The spillage of contaminated water into the Olifants River in the Kruger National Park from a neighbouring fertiliser producer on New Year’s Eve could put a damper on tourism at South Africa’s biggest wildlife attraction.
“This is a serious threat to tourism in the long run. We need to have it under control,” Eddie Rindell, a manager at the Kruger National Park, said yesterday.
He said fish had died in the Selati River and it was too soon to determine the effect on bigger animals.
“The spillage is a huge lesson for the park and we need to prevent further incidents,” Rindell said.
On December 30 local fishermen tipped off the Kruger staff about the spillage, which occurred after heavy downpours. About 100mm of rain fell on December 28 and 29.
The rain led to the overflow of water from Bosveld Phosphate’s plant, resulting in pollution of the Selati River.
“We are aware that hundreds of fish have been killed in the river. We have not picked up yet if the bigger animals have been affected; it is too soon to tell,” Rindell said.
He said criminal action was being pursued to hold the fertiliser producer accountable.
The Selati River is a tributary of the Olifants River, which is reported to be the most environmentally stressed river system in South Africa. It is an important shared watercourse with Mozambique.
An investigation by the Department of Water Affairs into the impact of the spillage of acidic water from the tailings at Bosveld Phosphate into the Selati River is under way and will be made public once it has been concluded.
The Kruger National Park said it had also launched an investigation and had met Bosveld and the neighbouring district municipalities in a bid to remedy the situation.
Rindell said steps to prevent similar spillages in the medium to short term had been drafted and the rehabilitation of the river was being finalised. He did not divulge the details.
Requests for comment from Bosveld were ignored by the time of going to print.
SA National Parks, which is responsible for the park, said visitors’ camps inside the park that used water from Olifants River had switched supplies to back-up borehole water.
It said it had taken immediate precautions to ensure a safe water supply to tourist camps in the park.
The Kruger National Park is one of the world’s premier game-watching destinations and boasts an estimated 1 500 lions, 12 000 elephants, 2 500 buffaloes, 1 000 leopards and 5 000 rhinos (black and white).
Every year about 950 000 people visit the Kruger, which covers 2 million hectares of land and is home to 147 million mammals.