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The Lesotho National Botanical Garden and Green Belt

Habofanoe Lehana

Home | Contents | Purpose of the Paper | The Country | Status of Biodiversity in Lesotho | Vegetation | Floral Diversity | Wetlands | Fauna | Avifauna | Fish | Reptiles | Insects | Conservation Measures | The LNBG | Cultural Village | Justification for Establishing a LNBG | National Pride | Preservation of Biodiversity | Wetlands | Sustainability | Financial Requirements | Public Participation | Conclusions


The purpose of this paper is to present to this congress the proposed Lesotho National Botanical Garden and Green Belt (LNBG), a project which is at master plan stage with the necessary basic baseline studies, feasibility and environmental impact assessment studies having been completed.

The presentation of the LNBG may, on the one hand, be considered as a launching of this project to the international community of botanical gardens. We therefore invite your contributions to this concept which we will be presenting since we have in this congress a wealth of knowledge and expertise whilst we in Lesotho are just beginning.

The LNBG will be presented within the context of Lesotho’s biological diversity as such before the project is discussed, and several brief chapters on the status of Lesotho’s Biodiversity will be discussed, and will be followed by the discussion of the project itself.

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Lesotho is a small country located between 28.35 and 30.40° south latitude and 27.00 and 29.30° east longitude. The country has an area of 30.350 km2 with a population of 2 million.

The country has three major ecological zones, the lowlands, the foothills and the mountainous region. The mountain zone covers approximately 65% of the country’s landmass.

The country is largely grassland with little tree cover, and this resource, though limited, supports livestock, which is one of the major economic modes of production of the rural population in particular within the foothills and mountain zones.

The country has limited arable land, only 9%; the soils are shallow and of a duplex nature. The most extensive soil groups are mouisol and alfisols.

Geologically, Lesotho forms part of the Karoo system of Southern Africa, consisting mainly of four rock groups, Dwyka, Ecla, Beaufort and Stornberg. The climate could be regarded as temperate, with warm to hot summers and cold to very cold winters, usually with snow falling during the winter months on the Maluti Mountain Range. Rainfall ranges from 500 to 1,500, but is very variable and unreliable most of the time, with prolonged droughts.

The country is resource-poor and has a very limited industrial base. Immigrant workers working in RSA remittances contribute roughly 40% to the GDP of the country. This means that the export of labour forms one of the major economic backbone of the country.

The high altitude and mountainous nature of the country, although sometime regarded as a limitation, has strong attractions with altitudes rising to over 3,400m above sea level and this is the reason why it is called the Kingdom in the Sky or the Mountain Kingdom.

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2.1.1 Description of Biodiversity

Description of Biodiversity For the purpose of this paper, Biodiversity will be considered to refer to the interactions between the inter-related elements and/or components of the biosphere which , in their simplified form, can be divided into three levels, namely ecosystem diversity, which encompasses the rivers, forests, mountains and conurbation's, secondly species diversity such as plants, fauna, insects, avifauna and others, whilst the third level refers to genetic material within species (GOL (NES), 1996). Of equal importance in Biodiversity is the human being, who is believed to be influenced by the nature of Biodiversity in a particular environment, thus it determines his cultural, spiritual and moral values and practices and also affects his socio-economic practices.

2.1.2 Need to Conserve Biodiversity

Over the years, human activity resulting from rapid and huge increases in population, over-harvesting and over-exploitation and deliberate destruction of the natural resources, and socio-economic practices resulting in neglect of sensitive environment systems and pollution has had adverse effects on Biodiversity. These negative impacts resulting from human activity have largely contributed to the loss and extinction of certain habitats and species and has reduced genetic variability.

The global realisation of the dangers associated with loss and severe degradation of Biodiversity which is posing danger to the very existence of man, has resulted in development of global policies, strategies and establishment of appropriate institutions designed to deal specifically with conservation and enhancement of biological Biodiversity. The most notable efforts are “The United Nations Conference on Environment” held in Stockholm in 1972, “The World Conservation Strategy (1980)”, “The World Commission on Environment (1987)” and “United Nations Charter for Nature (1992)”.

All the above efforts culminated in an important event when about 157 countries signed “The Convention on Biological Diversity” in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro and it was at this conference that Agenda 21 was conceived.

Lesotho was amongst those countries which signed the Convention and in 1995 it was ratified. Following the endorsement of the global strategy on biological diversity, commonly referred to as Agenda 21, Lesotho incorporated recommendations on Conservation of Biological Diversity into a National Action Plan. Other important international conventions which Lesotho has ratified and assumed responsibility to implement are “Convention on Climatic Change, Drought and Desertification” and “The Montreal Protocol”.

The establishment of the proposed Lesotho National Botanical Garden is therefore a result of both the national and international obligation to develop concrete strategies which will contribute to the conservation of Biodiversity in order to ensure survival of present and future generations of the Basotho.

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The discussion on the status of Biodiversity in Lesotho for the purpose of this paper will be confined to floral, faunal, avifaunal and insects, since their diversity has a bearing and relevance to the proposed Lesotho National Botanical Garden. Also, this discussion will be very general and brief, since it will be used simply as background information to the issues which will be addressed later in this paper.

Although considered to be amongst the countries least endowed with Biodiversity, Lesotho’s biological diversity still displays a significant variety of genes, species and ecosystems which are definitely of value to both the nation and the international world.

The unique Maluti Mountains reaching elevations above 3,400 metres above sea level, hills and hillocks, magnificent razor sharp landscape, multitudes of perennial rivers and wetlands, plains and open landscape contain, to a large extent, reasonable life forms and systems worth considering.

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Basically considered to be a grassland biome, Lesotho has very limited tree and grassland cover, with this grassland biome broadly classified into three main groups largely based on the climate and ecological zones of the country, namely the lowland zone at average 1,400 metres above sea level, foothills zone occurring between 1,700 to over 2,000 metres above sea level and mountain zones occurring between 2,500 to 3,480 metres above sea level. Much of Lesotho’s grassland is used for animal grazing, whilst a few species are economically exploited, namely thatching grass (Hyparrhenia spp.) broom-making grass (Merxmuella macowanic) and other species used for making handicrafts. A major threat to Lesotho’s grassland biome is overgrazing, increasing human settlements and indiscriminate over-exploitation of this resource.


Approximately 2,000 species of flowering plants occur in Lesotho and the majority of the interesting species occur within the Maluti-Drakensberg Mountain Range, where 60% of these mountains are in Lesotho, thereby giving Lesotho a fair share of what is considered the regional alpine plant diversity “hot spot”. Out of 1,750 plant species found within the Maluti-Drakensberg, 30% of the plants are endemic to Lesotho (Cowling, R.M. and Hilton-Taylor, C. 1994). One of the important Lesotho Alpine Belt’s endemics is the Spiral Aloe (Aloe polyphyla), which is Lesotho’s National Flower and it is both nationally and internationally valuable. This plant, together with other endemics and rare plants within the mountain region, has attracted a lot of conservation and research attention and propagation of the spiral aloe has already been successfully undertaken. The existence of the Spiral Aloe as the most sought after plant in Lesotho is threatened by over-harvesting and illegal sale to tourists.

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Lesotho, often referred to as a major water source locality in the region, has very environmentally sensitive wetlands which mostly occur in the highlands region. The increasing utilisation of Bogs and Ferns System and the damage caused by livestock, road construction and mining are posing a serious risk to the existence of these species, which in turn affects their hydrological function with serious implications on water sources of the Lesotho Highlands.

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Although information on Lesotho’s faunal diversity is limited, research and documentation suggest that mammalian species have drastically changed as a result of the loss of big game such as zebra, eland, wildebeest, etc. The loss of the big game has been largely due to human habitation, hunting and increasing competition for very scarce rangeland. Species known to occur in Lesotho are mostly small game, including baboons. The icerat (Otomys slogetti) is the only mammal endemic to Lesotho, whilst the white-tailed rat (Mystromys albicaudatus) is the only red data mammal in Lesotho.


Bird diversity is very low in Lesotho; approximately 285 recorded bird species, however a large number of these species, approximately 176, are classified as scarce, rare or very rare. Despite its comparatively low bird diversity, Lesotho still plays an important role in the regional and global diversity, since about four very internationally important bird species, the Bald Ibis, Cape Vulture, Beaded Vulture and Black Stork are well represented in Lesotho. These are, however, also currently under threat from hunting and loss of suitable habitats, which are essential for their survival.

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17 fish species which are indigenous to Lesotho are well established in most Lesotho rivers with the exception of a small and rare indigenous Maloti Minnow (Peseudobarbus quanthlambae), with only five recorded localities within the mountain region. This fish has already attracted research and conservation. Fish harvesting or utilisation haCs not yet become a threat to the fish species. It is feared that the now completed Katse Dam in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project is likely to interfere with conducive conditions for fish seasonal breeding and feeding. With regard to the Maloti Minnow, the threat posed by the dam is also the upstream migration of the predatory trout and yellow fish. Amphibian diversity is equally low with only 20 species of toads and frogs (Lutszch and Ambrose, 1992) known to exist in Lesotho and out of which the umbaculate frog (Rana vertebralis) is the only known endemic.


Approximately 25 snake species have been reported in Lesotho. These include the deadly venomous snakes, such as the Cape Cobra (Naja nivea), Spitting Cobra, the Puff Adder and others, whilst the rest are regarded as harmless. Snakes are severely feared in Lesotho and are usually killed on sight, whilst other snakes are killed for traditional medicine. Knowledge about snakes and their importance in maintaining a balance in Biodiversity is lacking within the Basotho community, hence the indiscriminate killing of snakes. Only about six lizard species have been recorded in Lesotho and the Pseudocordylus langi confined to the Maluti-Drakensberg Mountains is globally threatened.


Insects are generally widely distributed in all the regions of Lesotho and approximately 993 have been identified (Loxton, Venn and Associates, 1993). Of the total insect diversity, four species of butterfly are considered to be rare.

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With the marginalisation of the Basotho’s traditional ways of nature conservation, such as appropriate rotational rangeland grazing and appropriate ways of harvesting resources, the preservation of Biodiversity has been under threat.

Protection of Biodiversity in the wild has to a large extent failed in Lesotho, due to sheer population pressure and human activity on nature. The size of the country makes it very difficult to have large tracts of land under conservation, leaving the most viable way of nature conservation to be the establishment of botanical gardens.

A series of legislation has existed in the past, such as historical monuments, relics, flora and fauna in 1967, National Parks Act, 1975, and many others. This legislation has now been consolidated and updated to form a much more comprehensive environmental legislation having been drafted, and this has set illegal frame work upon which conservation of Biodiversity will be undertaken.

With the exception of Katse Alpine Botanical Garden, which is still being developed, very little has been done in botanical garden development. The Katse Alpine Garden is a specialised garden which puts emphasis on the preservation of the Alpine Belt plant species, especially the species affected by the construction of the dam and this garden will closely be connected to the proposed Lesotho National Botanical Garden and Green Belt.

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LNBG is being specifically established to address the above problems discussed in the preceding chapter.


The mission statement of the National Botanical Garden is to promote the sustainable conservation and use, educational appreciation and recreational enjoyment of Lesotho’s natural heritage (Fauna, Flora and Culture) for the benefit of all its people.


The LNBG will be approximately 710 ha in extent, 110 ha being set aside for a botanical proper, while 600ha will form the green belt. The LNBG is located in the south-eastern part of the Maseru City, the capital of Lesotho, and is centrally located for ease of accessibility from any part of the city. The project area encompasses magnificent and unique landscape made up of three hillocks with elevations between 1,700 to 1,900 metres above sea level, whilst the garden will be on the lower flat plain at the altitude of 1,500 above sea level. The topographical features of the proposed LNBG present many panoramic views of the city and its surrounding settlements and the hillocks form a nice mountain backdrop to the garden.


4.3.1 Botanical Garden

Like most gardens in the world, a large component of the LNBG will be to preserve the plant Biodiversity. It is proposed that although a greater effort will be made to preserve the indigenous plants of Lesotho, there will also be a reasonable collection of regional and international plants.

The garden will specifically perform the following functions in the preservation of floral Biodiversity:

The protection and enhancement of the greenbelt will also contribute in the natural regeneration of the vegetation and plant species.
Commercial propagation of commercially viable plant species such as the Spiral Aloe and many other medicinal plants will be undertaken and local communities will be involved to impart this knowledge to them.
For preservation of fauna, a small zoo will be established not only for education and research, but also for breeding the gene pool necessary for release of mammalian species into the wild.
A snake park will be established to cater for preservation of endangered reptiles, as well as acting as a research centre and this facility may also include snakes from outside Lesotho for educational purposes.
Aquatic facilities for fish and other aquatic life as conservation will be introduced into the garden.
It is hoped that the natural regeneration of the greenbelt will create conducive conditions for bird and insect diversity. Nevertheless, should the need arise, research facilities could be created within the LNBG to promote the diversity of this species.
Recreation also forms an important component of the botanical garden and this will be a very welcome feature of the LNBG to the Maseru City residents who currently suffer as a result of an acute shortage of well-organised open spaces. Picnic spots, horse trails, mountain bike trails, cave or mountain climbing will be developed to provide active recreational facility within the LNBG. Care must however be taken when designing recreational facilities within the LNBG in order to reach or maintain a balance between the conservation aspects of the LNBG and recreation.

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A society without history and culture can definitely be regarded as incomplete, since the knowledge of the past in most cases lays a foundation for the present and the future existence of a society. The cultural diversity of the Basotho is therefore closely interrelated with the general biological diversity.

It is proposed to have a cultural village and museum within the LNBG. The village will not only depict the traditional settlement and architecture of the Basotho people, but will also be a demonstration centre for the Basotho’s historical way of life. The cultural component of the LNBG will be used to show the ancient Sotho village, the Sotho homestead designs and diverse pottery and utensils and other material and spiritual values of the Sotho society.


Some people may argue that establishment of a botanical garden is not necessarily a solution to conservation and promotion of Lesotho’s Biodiversity. Protection of habitats in the wild may even be considered to be the best and cheapest option. However, within the context of Lesotho, the establishment of a botanical garden is a must if any serious attempts will be made to save the extremely threatened Biodiversity of the country.

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The majority, if not all of the civilised societies have established botanical gardens. Civilisation within the context used here refers to any society which has come to terms with the fact that nature has a vital role to play in human existence through various forms of Biodiversity and as the Basotho, we regard ourselves as part of these civilised societies and as such, we will be proud to join the global family of botanical gardens and be part of the global movement in preserving and enhancing Biodiversity.

As a nation, regardless of our small size, we are proud of the little that we have and we would like the whole world to know about us. We would also want to share the knowledge and expertise which other countries have.

Central to this national pride is our exciting but painful history which was full of wars with different clans, including the Afrikaans settlers which resulted in the Basotho losing most of its original territory, part of which is the Free State at present. Despite all these devastating wars and the negative impact of the Apartheid era, the society has managed to remain intact as a nation, and this surely is a remarkable achievement.

In recent years, cultural revival is again high up on the African Renaissance agenda as pioneered by the South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, and Lesotho is no exception in the pursuit of the re-awakening of our African culture, which has been adversely affected by the colonialism and so called modernism.


As demonstrated during the discussions on the status of Lesotho’s Biodiversity, which is severely endangered by human activity, resulting in over-exploitation of the resources, it is inevitable that this trend will continue due to the genuine economic needs of the society, limited by the size and form of the country.

With over two thirds of the country which is over 30,300km2 being occupied by the rugged Maluti Mountains with harsh climates, population pressure is bound to occur on the floral, faunal and avifaunal diversity resulting in the destruction of conducive habitats essential for survival of these species. Preservation of nature in the wild and therefore in Lesotho becomes extremely difficult, therefore justifying an establishment of a botanical garden composing of a zoo, snake park, aquarium, bird sanctuary, as mentioned earlier.

Ignorance also exists in the country as to the importance of a balance of Biodiversity and its conservation. A scientific centre like the one proposed will go a long way in imparting the necessary knowledge to the Basotho society.

Economic benefits of the proposition of medicinal plants within the garden will have significant impacts on increase of species’ numbers and variability, thereby increasing commercial returns directly to the garden and eventually to the herbalists who will be trained within the garden.

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Unless urgent measures are taken to prevent the loss and rejuvenate Biodiversity of the highlands’ wetlands, a serious threat is looming with serious implications for our hydrological resources. This may affect the economy which is presently benefiting from the sale of water to South Africa. A research centre is therefore needed to address these problems, and in particular to revive damaged Bogs and Ferns within the wetlands.

There are significant socio-economic benefits which will arise out of this project, such as job creation for both skilled and unskilled labour, and this will arise during the construction and operational stage of the LNBG.

Other monetary benefits to the people who will be employed in the development of the garden will arise due to significant skills transfer and capacity building. The project will have multiplier effects on Lesotho’s economy by becoming a catalyst in tourism development, which may open up other tourism potential in the country.


Sustainability of a project of this nature and magnitude within the context of Lesotho is a very important consideration. The location of this project in the middle of the most populous area in Lesotho, Maseru City, which is the gateway to the rest of the country, was based on the consideration of continued sustainability of the project, hence an inclusion of a large component of recreation within the LNBG. The local Maseru City population and tourists will contribute to the financial viability of the LNBG. And secondly, the inclusion of so many other activities, such as a zoo, a cultural village, etc. are designed to complement the financial requirements of the LNBG.

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The project could be developed in three main phases which in turn could also be further subdivided into smaller phases, depending on availability and timing of finance. It is estimated that the project will cost a total of R68 900 000-00 excluding escalation and other fees when complete. The studies which have been done so far were financed by the German Government, through a social forestry project in Maseru, and at present funds are not yet available to proceed further.


Intensive local participation has been undertaken during the planning of the LNBG, and many of the recommendations of the masterplan are the wishes of the directly affected communities, as well as those representing the wider Lesotho community and professional bodies. Public consultation is nevertheless still continuing. The intention is to involve the community directly affected by the LNBG, throughout the planning, implementation and operation stages in order to instil a sense of belonging and to ensure economic benefits to these communities.

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Based on the research studies undertaken, there is no doubt that this project is desperately needed in Lesotho and also the socio-economic benefits associated with it are found to be significant to justify the investment.

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Copyright 1999 NBI