SABI SANDS, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 31: A lioness is
(Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
  • The Kruger National Park is one of the largest conservancy areas on the continent, but its animals are threatened by the increase in environmental light.
  • The park, with its abundant wildlife, is a major tourism drawcard for the country.
  • Light pollution is one of the most drastic environmental changes that humans have made to nocturnal ecology.


Wildlife in the Kruger National Park is under threat from a pervasive peril: light.

“Just as is the case globally, light pollution is increasing in and around Kruger,” says Bernard Coetzee, an honorary research fellow at the Global Change Institute. “Work globally has demonstrated that light pollution may have tremendous impacts on biodiversity, and also may negatively affect human physiology.” Coetzee and colleagues presented a paper on the effects of light pollution at a conference last year.

Locally, researchers have shown that night light alters the numbers and composition of nocturnal creatures like bats and insects. This has a knock-on effect on the predators that eat these animals, and its consequences can be felt up the food chain -- although researchers are working to determine exactly how much and in what ways other animals are affected.

predators
(Photo by David Clode on Unsplash)

 The Kruger National Park, which covers almost 19,500km2 in South Africa and Mozambique, had more than 1.9-million visitors in 2017. Its abundant wildlife is the major drawcard.

For scientists, it is also often used as a proxy for what South African landscapes were like thousands of years ago.

 Research scientist Christopher Kyba told the International Dark Sky Association that “the introduction of artificial light probably represents the most drastic change human beings have made to [nocturnal animals’] environment”.

Read more: South African scientists have discovered more than a dozen new species in the Karoo

“Predators use light to hunt, and prey species use darkness as cover. Near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds, or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. We are only beginning to learn what a drastic effect this has had on nocturnal ecology,” he said.

In the Kruger, researchers have identified two sources of light: from infrastructure at rest camps and “skyglow” from nearby towns. This skyglow “can be seen with the naked eye in many places especially in the south of the park, and is systematically eroding our ability to study and appreciate the night sky”, Coetzee says. “The consequence of this -- or even awareness of the issue -- on tourism is unknown.” 

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