Pretoria - Without fresh water, the globally renowned Kruger National Park would be extinct, along with its animals.
Five permanent rivers that flow through the park, weave their way to over-populated and poverty-stricken villages and settlements before reaching the park itself.
The rivers that flow through the park start from the Ruvubu, Letaba, Olifants, Sabie and Crocodile rivers.
The village communities often pollute these rivers, which causes disease and death to animals in the park.
To prevent this, park management has come up with measures to protect and preserve the water. This monitoring that started in the 1960s keeps improving because of technology.
During a media tour to the park freshwater ecologist, Dr Dumisani Khoza, said all the rivers were affected by different stresses including pollution.
“These five rivers are trans-boundaries which means they go through our neighbouring countries. So there is a need to co-manage with the outside catch management agencies … so we engage with our partners from outside.
He said they monitored the quality of the water using the different types of species in the water. “All the rivers have different species, like fish and insects, crocodiles, snakes and hippos – all these species serve as indicators.
“We have annual monitoring. We assess the fish and macro-invertebrates to tell us the condition of our rivers.
“We are able to ascertain the water quality and diversity … when we can’t find certain fish we are able to tell if the fish is in a good or a bad state.”
Khoza said the most important part of water preservation was to keep engaging with communities outside. Because the rivers start outside, management has established strategic water sources which need good water conservation. “We have to have an impact on the outside to preserve water. We have to control how water is abstracted outside. If we don’t have that interaction with the community, we might end up having problems where our rivers dry up because of too much abstraction.
“We normally set up forums. We go outside and go out to the communitie and the polluters and we engage with them on how dangerous it is to keep on polluting, so we address the source.”
He said the water quality in the park was also immensely affected by flooding.
“The climate here is prone to flooding. It’s a natural cycle which the system adapts to. We are currently monitoring what the influence of flooding is on the animals.
“When there is flooding some species get washed off … but they recolonise. Some go into seasonal rivers where they get refuge.
“We also have measuring plates inside rivers that help us monitor the flow of our rivers,” he said.
If South Africa did not manage rivers properly it was going to also affect Mozambique and Zimbabwe, he warned.