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Tests to be conducted on dead birds

Kimberley - The Department of Nature Conservation and Environmental Affairs has finally entered the fray following the deaths of thousands of birds at Kamfers Dam, but has squarely laid the blame for a suspected outbreak of the deadly avian botulism on the doorstep of the Sol Plaatje Municipality.

Having remained mum as reports of thousands of dead birds was broadcast across the country, the MEC of Nature Conservation and Environmental Affairs, Patrick Mabilo announced that pathological tests would be conducted on the dead birds and also said that a task team had been set up to investigate the matter.

This comes after Birdlife SA commissioned an independent expert to conduct tests earlier this week.

Mabilo, at a press conference, said that the possible outbreak of the paralytic disease was not only a local concern, but could have an international impact.

The MEC, together with experts who are now conducting pathological tests on bird samples to determine the cause of death, shifted the blame and responsibility for the life-threatening situation onto the Sol Plaatje Municipality, as they “occupy the land”.

“What we are dealing with here is not the problem of possible botulism but the issue of water quality. We can safely say that the prevailing conditions at Kamfers Dam are conducive for the production of botulism. Kimberley has of late suffered high temperatures and the microbial condition at the dam is highly suspect. With Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works’ purification system not working optimally, it can safely be assumed that the quality of the effluent (being pumped into Kamfers Dam) is also suspect,” Mabilo stated.

The panel of experts, which included the acting HOD, Hessie van der Westhuizen, Biodiversity Compliance officers Des Mgoboli and Success Thibela, as well as Aquatic Scientist, Peter Ramollo, and Director for Biodiverity Compliance Monitoring, OT Gaoraelwa, indicated that plans for a long-term solution were mainly focused on bringing the Sol Plaatje Municipality to book.

The department said that it would now instruct the municipality to initiate a process of appointing an ecologist to attend to monitoring the dam and undertake weekly water- and land-based patrols to monitor water and bird habitat and animal mortality. The municipality was further instructed to have the anaerobic digester at the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works repaired and also submit weekly reports to the task team.

When asked if the department would be removing the infected birds from the dam to prevent further spread of the toxic bacteria to other birds and scavengers, the department again said that this was the responsibility of the Sol Plaatje Municipality.

“We will be issuing the municipality with a section 28 directive to remove and incinerate all carcasses and take the infected, but live birds to the SPCA,” the panel said.

The MEC further said that the department would be working closely with various stakeholders, including Transnet, Eskom and Water Affairs and would be releasing an accurate report after the results of the pathological tests were known.

He said he would be pushing to have the situation resolved before next week, when he and most of the scientists in the department would be going on leave, adding that they “could not be expected to work overtime”.

Mabilo also released the report regarding the deaths of dozens of flamingos early last month. He said the veld area where the birds were found had become inundated with raw sewage after a sewerage pipe directed to the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works had become blocked and overflowed.

He said this “vlei” (created by the raw sewage) had become an ideal site for the birds to visit.

“Intensive research indicated that these birds were disturbed by vehicles driving on the gravel roads heading to a Pikwane Diamond mining site and then collided with overhead powerlines when they flew away,” Mabilo stated.

Dr Jan Roos, the independent water quality analysis expert, who on Tuesday took water samples at the dam on request of Birdlife South Africa, has meanwhile raised concerns that the sewage spill Mabilo was referring to could have been the trigger for the current botulism outbreak and subsequent death of thousands of birds.

Sol Plaatje Municipal Manager, Goolam Akharwaray, responded by saying that he had not received any information, analysis or communication from the Department of Nature Conservation and Environmental Affairs or any other source regarding the possible botulism outbreak.

“We are prepared to take responsibility if reports indicate water quality was found to be the cause of the outbreak, but we have not received any reports indicating the exact problem and the cause. This should not be a blame game, but rather an inclusive process to find solutions,” Akharwaray said.

He added that while they were urgently awaiting the results, they would immediately start looking at corrective measures to improve effluent quality at the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Works.

“All workers at the plant have been instructed to leave no stone unturned in searching for solutions and improvements, but it is a systematic process that will take time,” he said.

Akharwaray further noted that no water had been pumped into Kamfers Dam for the last three weeks as all waste water was currently being directed to Langleg.

The Department of Water Affairs failed to react to inquiries regarding the quality of the water at Kamfers Dam. - Diamond Fields Advertiser

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