Mattheus-Gat Conservation Area

General Information


Global IBA (A1, A3)


Northern Cape




67 970 ha



Additional Info

  • Site description

    This IBA is situated 5 km east of Pofadder. The colourful, arid landscape consists of extensive sandy and gravel plains covered with sparse, perennial desert grassland. A red dune system runs through the centre of the IBA, orientated from north-west to south-east. Small quartzite hills and gneiss-granitic inselbergs form islands of rocky habitat in a sea of red sand. The dry riverbeds support taller woody vegetation, including smelly shepherd's tree Boscia foetida and Euclea species.

    This IBA falls within the Bushmanland Bioregion. The Desert Biome and Nama Karoo Biome are the two major biomes represented in it; a third is the Succulent Karoo Biome, at its north-easternmost extent. Five vegetation types – Eastern Gariep Rocky Desert, Eastern Gariep Plains Desert, Bushmanland Arid Grassland, Bushmanland Sandy Grassland and Aggeneys Gravel Vygieveld – are represented, and the ecosystem status for most of the area is Least Threatened.

    It appears that the land use of most of this IBA is sheep and goat ranching. Fairly large sections are being overutilised and are currently degraded and even denuded in patches. Many dunes and valleys are dominated by black thorn Vachellia (formerly Acacia) mellifera subsp. detinens, the bushman grass Stipagrostis namaquensis and gha grass Centropodia glauca, and the vegetation cover is very low in these areas. Approximately 95% of the land is natural and utilised for ranching; less than 5% is transformed due to mining activities, settlements, solar facilities, erosion, roads, power-line servitudes and an Eskom substation.


    This IBA is one of a few sites protecting both the globally threatened Red Lark Certhilauda burra, which inhabits the red sand dunes and sandy plains with a mixed grassy dwarf shrub cover, and the near-threatened Sclater's Lark Spizocorys sclateri, which occurs erratically on gravel plains. The site potentially supports 16 of the 23 Namib-Karoo biome-restricted assemblage species and a host of other arid-zone birds. It is seasonally important for nomadic larks, such as Stark's Lark S. starki, and sparrow-larks, which are abundant after good rains.

    The number of known species for this IBA is 142. At the time of its assessment, the IBA had been poorly atlased for SABAP2. Whereas 16 lark species were recorded during SABAP1, only seven have been recorded to date during SABAP2. It appears that the Red Lark population has declined in this IBA.

    Besides the trigger species, Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius, Verreauxs' Eagle Aquila verreauxii, Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus, Black-chested Snake Eagle Circaetus pectoralis, Cape Eagle-Owl Bubo capensis and Spotted Eagle-Owl B. africanus are present.

    IBA trigger species

    Globally threatened species are Red Lark, Sclater's Lark, Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori, Ludwig's Bustard Neotis ludwigii and Black Harrier Circus maurus, and Karoo Korhaan Eupodotis vigorsii is regionally threatened. Biome-restricted species include Stark's Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark Certhilauda subcoronata, Black-eared Sparrow-lark Eremopterix australis, Tractrac Chat Cercomela tractrac, Sickle-winged Chat C. sinuata, Karoo Chat C. schlegelii, Layard's Tit-Babbler Sylvia layardi, Karoo Eremomela Eremomela gregalis, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler Euryptila subcinnamomea, Namaqua Warbler Phragmacia substriata, Sociable Weaver Philetairus socius, Pale-winged Starling Onychognathus nabouroup and Black-headed Canary Serinus alario.

    Other biodiversity

    The Aggeneys Gravel Vygieveld is home to habitat-specific succulent plants, many of which are endemic and rare in the landscape.

    Conservation issues


    Mattheus Gat 2 TAndersonThere is a history of overstocking and the resultant degradation of habitat within this IBA. This is a result of many ranchers in the region making a living on properties that are economically unviable, and therefore the land has been overexploited. There has been a c. 75% loss of optimal habitat for the Red Lark over the past 100 years. The disappearance of this species from ranches where dune grassland has been replaced by ephemerals is probably linked to the reduction in grass awns for nesting, shelter and invertebrate and plant foods. In recent years, there has been a shift from cattle ranching on many farms in the region to sheep and goat ranching. However, overstocking and overgrazing is a continuing threat in large parts of this IBA. Some landowners in the region are managing their ranches for long-term sustainability and their veld condition is fairly good.

    Renewable energy developments are a new threat to the IBA. One solar energy facility already exists and another is being built over three phases on the eastern boundary. Little is known about the impacts of solar farms on the IBA's trigger species. Possible impacts on birds are loss of habitat, breeding disturbance during construction and collisions with power lines and the reflective solar panels. Concentrated solar plants with power towers may also result in solar flux injuries to birds. Large trigger species such as Ludwig's Bustard and Kori Bustard, as well as Verreauxs' Eagle and other raptors, are moderately susceptible to solar farm impacts.

    There is a serious threat from climate change. It is predicted that temperatures will increase and rainfall decrease sharply in arid areas such as Bushmanland. Locally resident endemic larks, in particular, are at risk. Increased CO2 can lead to the increase of C3 plants (shrubs) at the expense of C4 plants (mainly grasses), causing a shift in vegetation diversity and structure and making habitat unsuitable for some bird species. It is expected that the restricted-range, habitat-specific Red Lark will not meet the challenge of global warming.

    Droughts are predicted to become more severe due to climate change, and birds will have to cope with more food variability, unsuitable habitats, different predators, parasites/diseases and competition. Large, mainly resident birds that have slow reproductive rates and extended parental care and are dependent on rainfall are the species that are vulnerable to climate change. This includes territorial eagles, such as Verreauxs' Eagle and Martial Eagle.

    Other significant threats are the potential expansion of mining, the further invasion of the alien mesquite Prosopis species along the dry riverbeds (which reduces habitat area and quality), and new power lines and transmission lines from solar energy facilities to substations. The lack of monitoring, formal protection and a management plan for this IBA is cause for concern.

    Conservation action

    Currently no part of the IBA is formally conserved, and there are no statutory protected areas in the Khai-Ma local municipality. The IBA overlaps with parts of the National Protected Areas Expansion Strategy in this region. The Bushmanland Protected Area Development Zone, including this IBA, has been identified as a priority area for protection. No other conservation actions have been implemented.

    There are medium-term plans to declare a large Protected Environment, namely the Bushmanland Conservation Area, which will include this IBA. African Parks has been working on plans to establish this area through land purchase, proactive stewardship and biodiversity offsets since 2013. Future considerations for conservation action include linkages to the Haramoep and Black Mountain Mine Nature Reserve (SA035) and Bitterputs Conservation Area (SA036) IBAs.

    Related webpages



    If you have any information about the IBA, such as a new threat that could impact on it, please send an e-mail to or call BirdLife South Africa +27 (11) 789 1122.

    Page last updated

    Monday, 09 February 2015

    Further Reading

    Barnes K (ed.). 1998. The Important Bird Areas of southern Africa. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.

    BGIS online. 2014. Biodiversity GIS, SANBI. Available at [accessed September 2014].

    BirdLife International. 2014. Species factsheet:Certhilauda burra. Available at [accessed September 2014].

    BirdLife International and Durham University. 2014. Species climate change impacts factsheet: Certhilauda burra. Available at [accessed September 2014].

    DEA. 2014. Renewable Energy EIA Application Database. Available at [accessed 5 October 2014].

    Dean WRJ. 1989. The nest, egg and nestlings of the Red Lark Certhilauda burra. Ostrich 60: 158.

    Dean WRJ. 1993. The Red Lark in the Greenhouse world. African Wildlife 47(5): 211–214.

    Dean WRJ. 1995. Where birds are rare or fill the air: The protection of the endemic and nomadic avifaunas of the Karoo. PhD thesis. Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

    Dean WRJ. 1997. The distribution and biology of nomadic birds in the Karoo, South Africa. Journal of Biogeography 24: 769–779.

    Dean WRJ, Barnard P, Anderson MD. 2009. When to stay and when to go: trade-offs for southern African arid-zone birds in times of drought. South African Journal of Science 105: 24–28.

    Dean WRJ, Hockey PAR. 1989. An ecological perspective of lark (Alaudidae) distribution and diversity in the southwest arid zone of Africa. Ostrich 60: 27–34.

    Dean WRJ, Lombard AT. 1994. The protection of nomadic birds in the semi-arid Karoo: the problems of stochastic rainfall and patchy habitat use by larks. Journal für Ornithologie 135: 281.

    Dean WRJ, Milton SJ, Watkeys MK, Hockey PAR. 1991. Distribution, habitat preference and conservation status of the Red Lark Certhilauda burra in Cape Province, South Africa. Biological Conservation 58: 257–274.

    Dean WRJ, Siegfried WR. 1997. The protection of endemic and nomadic avian diversity in the Karoo, South Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 27: 11– 21.

    Dean WRJ, Williams JB. 2004. Adaptations of birds for life in deserts with particular reference to Larks (Alaudidae). Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 59(2): 79–91.

    Du Plessis MA. 1992. A strategic plan for the conservation of the avifauna of the Western Cape region, South Africa. A report to the Southern African Nature Foundation. Cape Town: Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.

    Githaiga-Mwicigi JMW, Fairbanks DHK, Midgley G. 2002. Hierarchical processes define spatial pattern of avian assemblages restricted and endemic to the arid Karoo, South Africa. Journal of Biogeography 29: 1067–1087.

    Hole DG, Willis SG, Pain DJ, Fishpool LD, Butchart SHM, Collingham YC, Rahbek C, Huntley B. 2009. Projected impacts of climate change on a continental-wide protected area network. Ecology Letters 12: 420– 431.

    Jenkins AR, Shaw JM, Smallie JJ, Gibbons B, Visagie R, Ryan PG. 2011. Estimating the impacts of power line collisions on Ludwig’s Bustards Neotis ludwigii. Bird Conservation International 21: 303–310.

    Lloyd P. 1999. Rainfall as a stimulus to breeding and a determinant of clutch size in arid-zone birds. Ibis 141: 637–643.

    Midgley G, Rutherford M, Bond W. 2001. The heat is on… Impacts of climate change on plant diversity in South Africa. Cape Town: National Botanical Institute.

    Milton SJ, Dean WRJ. 2000. Disturbance, drought and dynamics of desert dune grassland, South Africa. Plant Ecology 150: 37–51.

    Namakwa District Biodiversity Sector Plan. 2008. Department of Tourism, Environment and Conservation Northern Cape, Conservation International SA & Botanical Society of SA.

    Simmons RE, Barnard P, Dean WRJ, Midgley GF, Thuiller W, Hughes G. 2004. Climate change and birds: perspectives and prospects from southern Africa. Ostrich 75(4): 295–308.

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