Lighting fires: A key management activity in many of the iconic protected areas of Africa
Without fires, many savannahs and the animals they support, wouldn’t exist as we know it.
Text by Elsabe van der Westhuizen, FZS Project Leader Gonarezhou National Park, Zambia
Fire has been a component of Africa’s savannah ecosystems for millennia. In traditional grazing systems the grasslands are routinely subjected to fire to stimulate new growth of nutritious grasses for livestock, to control numbers of parasitic insects and/or to manage the growth of scrub encroachment.
Without fires, many savannahs and the animals they support, wouldn’t exist as we know it and lighting them is often a key management activity in many of the iconic protected areas of Africa. In the Serengeti it is estimated that upto half of the grasslands burn annually.
Fire, under certain conditions, has been shown to have a positive impact on biodiversity in Africa’s savannahs. In a landscape where fire forms a mosaic of burn intensity and duration– some big, some small, some hot, some cool and sometimes no fire at all – Beale et al (2018) found that these areas had up to 30% more diverse mammal communities and 40% more diverse bird communities. It also needs to be kept in mind that fires in the savannah burn mainly dry grasses that regrow each year: the CO₂ released by fires in grasslands is reabsorbed by the growth of new grass the next year, meaning such fires are nearly carbon-neutral within a year.