Waterberg biosphere reserve



General description

Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is situated within the Waterberg district in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The Waterberg, as the name implies, serves as a water reservoir for this arid region.  There are four main river catchment areas which provide water to an area of over 40,000km2. It is an area consisting 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, the two dominant forms being sour Bushveld and mixed Bushveld which are typical savanna vegetation types, as well as the Waterberg Moist Mountain Bushveld.  In the South central and highest parts of the Waterberg is the North-Eastern Mountain Sourveld which is one of the most threatened veld types in Limpopo.  The Waterberg has unique rock formations, a result of the steep terrain, sandstone base rock and high rainfall in some areas.

The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve represents a considerable area of savanna biome of Southern Africa and contains a high level of biological diversity including many Red Data and orange listed species of conservation concern, and many endemic species.  Habitats are sufficiently represented to ensure that the current high biodiversity is maintained.  The low human density ensures large areas of unspoiled wilderness and open spaces are a main characteristic of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve.

Some 80,000 people live in the biosphere reserve (2010), which covers an area of about 650,000 hectares. The area has been inhabited over hundreds of thousand 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 practice cattle farming, crop production and are increasingly switching over to game farming for eco-tourism.

The biosphere reserve concept helps a balance to be struck between the pressures of the tourist industry, the need to generate direct benefits to the local communities and the conservation of the natural assets. Attaining this balance is the goal of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve Committee which was set up after a five year consultation process with all stakeholders concerned. A series of technical action plans have been elaborated among which also environmental education programmes play an important role, led by the Lapalala Wilderness School.

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Major ecosystem type

Tropical grasslands and savannas

Major habitats and land cover types 

  • Tree and plant identification
  • Rock art
  • Cultural, history and archaeological studies
  • Socio-economic studies
  • Studies on the local skills, capacity and training needs in the rural communities within the biosphere reserve, where micro-enterprises need to be developed within the rural tourism industry (planned)
  • Bi-annual game census
  • Carrying capacity studies
  • Butterfly surveys
  • Bird and fish studies
  • Roan antelope, leopard and black rhinoceros
  • Stingless bees
  • Insect studies
  • Sustainable utilization of natural resources monitored by the manager of the provincial nature reserves

Sour Bushveld characterized by Transvaal Beech (Faurea saligna), Common Hookthorn (Acacia caffra), Wild Seringa (Burkea africana), Sliver Cluster-leaf(Terminalia sericea) and African Wattle(Peltophorum africanum) on the deep sandy areas; steep slopes and cliffs and bare rock with trees including the same tree species as mentioned above and with Paperbark false-thorn (Albizia tanganyicensis) and Velvet bushwillow (Combretum molle); river-bank and freshwater habitats including wetlands, characterized by Transvaal red milkwood (Mimusops zeyheri),Tinderwood(Clerodendrum glabrum), and Common Wild Fig(Ficus thonningii). Human modified land types includes, cattle farms, irrigated fields for tobacco and citrus cultivation and other crops as well as small scale human settlements and villages.

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23°10' to -24°40'S; 27°30' to -28°40'E

Area (hectares)

Total: 654,033
Core area(s): 104,179
Buffer zone(s): 185,517
Transition area(s) when given: 364,336

Altitude (metres above sea level)

+830 to +2,085

Year designated


Administrative authorities

The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve Committee, The provincial Department of Land, Agriculture and Environment who coordinates the Provincial MAB Programme

Research and monitoring

Brief description

  • Monitoring of precipitation
  • Weather information
  • Research on the Lapalala and Mokolo Rivers
  • Annual or bi-annual grass monitoring


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Specific variables


Meteorology, monitoring/methodologies.


Birds, fishes, freshwater/inland water, invertebrates/insects/spiders, methodologies, natural resources, plants, vegetation studies/plant cover, wildlife.


Archaeology/Paleontology, capacity building, cultural aspects, small business initiatives, social/socio-economic aspects, wildlife-based tourism, hunting tourism and community tourism

Integrated monitoring:

Carrying capacity/Sustainability, monitoring/methodologies, rural systems, sustainable development/sustainable use.

Contacts details

Contact address

209 Corner Sandrift Road and Waterberg Street

E-mail: info@waterbergbiosphere.com
Office: +27 78 796 0699
Mobile: +27 71 160 6446

Contact person(s)

WBR Coordinator Letticia Motshegoa
E-mail: waterbergbr@gmail.com 

WBR Chairman Lesiba Masibe 
E-mail: waterbergalive@gmail.com and comms@waterbergbiosphere.com 

website: https://waterbergbiosphere.com/ 


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