Je bekijkt de reis...
Reisverslag Burning up Kruger all in a day's work
10 augustus 2006
Burning up Kruger all in a day's work
Blackened land and ashes, as far as the eye can see. Some thicker trunks still smolder, and the smell of fire fills the air. Most trees, if present, survived the blaze, but all grass, dead branches and undergrowth have gone up in smoke.
And that is exactly how Navashni Govender likes it. Burning the grass is her job.
Govender is the "fire ecologist" of the Kruger National Park and responsible for managing all the fires in the park. In the dry season, which is about to come to an end, huge patches in the park are burnt.
And for a reason. "Fire does not destroy" is Govender's mantra.
Sadly enough, she is the only one who cheers when the flames rise high: thousands of complaints are made each year by disappointed tourists, says Raymond Travers, spokesperson for the Kruger Park.
E-mails and phone calls come in, complaining that the only thing they saw in the park was burnt grass - and no game.
"Some people are really angry, saying the park is defaced by the fires and the wildlife is affected. The first may be true a little, but we have our reasons. The second argument is nonsense, as we hardly lose any animals through the fires. It actually helps them, as the grass will be greener after a fire than before.
"Sometimes people run into the camps, yelling 'there is a bush fire with nobody attending it'. But our rangers are never far, and the fires are monitored by satellite too," says Travers.
"For millions of years, fire has been part of the ecosystem. It rejuvenates the vegetation by cleaning up old and dead plants, providing opportunity for young grass, and it actually increases the levels of minerals in the ground," Govender explains from behind her desk in Skukuza Rest Camp in the south-west of the park. This philosophy was adopted by the Kruger Park in 1954, when the first "fire ecologist" was hired.
The park's fire ecologists define the fires as either natural or unnatural. The natural ones are caused by lightning and careless park visitors.
"Only four years ago, we started regarding fires caused by tourists and illegal immigrants as natural," says Govender.
"Man has been around, using fire, for at least 50 000 years. Therefore, we have become an integral part of the system.
"Savannah can no longer survive without fire. So we decided to regard man as a natural fire source."
Annually, dozens of fires ignite from tossed-away cigarette butts, or glass debris from car collisions caused by drivers who paid more attention to that rhino than to the car ahead of them. Worse still, a lot of veld fires are caused by cooking fires lit by illegal immigrants from Mozambique, using the Kruger Park as an easy gateway to South Africa, says Govender.
The unnatural fires are the ones being lit by Govender or, on her advice, by the park's rangers.
"The rangers take measurements of the biomass throughout the park. I collect that data, and provide feedback to them on where they can start a fire and when.
"Whenever the circumstances are good, they go out and throw a match in the dry grass," Govender says.
Good circumstances are whenever there is more than 4 000kg of biomass per hectare, and there is a strong wind, which will sweep the fire fast through the area to be burnt, so that only the dead and dry fuel will burn.
Rainfall in the previous season is a factor as well, Govender explains.
Fires are seldom put out, she says, while demonstrating how easy the dry grass burns after months without rain.
"Only when there is a real threat for humans or infrastructure do we intervene. In our view, there is no such thing as a too-big fire," she says as she holds her lighter to a small patch of grass along the road between the Skukuza and Pretoriuskop camps.
Within seconds, a metre-high crackling flame consumes it.
Fifty years of research and experimenting has taught Kruger Park's fire managers valuable lessons about the importance of fire in an ecosystem.
"One of the most important lessons is that we can control fires by lighting fires," says Govender. "We burn specific areas in a more or less controlled way according to the circumstances, so that natural fires won't be as devastating."
Sometimes fires do get out of control, says Travers. Last year there was a huge blaze in the southern part of the park, caused by lightning.
That fire burnt almost 40% of the park. The scars of that fire are still visible in the Lower Sabie area.
And disaster struck when 23 people died after lightning caused a fire close to a temporary camp of workmen a few years ago, Travers recalls.
The only tourist ever to perish as a result of fire in the park died in 2001 in a blaze near the Pretoriuskop camp.
"Four years ago, the aim was to burn roughly one-third of the entire park every year," Govender explains. "Now we look much more at what the park needs. This year about 25% of the park has been burnt, of which we lit 10%.
"But in 2003, when we had a very dry pre-season, only 10% was burnt in total.
"In 2002 the policy was changed drastically. One of the goals now is to inform the public about the fires in the park, in order to prevent disappointment. We are working on a fire-scar map and an active fire map. Both will be published on our website, hopefully before the end of this year."
Govender works with satellite information, provided by Nasa, which she uses to locate and monitor fires.
She is now working to make that same information, which is updated every five minutes, available on the SANParks website so that people can use it when planning their trip to Kruger.
Meanwhile, the pyromaniac deep inside Navashni Govender continues doing the job of going out and burning things.
10 augustus 2006 14:24 | Door: Matist
Interessant verhaal !
10 augustus 2006 14:32 | Door: Maaike
Leuke baan heeft Navashni! Maar jij ook wel geloof ik! Een leuk artikel. In Mexico hebben ze een vergelijkbaar monitoring systeem (onwikkeld op het instituut waar ik stage heb gelopen) voor brandjes, bedoeld als early warning systeem.
En, al nieuwe outdoor-onderwerpen verzonnen voor nieuwe artikelen?