Season of Fires
Southern Africa is burning, areas in Namibia, Zambia, Angola and Botswana are up in flames. The region is now subject to some of the highest levels of biomass burning in the world. Every year there is a southern-African “fire season” but this year in particular, there are extreme fires which have fronts that stretch upwards of 20 miles and last for days.
The intense high temperatures of the dry-season, extremely dry organic matter, and strong winds strengthen the flames and many of the fires are now out of control. The fires have produced a thick haze everywhere and in certain areas are described as a “river of smoke” that looms daily over head.
In northern Namibia, for example, in the Kavango area 10 fires are burning at different places alone, and fire has broken out in the regions of Kunene, Tsumeb, Etosha, Omaheke and Khaudum National Park. “The country is under fire. Until Last week, the fires were not very bad but it is a terrible situation now,” said Namibia’s Director of Forestry, Joseph Hailwa.
Most, if not all, these fires are deliberately started by people. The temporary communities know as “grass-cutters” head to particular areas to gather and cut high bush grasses for thatching (see photo of grasscutters in our gallery, click here), afterwards they burn the bush to encourage new grass to grow. The same concept holds true for pastures deemed for cattle grazing and “slash and burn” agriculture. The communities believe that burning the veldt has more benefits than not burning. In places near the Okavango Delta, people use fire to try and clear vegetation to encourage water to flow into areas. Too, in other areas, there are reports that poachers deliberately start fires to flush the game out of the brush.
However, with the overuse of fires and as they burn out of control, huge tracts of natural habitat is destroyed and could stop the regeneration of many forest species. Wildlife with limited speed and movement, such as tortoises, smaller mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and eggs are burnt, while many other species may be able to barely escape. The intense high-levels of smoke have a hugely negative impact on air quality and pollution, as well as climate change.
Dr. Mike Chase (see an interview with Dr. Chase, click here): “Recently all our collared elephants moved in relation to the fires. This time of year, elephants can do with all the forage they can access. The fires limit this tremendously and put pressure on elephants to feed along the rivers and riparian woodlands… habitat, we are concerned about. We need to address the devastating effect of these fires in places like Khaudum, Caprivi and northern Botswana. Further, fences limit the escape routes elephants can use. In 2003, I observed~20 elephants near Sepako (Botswana side of Hwange National Park, Zim) whose feet were severely burned. I did not think they would survive given the severity and infections of the burns. Others will argue the fires will increase browse during a time of year when there is little… but surely our savannas can not continue to withstand the frequency and intensity of these fires?”
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