Letaba River Rugged Veld Landscapes Kruger Park | Gertenbach 10
Location and Geomorphology
This landscape includes the whole western drainage to the Letaba and Klein Letaba Rivers. It occupies 700 km/2 or 3.6 percent of the KNP and is comparable to Landscape 7 viz. Olifants River Rugged Veld. The slopes are relatively steep and there are quite a few prominent koppies viz. Ngodzi, Kaleka, Milavamhisi, Munamungwe and Byashishi koppies. The drainage takes place via the Shipikane, Byashishi and Tsende to the Letaba and Klein Letaba Rivers. The underlying material is granite, gneiss and Swaziland rock formations like amphibolite, serpentine and schist (Shutte 1974). Although the landscape is comparable to the Olifants River Rugged Veld as far as the vegetation is concerned, it is different as far as the geology and terrain formation is concerned. The Letaba River Rugged Veld is less dissected and the slopes less steep. The area is nevertheless naturally dry and the altitude varies between 250 and 400 metres with the Ngotsekop as the highest point viz. 473 metres.
This landscape experiences a dry climate, the result of a low rainfall (450 to 500 mm per year), steep slopes and shallow soils. The summers are very hot and the winters mild with frost as the exception in the bottomlands. Average monthly maximum and minimum temperatures for Letaba are given in Table 5.
The soils of this landscape are shallow and stony and can be classified as lithosols. Other soil Forms that can be expected are Mispah, Glenrosa and Hutton. Where the influence of the Swaziland rock formation is strong the soil is normally red in colour, the slopes are not as steep and the soils are deeper than on the adjacent granites.
The vegetation of this landscape is very similar to that of the Olifants River Rugged Veld (Landscape 7) and also includes certain elements of the vegetation of the Thickets of the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers (Landscape 4). The woody vegetation is usually dense in the shrub layer with single trees (Fig. 23). Dominant woody species are Colophospermum mopane, Combretum apiculatum, Terminalia prunioides, Grewia spp., Rhigozum zambesiacum and Dichrostachys cinerea subsp. Africana. Other species that occur here are the same as those of the Olifants River Rugged Veld.
The field layer is sparse and is dominated by annual grasses and forbs such as: Aristida congesta subsp. Barbicollis, Enneapogon cenchroides, Melhania forbesii,
Fig. 23 Landscape 10. Letaba River Rugged Veld. – page 44
Fig. 24. Landscape 10. Riverine vegetation, Letaba River
Phyllanthus asperulatus, Heliotropium steudneri and Solanum panduraeforme. The grey perennial forb Hemizygia elliotii and Xerophyta retinervis are typical plants for this dry landscape. Refer to Landscape 7 for a complete list of plants which are also found in the field layer of this landscape. The stream banks of the Letaba River (Fig. 24) are more open than the Olifants River (Landscape 7), but the species occurring are the same.
A large variety of game is found in this landscape of which elephant, Buffalo, zebra, impala and giraffe are the most important. Waterbuck are plentiful along the Letaba River and the area possibly accommodates the largest population of the species in the KNP. Baboon, warthog and steenbok also occur regularly. White rhino are also present in this landscape, since a group of +/- four animals are encountered every year in the vicinity of Tsale windmill. Sable antelope are found in the far eastern and northern areas of this landscape and eland are often seen along the Mooiplaas/Phalaborwa service road. A small group of +/- 15 wildebeest occur on the brackish spots in the vicinity of Tsale windmill. Elephants are present in large herds along the Letaba and the Shipikane spruit is a popular environment for breeding herds. South of Ngotsikop elephants are encountered and the confluence of the Klein Letaba and Byashishi accommodates what is possibly the largest and most stable breeding herd of elephant in the KNP. Spring hare (Pedetes capensis) are present along the Letaba River.