About a month ago, I posted on the mysterious deaths of crocodiles in the Olifants river system in Kruger National Park, South Africa. A recent update indicates that the cause of the fatal pansteatitis outbreak is still unknown despite intensive study. An interdisciplinary research captured 11 live crocodiles and found that seven of them were afflicted by pansteatitis. This is a scary prevalence rate. The media release strangely refers to these cases as "infections," but this is probably not correct as pansteatitis is typically caused by environmental poisons (e.g., rancid fat from spoiled fish). The current theory is that the crocs are acquiring the poisoning from eating the carcasses of other afflicted crocs. The intervention park managers are attempting now is to burn the bodies of dead crocs recovered by rangers. So far, rangers have counted 130 crocodile carcasses in the park.
Here is a review of pansteatitis (and other diseases) in farm raised crocodiles (and ostriches), including a picture of the hardened yellow fat in crocodile tails. This hardening of the fatty tissue in crocodile tails impairs their mobility and therefore their ability to hunt. Crocs with pansteatitis therefore waste away and die of starvation. There is no specific indication in the articles of the state of the crocs bodies. Are they emaciated? Another posting on ProMedmail, including some details of the dam that may be a source of pollutants is here. The moderator asks the important question: Is anything else affected? No mention is made in any of the news articles. What about other aquatic organisms in the Olifants River? For example, what about Cape Clawless Otters (Aonyx capensis)?