As temperatures slowly rise and the humidity increases, we have had the first few sprinkles for the season. These very light downpours driven mostly by the temperature drops brought about by the last cold fronts washing over the lowveld.
The Natal Mahogany trees in camp are flowering in anticipation of the new season and the camp is filled with the sweet scent of spring in the early morning and late afternoons. All the flowering trees have attracted bees and birds, and birds feeding on the bees. The result is a beautiful cacophony of Bird calls as the birds shake off their winter slumber and prepare for mating and a time of plenty.
The impala ewes are all starting to show clear signs of pregnancy, with little pot bellies nurturing developing lambs. The impalas have certainly benefitted from the previous rainy season, and it seems that the rate of conception is up to the impressive norm. Research has indicated that up to 98% of ewes over two years old can conceive, this certainly seems to be the case and we look forward to a massive recruitment in November.
The change in season and a bit of precipitation has caused a slight flush of grass and the hardier fast growing tree species are budding, many of the animals that were utilizing Inyati’s garden for grazing and browsing have reluctantly dispersed, leaving the resident Inyala to rule the roost again.
The elephants that did their best to consume the garden in the winter months, tend not to visit the lodge as frequently, to the delight of the ground keeping staff.
We have had amazing lion viewing from camp as the Othawa pride hardly ever move away from the abundant food source that the Sand River provides. They killed a massive Kudu bull in front of camp and numerous impalas and even a buffalo just west of Inyati.
The resident leopard have reacted to the lions presence around Inyati and we have seen less of them in camp. They do still pass through, but they no longer have the luxury of lazing on the lawn as their larger more dominant competitors scent linger in the air.
An old buffalo bull has been spending evenings between the river and the camp as the soft grasses on the banks of the river are more manageable for his weary molars. He seems to be blind in one eye and as a result has given many a ranger the scare of his life on the way back to the staff village. The old boy simply stops and listens to whatever is approaching and by the time a flashlight reveals his presence he is often at very close quarters. Luckily only egos have thus far been bruised.
Humans have used fire to manipulate our environment for centuries. The ability to manipulate and harness fire may well have paved the way to our domination of the planet, whether this is a positive thing is a debate for a campfire and many bottles of wine.
Conservationists in Africa have also used fire as a management tool for many years and research is ongoing into fire regimes best suited for the many different habitats in Southern Africa. This overview only skims the surface of these intricacies in order not to put you to sleep.
The theory behind burning as a land management tool is to simulate natural occurrences as far as possible. Historically vast tracts of land used to burn in the late winter, ignited by humans or even lighting strikes, fueled by hot dry winds and tinder box like vegetation. These fires were allowed to burn unhindered by modern fire breaks, roads, crops, or villages. If there was enough fuel and conditions suited, it would burn.
Fire is known to promote the growth of certain species of grass, especially grasses that tend to be more palatable to animals. It would seem grasses have thus adapted to fire under the correct circumstances. Animals tend to have preference for certain species of grass due to digestibility and palatability, or they just taste good. So, these grasses are grazed heavily and tend to diminish in number if many animals are in the area. The unpalatable, less yummy species start dominating as they are grazed less So in broad terms, over or under grazing could lead to a dominance of certain species of grass that in the long run leads to monotonous areas of “undesirable” veld(bush).
In the Greater Kruger National Park annual surveys are done to determine the composition of grass species across different types of veld. Also, the amount of tonnage of grass per hectare is measured and woody species are recorded. This data is used to monitor veld condition and plan burning regimes and to test burning regimes.
You can imagine the mammoth task and the amount of data collected and processed over the past 30 to 40 years. This data allows the ecologists and conservationists in the Greater Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sand Wildtuin to make decisions on when and where to burn.
In summation, fire can be a very good thing for the bush by:
· Leveling the playing field for grasses,
· opening areas by killing saplings of encroaching woody species,
· removing old (moribund) grass and allowing light to ignite the growth of new palatable grass shoots and promoting palatable grass species.
This year the ecologists found indicators that some areas were ready to be burnt and Inyati has burnt a large block north of the Sand River.
One fire was a wildfire that burnt in from the north and was stopped to protect infrastructure, but the other fire was a controlled burn that was managed and done by reserve staff and all our neighboring lodges.
These large areas are burnt from the perimeter of the designated area and left to burn as naturally as possible. This creates a patch mosaic type burn where many areas are left unburnt and drainage lines and natural barriers to fire create a natural patchy burn. These patchy burns allow small animals to reestablish quickly as there is still cover available after the burn.
The larger mammals and reptiles can avoid the fire as the fires move slowly and are done on cool days with little wind. As the grasses have evolved with fire mammals have also adapted to fire and are generally unscathed.
We have had some rain after the burn and the beautiful green flush of grass is already evident and the grazers are happily munching on yummy grass now.
We look forward to hosting you at Inyati Game Lodge and sharing an experience which typifies the African safari, without compromising on accommodation and incredible game viewing.
Keith and the Inyati team