Kruger National Park is currently doing controlled fires around the park as a pre-emptive measure to avoid possible outbreak of unmanageable wild fires during the dry season, as well as to help promote regeneration of new vegetation necessary for a balanced ecosystem.
According to Tercia Strydom, a Fire Ecologist in KNP, the park expects about 20% of it’s park to burn and in order to limit the chance of possible aggressive wild fires during the dry season, there is a need to apply early controlled burns.
“We estimate the chances of fire according to the amount of rain that each section of the park receives per season. This year looks like we have more chance of wild fire occuring in the park, hence we’re taking preventative measures in advance,” explained Strydom.
Apart from balancing the ecosystem, Strydom said a burned patch of land was sometimes necessary to provide certain minerals that benefit animals.
“As you have seen today, many animals were opting to graze in the parts of land where the grass was burned than in the other areas…and this was because there are certain minerals associated with burned vegetation which they all love to taste,” she said.
Asked about the carbon emissions from the park’s controlled fires, Strydom responded that there was no danger to it since nearly all the released carbon emissions were absorbed back by the new plants during the regeneration process.
“Apart from being absorbed back by the new plants, the park has a tool for measuring the fluctuations in carbon dioxide between the earth and the atmosphere, and the results are that our fires in the park do not cause much trouble,” she said.
Another challenge that the park is faced with is the invasion of alien plants species which are said to prevent the growth of other plants. This is said to be a number one driver in the destruction of vegetation in some parts of the park.
“One of these problematic plants is the Parthenium species…what this plant does is release chemicals that either prevents the germination of other plants species or work against the growth of the existing ones, thereby killing them and become dominant plant to that particular area of invasion,” explained Dr Llewellyn Foxcroft, the ecological scientist in the park.
According to him, most of the invading species were brought into the park through river systems which run through the park from other African countries, while others just occur naturally when their seeds get blown away from their area of origin to new areas where they become invasive to the native plants of that particular area.