Table Mountain National Park – A Biological Hotspot
Discover the beauty and splendour of the Table Mountain National Park with its magnificent floral displays, rugged mountainous countryside and awe-inspiring views out to the ocean below. Table Mountain National Park - a look at the flora and fauna of South Africa's best known landmark.
Spanning 30 000 hectares of the thin jagged Cape Peninsula, the land that makes up the Table Mountain National Park includes land owned by the South African National Parks, as well as sections of private land that are managed by South African National Parks and a 975km2 of marine protected area.
Table Mountain lies to the north of the reserve, ringed in by the cosmopolitan city; Cape Town, and the reserve stretches in a narrow arc (the broadest point is only 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) wide) down to Cape Point where the rocks splash out into the ocean for a distance of 27 kilometres (16.74 miles).
A Brief bit on the history of Table Mountain National Park
Originally established as the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve in 1939, the reserve was later expanded and in 1998 when the Cape Peninsula National Park was proclaimed. It was then renamed in 2004 to the Table Mountain National Park. The mountain and the area above the 152 metre contour line were named a national monument in 1958.
There are several archaeological sites found within the nature reserve including signs of the San and Khoi people in the form of shell middens along the shore, and stone tools and potsherds that have been found in caves up on the mountain. The Khoi name for Table Mountain was 'Hoerikwaggo' which means 'Sea Mountain' or 'mountain in the sea'.
A unique geography
The Cape Peninsula consists of three major rock formations, namely; a dark grey mudstone which is the oldest of the three, followed by Cape granite and lastly Table Mountain sandstone which make up most of the peninsula's mountains. The reserve consists mostly of jagged mountainous areas, rocky areas and pristine open beaches in small sheltered bays. The Cape of Good Hope section differs slightly with open rolling plains.
Diversity Hotspot: one of the most biologically complex regions on Earth
Known for its exceptionally splendid floral diversity, the nature reserve is considered an extremely important conservation area and falls into the Cape Floral Kingdom which is one of only six plant kingdoms in the world. There are over 2 200 species of flowering plants in the area and at least 90 of these species only occur in this location. As a way of comparison, the whole of Britain only has 1 492 species in it. The four main groups of plants found within the heath or fynbos are the proteas, the restios, the ericas and the bulbous geophytes.
The Wildlife of the Table Mountain National Park
The soils and heathland/fynbos vegetation are poor in nutrients and do not attract large herbivores to them. Eland and Red Hartebeest are known to have once roamed the area occasionally, as well as Bontebok and Cape Mountain Zebra, all of which can now be seen in the Cape of Good Hope section of the nature reserve at Cape Point. Common Duiker, Steenbok and Grey Rhebok all occur naturally in the area. A commonly seen animal is the sometimes pesky Savanna Baboon.
Cape Fur Seals are seen commonly around the coastline and Dassies or Rock Hyraxes are often seen hoping along the rocks near the shore and up on Table Mountain. Visitors can take a tour out to Seal Island in False Bay to see the large population of Seals that live there. Three species of Whales, including the Southern Right Whale and three species of Dolphins, including Bottle-nosed and Long-beaked Dolphins are all found within the reserve, and at the right times of the year can be easily spotted from the shore. The False Bay area is also particularly important for the conservation of Great White Sharks and visitors can go shark cage diving in nearby Gansbaai.
The park has more than 3 000 different beetles in it, a number of which are endemic to the Peninsula. Another insect of particular interest is the Table Mountain Butterfly which is the only known pollinator of 15 species of red-flowered plants, including the Red Disa.
Birding opportunities in the Table Mountain National Park
Table Mountain National Park is a key destination for bird watchers with over 300 species being found within its reaches, especially for those that are interested in oceanic and coastal birds, as the waters around the park are considered the best in the world for observing oceanic birds. There is generally a great diversity of birds at all times of the year and visitors can arrange guided tours with tour operators to spot the birds.
Species such as the Shy Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, African Penguin and Sooty Shearwater can usually be seen throughout the year. Visitors who venture to Boulders Beach just outside Simons Town will be able to see the resident Penguin colony there. Inland, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are a great location for spotting a variety of different Sunbirds as well as Grey-winged Francolins and Helmeted Guinea fowl.