Fires of Life

Fire on the Delta. Ian Michler
Like all wilderness areas in Africa, fire plays an important role in the cycle of life in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, burning off old vegetation to make way for new growth. Fire plays a crucial role in any wilderness area, with the need for old grass and papyrus to be burnt off for new growth to come through, and allowing for the germination of seeds. Through time the natural occurrence of fires has preserved the balance of nature in the wilderness areas of Africa and more recently man has used fire to clear areas for the planting of crops for subsistence living.

In the Okavango Delta fires clear channels blocked by old and rotting papyrus, allowing for water to flow more freely and to bring on new growth.

Fire and Man

Today man is responsible for more and more clearing of land to feed an ever growing population, and to feed the fast-growing need to satisfy high paying customers in the wilderness areas. No more the experience of enjoying the wilderness, but rather the want of what of what is perceived to be the experience of the 'Real Africa'.

And therein lies a problem, for in many cases the need is satisfied by controlling the wilderness areas by setting fire to them to bring on the new grass to attract animals, or snuffing out fires that are necessary for this new growth before they can burn enough of the old vegetation off.

The Okavango Delta is still relatively safe from man's burning desire although it has been known that safari operators burn floodplains to attract wildlife to the new grass and to provide a better safari experience for guests.

Wildlife through the Fire

Animals are generally able to avoid harm during a fire. Personal observations in the Okavango Delta include seeing animals running back through the flames into the burnt areas - and safety, or heading into available water. There are however incidents where animals do not make it and end up as victims of a wilderness necessity.

Seasons of Fire in the Okavango

Zebra race across the dry papyrus. Okavango. Leigh KempThere are two seasons in the Okavango when fires will burn - in late winter when the water on the floodplains is shrinking fast and the grass becomes brittle and dry, and before the arrival of the floodwaters when the grass on the plains, that grew with the rains, is shrivelling.

Not only is fire necessary to burn off old vegetation but it is also a time when predators feed on the insects and small animals that cannot flee fast enough from the flames.
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