Cape Rivers & Streams | WWF

Cape Rivers & Streams

South Africa's Mother River, the Orange, flowing through raisin and date lands near the little Kalahari town of Kakamas, Republic of South Africa.
© WWF / Chris MARAIS

About the Area

The Cape Rivers and Streams start in the Cape Fold Mountains, and are known for supporting a highly distinctive aquatic biota, exhibiting high levels of endemsim. The many rivers and streams in the ecoregion flow down toward the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, nourishing valleys along the way.

The range lies within one of the world's six "floral kingdoms" - Fynbos, where thousands of different plants grow in a small area. As the plants in the fynbos decompose, they release chemicals that subsequently make the waters of the Cape Fold ecoregion acidic and stain the water to a dark color.

An extremely important function of rivers is to provide nutrient-laden sediments which are essential for the functioning of coastal ecosystems and for floodplain agriculture.

Among the goods and services provided by rivers are habitats for many plants and animals, which include many economically important species - fish like bass and trout (even though these are non-indigenous and their presence creates ecological problems of their own); plants such as reeds (Typha), waterblommetjies, arum lilies and some medicinal plants; and sand and cobblestones used in construction and landscaping.
131,000 sq. km (50,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:

Small Rivers

Geographic Location:
South Africa

Conservation Status:

Local Species

The Cape is home to two near-endemic fish genera, Austroglanis (two species) and Pseudobarbus (six species). Of biogeographic interest is the presence of Cape galaxias (Galaxius zebratus), the distribution of the Galaxiidae family in Australia, Africa, and South America gives clear evidence for continental drift.

Streams and their associated wetlands and springs provide important habitat for a number of endangered or otherwise sensitive amphibian species such as the endangered Hewitt's ghost frog (Heleophryne hewitti), rose's toadlet (Capensibufo rosei), cape caco (Cacosternum capense), the endangered table mountain ghost frog (H. rosei), and the micro frog (Microbatrachella capensis).
	© WWF / Martin HARVEY
Pincushion flower (Leucospermum cordifolium), Fynbos species of Cape floral kingdom Cape of Good Hope, Republic of South Africa.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

Featured species

Ghost frogs (Heleophrynidae)

The common name of "ghost frogs" may have been coined because of their occurrence in Skeleton Gorge in South Africa.

They are medium-sized frogs with triangular discs on the fingers and toes. The size is 1.4–2.6 in (35–65 mm). The body is flattened with protruding eyes, and the limbs are thin and long. The pupil is vertical, the tongue is disc-shaped, and the upper jaw bears teeth. The frogs swim well, with toes that are nearly fully webbed in some species. Most species have large dark spots on a paler background.

Adults are found in forest or riverine forest. These frogs take a range of insects, arthropods, and snails. They readily eat smaller species of frogs.

Read more:
Water is in great demand in this dry ecoregion, with both urban and agricultural uses competing with the needs of the unique aquatic fauna, also causing pollution.

The construction of dams and interbasin water transfers alter the natural flow regime and block species movements. Introduced species, particularly North American gamefishes such as Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) and Smallmouth bass (M. dolomieu) have heavily impacted indigenous species.

Of the 19 indigenous fish in the fynbos system, 16 are endemic - meaning they occur naturally nowhere else on Earth - and 15 are already highly threatened because of loss of habitat; the building of dams and weirs; channel modification through bulldozing; the presence of invasive alien vegetation like eichornia (water hyacinth), parrot's feather and black wattles; and the introduction of alien fish like bass, carp and trout.
WWF’s work

WWF-SA's Campaign 2000
Campaign 2000 focuses on the long-term protection and conservation of South Africa's six most important ecoregions, namely Forests, Freshwater; Fynbos, Grasslands; Oceans and Coasts; and Succculent Karoo. It is the South African arm of WWF's international Living Planet Campaign which aims to leave our children a living planet.

Around the world, leaders of government, business and industry have made significant Gifts to the Earth – specific, quantifiable commitments to conservation – in terms of WWF's global Living Planet Campaign.

Read more:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.

Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions
Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions