Environmental Forensics, Water Pollution, Pansteatitis and Crocodiles dying in Kruger National Park

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel in South Africa and see some of its impressive wildlife, including crocodiles in Kruger National Park, the country’s premiere wildlife watching destination.  During one of my trips there, a colleague with the South African Police Service, Roger Dixon, was involved in an environmental forensics study to determine why massive crocodile die-offs were happening in the Olifants and Sable Rivers areas of the park.  Hundreds of crocodiles were suffering or dead from pansteatitis, a hardening of the body fat such that it becomes unavailable as an energy source when needed during normal metabolism. 

Although the problem is complex, pollution from PCBs, chlorinated pesticides, other industrial chemicals, and pharmaceuticals, is a likely contributing factor.  Using GCxGC-TOFMS, a technique ideally suited for comprehensive environmental monitoring, Roger recorded approximately 1600 anthropogenic organic compounds in Olifants River water.  Additional stressors include increased sediment, restricted water flow, and algal blooms for the Olifants River related to the Massingir Dam operation just upstream in Mozambique.

A collaborative research program, the Consortium for the Restoration of the Olifants Catchment (CROC), is ongoing to investigate the cause of the problem and hopefully slow the disappearance of this sentinel animal from the park ecosystem by improving water quality.

Crocodile deaths in the Kruger National Park – The death of an ecosystem?

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