Fires in the Kruger Park
Caption: Flames leap high as a fire sweeps through the dry, matted vegetation of South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
Chacma baboon sitting on a termite mound
in a burnt section of the park.
On a visit to the Kruger National Park last week, we drove through large areas that had recently been burnt. The park is very dry and seems to have had very little Spring rain.
Everywhere we went, from Lower Sabie in the south to Letaba further north, the vegetation was brown and parched, with swathes of black where fires had passed through.
Some areas were still smouldering and on one of the days we watched an intense fire rapaciously devouring the tinder-dry vegetation in its path. The flames leapt around like marionettes in the hands of a crazed puppeteer as a hot, blustery wind gusted and subsided.
Even though our vehicle, with windows closed, was some distance away, we could feel the intense heat from the flames.
In Kruger, fire is an important natural force in maintaining the savanna, allowing the co-existence of trees and grass. Kruger’s managers are facing tough choices about how to preserve ecosystems in the face of a changing climate and the resultant enroachment of brush on the grasslands.
While some fires occur naturally in the park, others are controlled fires set by the park authorities.
The Sanparks’ website explains:
“Fires in Kruger are managed using the patch mosaic fire philosophy whereby fires are ignited at selected localities and left to burn creating a natural patch mosaic of burnt and unburned patches.
The extent of all fires in the Kruger National Park is mapped on a monthly basis using satellite imagery and information gathered by Rangers.”
In September this year a fire set by park managers elicited widespread criticism after animals were injured, including a rhino that died as a result of the blaze. Sanparks has defended its actions, saying the fires are necessary to open up areas and maintain the grasslands.
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