What Is A Biosphere Reserve?

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What Is A Biosphere Reserve?

There are 669 biosphere reserves located in 120 countries around the world. In fact, some of these reserves span more than one country. Collectively, they form a world network that facilitates within exchanges of information, experiences, and personnel. But what exactly is a biosphere reserve?

Think of a biosphere reserve as a kind of living laboratory, carrying out programmes to integrate the management of land, water, and biodiversity. They provide a “nursery” for the birth and growth of programmes allowing for both the conservation and sustainable use of land. In other words, they are an incubator for the development of systems to find mutually beneficial solutions to common challenges.

Biosphere reserves are internationally recognised but remain under the control and jurisdiction of the areas in which they’re located.

Functions of A Biosphere Reserve

Biosphere reserves are made up of three interconnected zones. These zones have complementary and mutually supportive functions, namely conservation, development and logistic support. These zones are:

  • The Core Area – an ecosystem that is strictly protected, and contributes to the conservation of ecosystems, species, landscapes and genetic variation.
  • The Buffer Zone – this either surrounds or adjoins the core areas. In it, ecologically sound activities that reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training and education are carried out.
  • The Transition Area – this the part of the biosphere reserve in which the most activity takes place. It helps to encourage human and economic development that is sustainable both ecologically and socio-culturally.

The functions are: information courtesy of UNESCO

  • Conservation – protecting cultural diversity and biodiversity, including genetic variation, species, ecosystems and landscapes and securing services provided by such diversity.
  • Development – fostering economic and human development that is environmentally and socially sustainable and culturally appropriate
  • Logistic support – facilitating demonstration projects, environmental education and sustainable development education and training, research, and monitoring. While education, research, monitoring and capacity enhancement are seen as components of the logistic or knowledge-generation function of biosphere reserves, they are also integral to the conservation and development functions.

Characteristics of A Biosphere Reserve

  • Create an atmosphere conducive to resolving conflict around the use of natural resources.
  • Embrace cultural and biological diversity and find ways to successfully integrate them.
  • Promote the importance of traditional knowledge in the sustainable management of ecosystems.
  • Use research and extensive monitoring to create sound development policies and practices.
  • Act as sites of excellence for training and education.
  • Empower local communities to take responsibility for the development and conservation of the area in which they live and contribute towards their economic upliftment.

The Vhembe Biosphere Reserve

There are 75 biosphere reserves located in 28 countries throughout Africa. UNESCO registered the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve in 2009. It now enjoys international recognition for its wildlife and unique cultural and biological diversity. Located in northeastern Limpopo, the reserve covers just over 30 000 square kilometres. In addition to the Soutpansberg and the Limpopo River Basin, the reserve also includes northern Kruger National Park, the Makuleke Wetlands Ramsar Site, the Blouberg Mountains, the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site and the Makgabeng Plateau.

Kruger National Park

The key mission of the Kruger National Park is to “maintain biodiversity in all its natural facets and fluxes.” It achieves this and then some! Official figures cite almost 50 species of fish, 34 of amphibians, 114 types of reptiles, over 500 bird species and almost 150 kinds of mammals. Not to mention some 20 000 insect species – including 169 species of ants! Experiments show that in some areas, in one square kilometre of woodland, there are about 2.4 tonnes of insects in the tree canopies!


Makulele is one of the Kruger’s biodiversity hotspots and is home to some of the reserves largest herds of buffalo and elephant. The geographic location and landscape diversity of the Makuleke Contractural Park are two keys reasons for its high biodiversity.

Blouberg Mountains

The Blouberg Mountains and their drainage network form part of the Limpopo River System. This, in turn, is part of the Blouberg Nature Reserve. The reserve is home to one of South Africa’s largest breeding colonies of the endangered Cape Vulture. In addition, it is one of only six provincial nature reserves in the country that has a breeding programme for Sable Antelope. It also has a successful Cape Buffalo breeding programme.


The Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site is one of the last protected areas of the Limpopo riverine forest. It protects the historical site of Mapungubwe Hill, once the capital of the former Kingdom of Mapungubwe. It is also home to some of the most endangered large mammals in the world. Black rhino, wild dog, cheetah, brown hyena and elephant are all found here. There are also over 400 species of birds in the area.


Makgabeng Plateau is a red sandstone formation boasting around one thousand ancient rock art paintings, dating back to the earliest people in Africa and depicting the area’s fascinating and rich history.

Morning Sun Nature Reserve

Located within the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, Morning Sun is a National Heritage Site. The owners and founding members of Morning Sun Nature Reserve have been practicing and promoting Biosphere Reserve functions and characteristics since 1970. They also actively participated in bringing about the proclamation of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (VBR) in 2009.

Within its limited but steadily increasing size, Morning Sun Nature Reserve is an outstanding example of the unique biodiversity, cultural and archaeological heritage and socio-economic projects to which the VBR owes its existence.

Morning Sun Nature Reserve’s natural beauty and extreme biodiversity can be attributed to its geological, geographic and geomorphological features. An unusually high number of biomes occur within its boundaries, which in turn, are represented by an even larger variety of different habitats. All these features combine to make Morning Sun Nature Reserve a unique biodiversity hotspot.

Situated in the Soutpansberg region of Limpopo Province, Morning Sun Nature Reserve is home to 370 species of trees, including a giant baobab known locally as The Big Tree! Compare this to the neighbouring Kruger National Park, which, although many times the size, features just over 330 tree species. There are also over 400 resident species of birds in the Reserve – many of which are rare or endangered – as well as 18 reptile species that are of primary conservation significance.

We are passionate about preserving and, if possible, restoring endangered wildlife and its habitat in this area. We invite you and your family to come and enjoy a unique eco-experience, set in an area of breath-taking scenic beauty and biodiversity. Contact us today for details of all our accommodation and activity choices or visit us at www.morningsun.co.za.

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