South Africa

Expanding the Soutpansberg Protected Area

Project Cost: $1,314,340

Funding Raised: $99,000

$32.30 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)
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The incredibly biodiverse Soutpansberg Mountains are a melting pot of rare and endemic species in northern South Africa. Isolated from other Afromontane forests and cradled within the renowned UNESCO Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, the Soutpansberg Mountains contain the last known wild Venda Cycad, which is part of an ancient class of plants. Several other endangered species are found within this mountain range, including Cape Vultures, African Wild Dogs, Southern African Pythons, Temminck’s Ground Pangolins, Leopards and Cheetahs. Unfortunately, these species are threatened by hunting and the conversion of their habit into agricultural land.

To protect the threatened wildlife that reside within the Soutpansberg Mountains, Rainforest Trust is partnering with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to establish the 40,642-acre Soutpansberg Protected Area. This will contribute to a continuous tract of critically important conservation land in the heart of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve.

Photo: “Louis,” a Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, in the protected area. Photo by Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Fast Facts

South Africa

40,642 acres

Key Species:
Venda Cycad (CR), Pepper Bark Tree (EN), Cape Vulture (EN), African Wild Dog (EN), Southern African Python (VU), Leopard (VU), Cheetah (VU)

Mountain forest

Poaching, agricultural land development

Expand the Soutpansberg Protected Area

Local Partner:
Endangered Wildlife Trust

Financial Need:

Price per Acre:

Metric Tons Carbon Storage:


Cut off from neighboring mountains, the Soutpansberg is a hotbed of endemics, including at least 16 reptile species. The area is also regarded widely as a southern African hotspot for ants (at least 133 species) and scorpions (19 species described), amongst others, and boasts the highest recorded diversity of spiders, in relation to its area – 550 species have been recorded in the western Soutpansberg.

The plant life is equally diverse. These mountains also contain many species new to science which are being discovered almost every year, with the most recent being an endemic dwarf chameleon that still awaits formal description. Several wide-ranging threatened species roam these mountains’ slopes, including Leopards, Cheetahs and African Wild Dogs. Temminck's Ground Pangolins, which are greatly impacted by habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade, depend on protected areas for safety from hunting. Alarmingly, the last remaining wild Venda Cycad, a Critically Endangered tree species, clings onto these cliffs – and its very survival. Some of the smaller creatures within this mountainous landscape are the most at-risk for extinction, particularly those with highly localized ranges within the Soutpansberg. These include the Forest Rain Frog, Induna AcraeaButterfly and Red Dragon Flower, all classified as endangered within South Africa.  

Photo: Two Vulnerable Cheetahs. Photo by Tambako.


Important threats to the unique biodiversity of the mountains include poaching, conversion to agricultural land, unsustainable harvesting of medicinal plants, sand mining and habitat degradation due to invasive species.  

Photo: A wire snare. Photo by Rainforest Trust.


There are less than 100 people living within this area of the Soutpansberg Mountains.

While the proposed protected area is almost entirely under private ownership, several local communities reside in villages located on the mountains’ lower slopes. Many of the inhabitants are members of the local Venda people and are primarily subsistence farmers with high reliance on the mountains’ natural resources. When establishing the proposed Soutpansberg Protected Area, EWT will be highly engaged with these communities and leaders, ensuring they are included in the conservation process. Several local leaders have already expressed interest in this initiative.  

Photo: A local teacher conducting a river health study. Photo by Endangered Wildlife Trust.


Rainforest Trust and EWT are raising $1,314,340 to purchase and protect 40,642 acres to create the Soutpansberg Protected Area.

This will be done through the strategic purchase of private properties and stewardship agreements to connect with existing protected areas. This amalgamation of public and private nature reserves will allow the South African government to declare a vital section of the Soutpansberg Mountains as a formal protected area. (Photo: Soutpansberg Protected Area landscape. Photo by Endangered Wildlife Trust. )