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.


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.

Compared to other hotspot regions, the Succulent Karro is in better shape vegetation wise than other hotspots. This is most likely due to the low populations of humans and human activity in the area. An estimated of only 300,00 people live in the area and only about five percent of the general area of the hotspot is used for grazing and another five percent used for mining and agriculture. Positivly, ninety percent of the region is used as natural grazing, which helps stabilize the general area. So good grazing overcomes bad grazing. This helps ease conservation pressures in the area compared to other hotspots.
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.



9 responses »

  1. caitlinrdavis says:

    I had never heard of the Succulent Karro until now. It’s very interesting to find out how much vegatation lives in this place. However, it does make since that there would be a concern for overgrazing considering how great the vegation must be. Considering how much diamond mining takes place in South Africa it makes sense that this would be a major threat on the disapearance of vegation. It is sad to find out that only 2.5% of the Succulent Karro is protected. For a place with such a vast amount of diversity of plant life there needs to be more awareness on protecting this land.

  2. Leo Costa says:

    This post shows the importance of raising awareness of issues we are exploring in this class. South Africa is known for having well established networks of natural parks. SKEP focus on educating people the dangers of harming the land and the animals at risk. Land owners should adopt new environmental friendly land-use. Its important to not loose the Succulent Karoo.

  3. Ashley Raynor says:

    Another unique place that hosts abundant species of plants – very interesting, would like to go there some day.

  4. April Marcuzzo says:

    I wouldn’t think of a desert as a hotspot, but any plant or wildlife can be endangered, regardless of location

  5. AReilly says:

    I had never heard of Succulent Karoo before, but I did know of a lot of the animals from the region because of my years watching The Crocodile Hunter. Many of the lizards and snake species in the area are endemic and quite unique in look. The fauna was new to me, though. I think it’s strange to have so many different types of plants in such a concentrated area, especially as it’s a dessert. I can see how this lends to the name “succulent”, in reference to the water-retaining plants that fill the desert.

  6. bhall1 says:

    Wow there’s quite the array of wildlife in this hotspot. From armadillos to lizards they got it all. I like the halfmens, I had never heard of them but I admire the interpretation of them.

  7. This hotspot has such a variety of wildlife. The armadillo girdled lizard intrigued me the most, it looks like another pokemon.

    Amanda Garcia

  8. Dave Swanson says:

    A desert as a hotspot is very interesting. we often fail to recognize the highly diverse species that thrive in these arid climates. Just because they aren’t particularly dense like rain forests doesn’t mean that they aren’t diverse.

  9. Ciera Fedock says:

    Overgrazing is typically something I hear more about in the plains and farmlands but it is interesting that in a place where most forms of ecological endangerment such as deforestation or soil erosion are not found, it is still possible to have problems that greatly effect the endemic species.

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