Protecting South Africa’s ‘Megadiversity’

(Photo credit: Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

South Africa is home to a staggering list of plant and animal species. (Photo credit: Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

South Africa is one of 17 countries described as being “megadiverse” by Conservation International, a nonprofit environmental organization. The country is home to megafauna such as wildebeest, elephants, great white sharks, zebras, lions, and leopards. The country contains 10 percent of the world’s plant species and 15 percent of the world’s marine species. South Africa also has a rich population of endemic species–that is, species that only exist within its borders. Fifty-six percent of its amphibians, 65 percent of its plants, and 70 percent of its invertebrates are found only within South Africa and nowhere else.

Over 5 percent of South Africa’s territorial land is protected within national parks, nature reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries. Perhaps the most famous of these protected lands is Kruger National Park.

The area was first set aside in 1884 as Sabie Game Reserve by Paul Kruger, then-president of the Transvaal Republic. Four years later it was renamed Kruger National Park in his honor. The park is nearly 2 million hectares in size.

Kruger National Park is well-known if its incredible biodiversity–it is home to 336 trees species, 49 fish species, 34 amphibian species, 114 reptile species, 507 bird species, and 147 mammal species. Among the mammal species are the “Big Five”: elephant, black rhinoceros, white rhinoceros, leopard, lion, and Cape buffalo. Though these mammals got their “Big Five” moniker as the top five most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa, today the terminology is used to refer to the five animals most visitors are most-excited to view.

The park is also home to a number of important archeological sites. Both the Thulamela and Masorini sites date back to the late Iron Age (1200-550 BCE). Thulamela was inhabited by the BaPhalaborwa people until the late 1800s when they were forced to relocate following the establishment of the park.

National parks and wildlife sanctuaries are an important part of South Africa’s environmental program to protect endangered species. These parks draw in visitors from around the world and ecotourists help to pour R62 billion South African rand ($8.4 billion USD) into the country’s economy each year.

More to Explore
Kruger National Park
Cultural Heritage Sites in Kruger National Park
Conservation South Africa

Country: South Africa

Location: South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa.

Area: 1,219,090 sq km (land and water) (slightly smaller than double the size of Texas)

Climate: South Africa is mostly semiarid with a subtropical climate along the eastern coast.

Terrain: The terrain of South Africa includes a large interior plateau surrounded by rugged hills and a narrow coastal plain.

Natural Resources: Antimony, coal, chromium, copper, gem diamonds, gold, iron ore, manganese, natural gas, nickel, platinum, phosphates, rare earth elements, salt, tin, uranium, vanadium

Economics: $595.7 billion (est. 2013)

Environmental Issues: Freshwater availability, agricultural pollution of waterways, air pollution, soil erosion, desertification

Source: CIA – The World Factbook (

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