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


Virunga volcano region is located in mountain forest which is stretches through Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Virunga is the conservation area and home of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). The word Virunga is the Swahili name that mean volcano. Mountain gorillas feed on leaves, flowers, bark, bulbs, stems, and fruits of the plants (1). Mountain gorillas are the largest of the great apes that share the common ancestor with human (2). Human and gorillas share 98 percent of genome (genetically identical) (3). Gorillas also use leaves and branches to build their nests. Mountain gorillas were listed as one of the most endangered species in the world and approximate 655 gorillas are thought to be found in Virunga volcano Region (4).

Mountain gorillas were classified as an endangered species due to human encroachment. Forest clearance and degradation due to growth of human population threatened the Gorilla beringei beringei. People cut down the forest for infrastructure development, constructions, cut down the trees for firewood, livestock grazing and agricultural purposes. Mountain gorillas lost their habitat because of the above impacts (5). Mountain gorillas were also hunted and killed and their parts such as hands, heads were sells to the tourists. On going threatened to Gorilla beringei beringei include diseases such as ebola virus and polio. Ebola virus killed gorillas in Odzala National Park (DRC) and the scientists are fear that the virus could infect the remaining species within next five years (6).

Scientists estimated that approximately 5,000 of gorillas were killed in central Africa by bola virus (7). Scientists say that they will use natural barriers to stop the spread of virus and they hope that they will find the cure of this virus. They also think that taking healthy gorillas away from the virus zone will save many lives (6). Poachers trapped and killed mountain gorillas using the snares for their survival (5). The war between government security forces, rebels, and militia threatened the mountain gorillas in Virunga area (4). Rebels and militias in Virunga National Park invaded and killed gorillas for the meat. During the fight, rebels killed about 97 government security forces (rangers) in 1996. Killed rangers were trying to stop non –official armed (rebels and militia) from killing the gorillas and cutting down the forest. Congo conservationists fear that rebels and militias will butcher the remaining mountain gorillas because they are at risk (8).

Although the Gorilla beringei beringei are heavily protected in Virunga Park, the scientists also believe that their future remains uncertain. Scientists also encourage the communities to slow down the commercial bush meat and dedicate their lives to protect endangered species. Monitoring further research about mountain gorillas is necessary because peoples still had taboos against eating gorillas. Therefore, people are also encouraged to buy certified wood from the logging companies that have certificates to support illegal bush meat hunting. Although mountain gorillas population seems to have increased by 17% in 2003 by scientists since 1989 after the launch of mountain gorilla project (9, 10), it does not mean that they are no longer endangered.

I am concluding by saying that mountain gorillas are still in critical endangered as World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red list of endangered species indicated. Mountain gorillas and their habitat need protection. Local people need education about the ecological as well as economical values of unique heritages because “the bush meat crisis is the complex problem involving politics, economics, logging, population, culture, ethics, and imbalanced interactions between the developing and developed world”(9), so an awareness education is really needed to save an endangered mountain gorillas. The best way is to support any conservation effort. African Wildlife Foundation program hope that mountain gorillas can be saved if people adopt them. So people who will adopt the gorillas, they will show that they support the recovery effort of Gorilla beringei beringei. In addition, a bush meat project has been established to support companies that will help the people around Virunga conservation area to protect endangered species and its natural habitat. If you are interest to view the image of Virunga Conservation area, I have linked the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) site (11).


1. Taylor H. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.2000. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 8]. Available from:

2. Anonymous. “Endangered mountain gorillas.” 2005. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from:

3.Anonymous. Mountain Gorillas. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 19]. Available from:
4. Rutagarama E. “A Conservation Triumph: The Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda”.2004 [Online]. [Cited 2004 May 12]. Available from:

5. Anonymous. Mammals: Gorillas.2007 [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from:

6. Owen J. Ebola Flares in Western Gorilla, Chimp stronghold. 2005. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from:

7. Wikipedia contributors. Gorilla. The free encyclopedia.2007. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from:

8. Reed J. Rebels kill, eat endangered mountain gorillas. 2007. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 8]. Available from:

9. Walker R. Mountain Gorillas escape poachers. 2004. [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 12]. Available from:

10. Bowman K, Rose A. The Gorilla Crisis Wildlife Values Education Project Enhancing Attitudes Toward Conservation. 2007 [Online]. [Cited 2007 March 14]. Available from:

11. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Gorillas in the Midst of Extinction.2006 [Online]. [Cited 2006 March 2007]. Available from:

Lizzy Masingita Maluleke
NISL- Ecological Informatics
P O Box 395