entabeni, which is one of the highest annual rainfalls recorded in South Africa. Average annual rainfall decreases both farther west and on the north-facing rain-shadow slopes, where Langjan receives only 400 mm p.a.
Patches of high-altitude Afromontane forest are found in valleys and moist basins, especially on the Soutpansberg's south-facing slopes. Trees can be up to 30–40 m tall and distinct strata of emergent, canopy, shrub and ground layers are present.
The Soutpansberg supports one colony of Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres. The thick forest vegetation in the valleys and basins holds Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus, Forest Buzzard Buteo trizonatus, Knysna Turaco Tauraco corythaix, Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa, Narina Trogon Apaloderma narina, Grey Cuckooshrike Coracina caesia, Olive Bush-Shrike Chlorophoneus olivaceus, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike C. nigrifrons, Green Twinspot Mandingoa nitidula and Forest Canary Crithagra scotops. The bushveld on the slopes supports Gorgeous Bush-Shrike Chlorophoneus viridis, White-throated Robin-Chat Cossypha humeralis and Burnt-necked Eremomela Eremomela usticollis.
The grasslands at the summit of the Soutpansberg hold protea woodland suitable for Gurney's Sugarbird Promerops gurneyi. In the rivers that flow from the catchment area towards the Lowveld there are small populations of African Finfoot Podica senegalensis and White-backed Night Heron Gorsachius leuconotus. African Broadbill Smithornis capensis breeds in the natural forests.
Cape Vulture (300 individuals and 147 breeding pairs) and Crowned Eagle are the globally threatened species in this IBA. Regionally threatened species are Black Stork Ciconia nigra and Orange Ground Thrush Zoothera gurneyi. Common biome-restricted and restricted-range species are Knysna Turaco, Gurney's Sugarbird, White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata, White-throated Robin-Chat, Chorister Robin-Chat, Kurrichane Thrush Turdus libonyanus, Barred Wren-Warbler Calamonastes fasciolatus, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, White-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris talatala and Swee Waxbill Coccopygia melanotis. Uncommon species in these categories are Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus ruficapilla, Forest Canary, Orange Ground Thrush, Kalahari Scrub Robin Erythropygia paena and Barratt's Warbler Bradypterus barratti.
The stapeliads Huernia nouhuysii, Stapelia clavicorona and Orbeanthus conjunctus are rare and endemic to these mountains. Other spectacular endemics restricted to the Soutpansberg include Aloe angelica, A. soutpansbergensis, Kalanchoe crundallii and Euphorbia soutpansbergensis. Modjadji cycad Encephalartos transvenosus, which is endemic to the Soutpansberg and northern Drakensberg escarpment, is known from near the IBA's border. Also endemic to the Soutpansberg are Soutpansberg rock lizard Australolacerta rupicola and a subspecies of the range-restricted Transvaal rain frog, Breviceps sylvestris taeniatus, which may be a valid species.
Warren's girdled lizard Cordylus warreni and spotted dwarf gecko Lygodactylus ocellatus are endemic to the Soutpansberg and Mpumalanga/Swaziland escarpment zone and occur in rocky montane grassland areas. Lang's round-headed worm lizard Chirindia langi may be found at the base of the mountain on sandy Kalahari soils. The southern African endemic giant legless skink Acontias plumbeus may occur in the Soutpansberg forests and there is an isolated population of Van Dam's girdled lizard Cordylus vandami in the vicinity of the IBA.
Dwarf flat lizard Platysaurus guttatus, relict flat lizard P. relictus and black-spotted dwarf gecko Lygodactylus nigropuncatus have global ranges restricted to the Soutpansberg and nearby Waterberg (IBA SA007), although the gecko also occurs patchily elsewhere in central Limpopo Province. Cregoi's blind legless skink Typhlosaurus cregoi is a southern African endemic common on the Soutpansberg, and Lowveld flat gecko Afroedura langi has also been recorded here. Threatened mammals include pangolin Manis temminckii.
Commercial timber is grown extensively in the eastern section of the massif, although no new plantations have been established recently. Parts of the range are also used for subtropical fruit farming, mainly avocados, mangoes, nuts and citrus.
A number of power lines occur in the IBA that could impact on its trigger species. No collision and electrocution data are available. Of concern is the proposed construction of the Borutho to Nzhelele power line, which will run between the Blouberg (SA004) and Soutpansberg IBAs. It is possible that this line could affect vultures moving between the colonies in these two sites. A large number of mining applications have been submitted for an area to the north and bordering the IBA. There is a concern that, if approved, these developments could have a negative impact on it.
The eastern section of the Soutpansberg holds various forest reserves, including the Timbadola, Klein Australië, Goedehoop and Roodewal, as well as Entabeni and Hanglip State forests, and the private Buzzard Mountain Retreat, which lies 20 km west of Louis Trichardt. Most of these protected areas are partly afforested and partly indigenous. There are two small formal nature reserves and the rest of the land is privately owned. The IBA falls within the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve.
Vhembe Biosphere Reserve: http://www.vhembebiosphere.org/
Benson PC, Tarboton WR, Allan DG, Dobbs JC. 1990. The breeding status of the Cape Vulture in the Transvaal during 1980–1985. Ostrich 61: 134–142.
Carr RD. 1990. Lesser known mammals. Fauna and Flora 47: 12–22.
Clinning CF, Fourie SP. 1990. A botanical treasurehouse. Fauna and Flora 47: 7–11.
Coetzee BJ, Van Wyk P, Gertenbach WPD, Hall-Martin A, Joubert SCJ. 1981. ’n Plantekologiese verkenning van die Waterberggebied in die Noord-Transvaal bosveld. Koedoe 24: 1–23.
Jacobsen NGH. 1990. The herpetofauna and other creatures. Fauna and Flora 47: 22–26.
Tarboton WR. 1990. The Soutpansberg. Fauna and Flora 47: 1–7.
Tarboton WR, Allan DG. 1984. The status and conservation of birds of prey in the Transvaal. Transvaal Museum Monograph 3.