Thursday, 27 May 2010


Happily, not here and not even bad. But it was the main subject of conversation last night, when the research manager from Grumeti Reserves (where I had such fun in February) came over for a meal and discussion of future ideas. Fire is, to me at least, one of the big questions in the landscape here. Around 80% of Serengeti burns every year - though they say they aim at only 46% (rather precise if you ask me!), mostly deliberate burns set by the National Park authorities with a number of aims: to cook ticks and prevent wildlife disease, to stimulate fresh and nutricious new growth for the animals to eat, to keep the plains open and free of woodland and (bizarely) to prevent fires... But what evidence is there to support any of these activities, and what is the real impact of the burns in the long term? Unfortunately, in Serengeti and other national parks, there's no way anyone will even consider a large-scale experiment to find out what really happens. But it looks like we might be on for it in two sites outside of the National Parks - at Grumeti, particularly in the northern section, the Ikorongo Game Reserve - a huge section of the Serengeti ecosystem that currently has absolutely no development for tourism or anything else - it's wild! And also in the Simanjiro plains, lying to the east of Tarangire NP and where all their wildebeest and zebra go to have their babies in the wet season.

So I'm trying to sell the idea to the people who can make it happen, and then find lots of scientists who want to play with some long-term and huge-scale experiments on the impacts of fire in the savannah ecosystem. What does it do to the nutrient cycles? Do fires in June/July (a popular time for the managers, as it's still moist and the fires are relatively controlable) cook all the birds that are busy nesting in the grass then? What about invertebrates? Should the firest be set every year, every other year, twice a year even? Should they be trying for hot burns or cooler, faster burns? Could it be that the current fire management is the reason some rather rare species have nearly disappeared from Serengeti (like Roan Antelope, for example)? And what on earth are the impacts on carbon cycling or nitrogen and other nutrients? If I can really sell the idea, and then get some other interested people on board (I suspect there won't be too much of a shortage of willing folk, given the obvious impact of fire in these places, but the complete lack up to now of any experiments - and the rather pleasant place to do some fieldwork...) I think we could have a fantastic set-up for lots of interesting ecology. Hurrah! And in the shorter term, it (unfortunately for me) means I'll have to head back there and try selling the idea to the man with the matches... Tough, huh? Particularly as the best time for me will probably be just around the time the wildebeest are crossing the Grumeti river with all those big croc's snapping at them. Shame. (Though I'm told they don't know what they're doing at the moment, and seem to be sneaking back north via the eastern portion of the park this year. Haven't they seen all the maps and read the guidebooks? Naughty nymbu...)

So, anyone got good ideas for ecological things to tack on to a big burning project? Anyone else with particularly pyrotechnic tendancies? Let me know and we'll get the applications together...

And in other news, we'll be offline for the next little while, as we head off on safari tomorrow afternoon with two nights at Lake Manyara (will we see the lions in the trees this time, I wonder?), then three nights camping over at Lake Eyasi. I've spent the afternoon running about town getting last-minute things done - making sure we've got cooking pots, a fire grid, spare oil for the landrover, that sort of thing. And Mama B has just been busy baking flapjacks to sustain us - yum yumm! Hopefully we'll have lots of good tales to tell of the birds, beasts and hunter-gatherers when we come back. And we will definitely pack the camera somewhere obvious this time...

Oh, and Mama B is completely over her nasty, Kitty got it yesterday, but seems better too now. Hopfully the Mancub and I will be exempted this time...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mr B,
    is there any way of knowing about the frequency and extent of fires in the distant past i.e. before humans started to have a large scale impact on the savannahs, and how much they played a part in maintaining it as savannah (which was what I'd always assumed). I must admit it sounds a bit OTT at the moment but I guess there is also a danger of going the other way and ending up with a tinder-box (as in the US) and or scrubbing up of the grasslands. I'm sure you've already thought of these but I thought I'd mention it anyway,