Conservation Biology

Monday, March 19, 2007


Olifants River is the biggest river flowing through the Kruger National Park (KNP) [1]. This river is faced with a huge depletion of water content and extinction of its assets. This is due to irrigation, pollution, abstraction and other uses, as it is not raining much in the low Veld for the past three years, all these reasons have caused the decreased in the runoff of this river and it was stopped flowing twice [2].

There are about two million people who are depending on the Olifants River for their survival. There dams which are built along this river and most of these dams are mainly used for primary water supply and irrigation purposes [1].
The serious water quality deterioration in the Olifants is mainly caused by mining activities and power stations scattered across the basin. Mining activities and industrial activities are the major sources of pollution. Pollution by high metals and high silts loads are the main concern for conservation and have contributed to the disappearance of five fish species in the river [1].

In KNP the Olifants River is divided into different pools. The pools are naturally made where the river is too deep. As the water is deteriorating animals like hippos tend to stay in the pools as they need more water which can cover up the whole bodies. The hippos have been living and defecating in the pools producing an excessive quality of dung. As the dung decomposes it removes oxygen the water and this causes the fish to suffocate [3]. According to Dr Thomas Gyedu –Ababio, who is Kruger’s Rivers manager, at least five hundred dead species have been found on the banks of the pool after the birds have helped themselves with some of the fishes. Fish species found include catfish, yellow fish and tilapia [3].

There is a huge argument at stake between the arms of the government and the South African National parks (SANParks) [3]. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) and the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWARF) are proposing to build a 21-storey dam on the Olifants River. DWARF plans to start building the R4 billion De Hoop dam on a tributary of the Olifants River [3]. The main reason for this dam will be to feed the mining interest and agriculture. De Hoop dam will depend on the Steelpoort River and Steelpoort is the major tributary feeding the Olifants [3]. This idea is having the negative impact on the Olifants which is a major supplier of the water in KNP. Olifants is depending on Steelpoort for water and if De Hoop dam is built then the Olifants will suffer especially during the dry season. The hippos are already struggling with the little water and fishes are already dying out, this will only lead to the death of the Olifants River.

The drying of the Olifants will also have the negative effect on tourism, wildlife and concession areas in Kruger [4]. There are tourists who came to Kruger specifically for fishing, they pay the entrance fee and also the fishing permit which is good for the economic point in KNP but if this river runs dry, and such tourists will no longer visit Kruger. As Olifants is feeding both KNP and Mozambique, the building of the dam can have some political critics.
Ecotourism is very important in South Africa as it makes it a better country to visit. Instead of killing the Olifants River it can be a wise idea for DEAT and DWARF to support in helping the Olifants River fight for its life rather than building dams which is in return killing the river.


1. Anonymous. Unknown Date. Rivers and Catchments. [Cited 2007 Mar 15: 11h00]. Available from:

2. Wray, M. Kruger Times. Olifants Dam Causes Ecology Headaches [Online]. Posted 2004 Oct 24 15:05 [Cited 2007 Mar 15]. Available From:

3. Anonymous. Fish Dying as Rivers Dry Up. [Online]. Posted 2005 August 31, UTC 12:55 [Cited 2007 Mar 19]. Available From:

4. Anonymous. Olifants Plan Damned From The Start. [Online] Posted 2006 Feb 18 12:06 [Cited 2007 Mar 19]. Available From:

Dianah Nangammbi
Cilla CSIR
P.O Box 395
Tel: +27 12 841 2133


  • Hi Diana…

    Yes water is an important commodity in our daily lives; hence South Africa is a water scarce country therefore it is important to conserve. The depletion of water from Oliphant’s river is a serious threat to both plants and animal species at Kruger National Park. There is a need for proper management of water. Well addressed however I would like you to suggest the management strategies for water.


    By Blogger Lufuno, at March 19, 2007 3:42 PM  

  • Hi Dianah
    Yes Dianah, it is true that pollution of water in the Olifant river is a major problem in South Africa as a whole, as the river serves many industries and people around it. I was also not aware that the more the number of hippos in the water the less will be the number of fishes available.

    The quality of water in Olifant river need to be improved. Chlorides and heavy metals from mining origin and other industries in the area of Phalaborwa can reach the level which is not acceptable if the negative impacts are not reduced.

    By Blogger peter, at March 23, 2007 9:44 AM  

  • Hi Lufuno

    Thanks for your comment; the management strategy you are looking for is already given. In order to save this river the power lies on the DEAT and DWARF management to stop their proposal for De Hoop dam as the Olifants River is already depleting in its species content.
    Just for addition the mining and industrial activities can be reduced as they are the major cause of pollution in the Olifants River.

    Hope this will help

    By Blogger Dianah Nangammbi, at March 26, 2007 2:38 PM  

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