Establishing historical baselines is important for informing present-day conservation and management actions. The historical literature was searched for information on the composition, abundance and distribution of the large ungulate fauna in the grassland-dominated Highveld region of north-central South Africa during the 19th century and early 20th century. The existence of large aggregations (herds comprising one or more taxa) is inferred from the written record, for the early historical period. These aggregations comprised one or more species of eight grazers or mixed feeders. There is weaker evidence of seasonal migratory, or partially migratory, behaviour by some of them. This synthesis highlights the existence of a major, but hitherto unrecognized and unheralded, grazergrassland system in the region, at least during the early period of colonial expansion. In global terms, this system may have rivalled similar extant migratory systems elsewhere in Africa and globally, if not in the numbers of animals involved then almost certainly in terms of the diversity of ungulates that were present. No records of large ungulate aggregations, or migrations, could be located for the post-1870s period, thus revealing the time of the collapse of this system, mainly as a result of overhunting and loss of habitat. By the end of the 19th century the once widespread and abundant larger ungulate fauna of the Highveld had, barring a few individuals and small and scattered herds, of a few species, been virtually exterminated. Some ecological consequences of this collapse are briefly discussed.
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