Crocodile Deaths Puzzle Ecologists

A think tank of veterinary surgeons, scientists, researchers, rangers and managers met in Skukuza in the Kruger National Park (KNP) yesterday (Tuesday June 3, 2008) to discuss the discovery of at least 30 of crocodile carcasses found in the Olifants River last week.

“We are in unknown territory and we certainly don’t have the answers as to why these crocodiles seem to be dying, so we need to look at the problem closely and find a solution,” said the KNP’s Head of Department for Scientific Services, Mr Danie Pienaar after the meeting.

Carcasses were first spotted by trails rangers from the Olifants Wilderness Trails on Tuesday May 27, 2008 and these were reported to Skukuza. A veterinary surgeon from Phalaborwa went to the Olifants River and found one decomposed crocodile with a distinctive yellow-orange hardened fat in its tail.

In turn, this information was reported and, on Thursday May 29, 2008 a helicopter with researchers and veterinary technologists on board flew over the entire length of the Olifants River within the boundaries of the park and the Letaba River from Letaba Rest Camp to the confluence of the Letaba and Olifants rivers.

During this aerial survey, 30-odd crocodile carcasses were discovered in various stages of decomposition and sample tissue of the yellow-orange hardened fat was taken, as well as a fresh crocodile carcass, and sent to the University of Pretoria’s Onderstepoort for further analysis.

It is believed at this stage that the yellow-orange fat is a condition known as Pansteatitis which is usually associated with the consumption of rotten or rancid fish.

“The carcass and the samples have been sent for a thorough post mortem and further tests as we are not sure, at this stage, what caused this condition in the Olifants Gorge as there were no recent fish kills reported from this river in the KNP. We have decided that further samples of crocodiles, fish, water and sediments are needed for detailed analysis before we can identify the cause,” added Mr Pienaar.

KNP rangers, trails rangers and scientists will continue monitoring the situation along the Olifants River with regular flights of the Bantam Ultralight Aircraft and reports from the rangers, trails rangers and guides based in the area while the situation is extensively researched.

“We will be looking at this problem from all angles and have not ruled out any possibility. Although a clear cause/effect relationship cannot be found at this stage, it is clear that the Olifants River system is strained beyond it capacity to deal with this level of stress,” added Mr Pienaar.

Mr Pienaar concluded that the Olifants River is the most polluted of all the rivers in the KNP and the system now has further strain from the Massingir Dam that has pushed back into the Olifants Gorge, causing sediments to be deposited.

Visitors to the KNP need not worry about their own health as water utilized from the Olifants River is exhaustively monitored before declared fit for human consumption.

Issued by:

Raymond Travers, Media Relations Practitioner, Kruger National Park. Contact: Tel: 013 735 4116, cell: 082 908 2677 or email: raymondt@sanparks.org

Enquiries:

William Mabasa, HOD: Public Relations and Communication, Kruger National Park. Contact: Tel: 013 735 4363, cell: 082 807 3919 or email: williamm@sanparks.org

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