The Succulent Karoo of South Africa and Namibia boasts the richest succulent flora on earth, as well as remarkable endemism in plants, with 69 percent as endemics. Reptiles also show relatively high levels of endemism in the region. It is also one of only two entirely arid ecosystems to earn hotspot status, and is home to the mysterious tree-like succulent, the halfmens, as well as many unique species of lizards, tortoises and scorpions.
THE SUCCULENT KAROO hotspot is located along the Atlantic coast of Africa and stretched from southwestern South Africa into southern Namibia. It covers over 102,000 square kilometers. It consists mainly from winter rainfall desert. There are two regions: Namaqualand with a winter rainfall desert and mill climate and the Southern Karoo with extreme climate variations. The Succulent Karoo is notable for the world’s richest flora of succulent plants, and harbors about one-third of the world’s approximately 10,000 succulent species. There are about 1,700 species of leaf succulents, and this dominance is unique among the world’s deserts.
UNIQUE and THREATENED BIODIVERSITY
Succulent Karoo has a high plant endemism, with 6,350 vascular plant species including the the halfmens. The halfmens is also known as “Half Human”. It is a stem that can grow up to four meters tall. They face the north giving the appearance of people looking in one direction. Amongst the many species of concern in Africa are the Barlow’s lark, and the armadillo girdled lizard. The Barlows lark is approximately 18 cm in length, and has a brown head and back. This bird is restricted to a small area, and is there by affected by destruction or disruption. The lizard is armored like an armadillo, has a spiny tail, and is known for rolling into a ball for protection. Because this lizard is slow moving it is a target, and is easily affected by the destruction of it’s natural habitat.
However it is still difficult to get an accurate estimate of the amount of vegetation that is being effected, but of the ten percent effected by human hands, 2/3’s of the lands is seriously overgrazed. This can eventually lead to farmers and other animals moving to graze in area which are in good condition. Areas of Namaqualand are seriously overgrazed as well as being a popular place for diamond mines which results in the area’s vegetation disappearance.
Diamond mining is actually the largest human impact. Mining usually occurs along the Namaqualand coastline, which is a vast majority of the country along with the lower Orange River Valley. Diamond mining also consumes about two-thirds of the South African Coastline. These mines, usually along the tall valleys and ridges, usually have large scale extraction of minerals such as marble, titanium and gypsum.
Farming in the hotspots are limited but is a growing concern due to dams and other irrational techniques within the river valley. Agricultural cultivations include grapes, citrus, and tobacco is practiced in the area. With the area getting little as 150millimeters of annual rainfall, dam projects and irrigation techniques have increased and plan have been created. Dryland farming accelerations the desertification of the soil in the area. Without trees and with the minimal rainfall, the area quickly becomes more desert-like than an ecological area.
Illegal collection of succulent bulbs have also been an increasing problem. With people collecting the bulbs and selling them, it inhibits the lands ability to grow and possibly replace the Succulent trees already residing in the area.
South Africa is recognized for having well-established network of natural parks and reserves. Although the country understands the importance of preservation of the environment, only 2.5% of the the Succulent Karoo is protected. In the last years there have been a great improvement to these statistics and the protected area has been expanded. One of the most important programs ran in the country is the Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP). It does not only focus on the conservation and sustainability, but also on educating the people about their natural heritage and hazards to it. Nowadays public awareness has become the vital element of the preservation. Thanks to a successful program introduced to the landowners, they adopted new environmental friendly land-use and funded many of the conservation initiatives. There have been over $8 million from Critial EcosystemPartnership Fund invested to support environmental groups and projects in the Succulent Karoo.
The Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme (SKEP) is a long term, multi-stakeholder bioregional conservation and development programme, with four strategic areas: increasing local and international awareness of the unique biodiversity of the Succulent Karoo, expanding protected areas and improving conservation management, supporting a matrix of harmonious land uses and improving institutional co-ordination.