Sustainable Development in Africa & Satellites - page 104

Fires regenerate land
Navashni Govender. Programme Manager Fire Ecology and
Biogeochemistry, South African National Parks (SANParks)
Kruger National Park, Skukuza, South Africa.
frica is often referred to as the ‘Fire Continent’ due to the widespread
occurrence of biomass burning. For thousands of years, fire has been
shaping the landscape, selecting for fire resistant/tolerant flora and
fauna. Previously only lightning was considered as a natural fire source,
but humans — pastoralists, tourists, migrants and poachers—are now the
dominant reason for the ignition of wildfires.
South Africa has a long fire history: the Kruger National Park started
research in 1954 and as soon as 1957 regular prescribed burning was
practiced. Today, it has become a usable tool in conservation. To use fire
more effectively as a management tool we need to know what effect it has
on trees, grass, ants… how it behaves, how the landscapes react. Knowing
howhot it burns is important because it affects ecology. We are alsoworking
on post-fire effects. For example, we want to know if we can use high fire
intensity to control bush encroachment. Maintaining biodiversity is today
our ultimate aim.
Technology helps. In the past, we had hand-drawn maps and then we
used ground-based and aerial photography. Now we associate satellite
monitoring and photography to record fire behaviour and fire effects. We do
pre-fire measurement, fly a LiDAR with a plane, burn and then we do post
fire measurements. We have a remote sensing scientist specialist, using
NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) to study fire severity. These
tools are easy to use. I just have to log on to Phillip Frost’s site with my
computer in my Skukuza office to get maps and data.
Peopleareveryemotional aboutfires, soweget criticismfromecologistsand
tourists. But when you make lectures, they understand that fires are useful
for regenerating land, like rain. They are also conscious that temperatures
are increasing and rainfall is decreasing so we have more high fire index
days. If we do not perform burnings we will have more uncontrolled fires.
We think beyond our fences. We have a Fire protection association to share
resources and strategies and a joint management board with Mozambique.
We welcome local and foreign students from many countries. We receive
200 to 300 research projects every year!
South Africa National Parks manage and maintain the land for the
benefit of the population, but the land belongs to the community and they
manage accommodation and get revenues. Sustainable development
benefits people. Saying ‘look how beautiful it is’ is not enough, they
want tangible benefits.
102 - Sustainable Development in Africa & Satellites
Top left, Navashni Govender in her Skukuza office.
© J.D. Dallet/Suds-Concepts
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