Fynbos extinction feared in fire-ravaged Cape

Fynbos extinction feared in fire-ravaged Cape

29 January 2006

published by www.int.iol.co.za

Cape Town, South Africa — The devastating series of fires that have ravaged large parts of the Western Cape, including Table Mountain, probably wiped out species of fynbos in the unique Cape floral kingdom as well as animal species.

Val Charlton, spokesperson for Working on Fire, told the Sunday Argus that plant and animal species were likely to have been lost in the widespread series of fires this summer.

“Fynbos has evolved since before we were around and it needs fire to survive but not as frequently as we are seeing. Without a doubt we will seeextinctions.”

Erica and protea species were the most likely to have been lost but “anything that couldn’t fly could be lost”.

“We don’t even know all the knock-on effects yet but it affects the entireeco-system.”

Charlton said some insects may depend on a particular plant to survive or a plant may need to be pollinated by a particular insect.

“It’s all very much a web of life,” she said.

The fynbos of the Cape Floral Kingdom has World Heritage status and a number of species are endemic to the Western Cape.

Apart from repeated runaway fires, it is also under serious threat from alien plant encroachment and global warming.

A 65-year-old British woman died in the most recent fire and a British man, Anthony Cooper, from Swansea in Wales, appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court on Friday where he’s facing charges of culpable homicide and arson.

Cooper is alleged to have started the Table Mountain blaze by throwing a cigarette butt out of a car window and causing the tinder-dry vegetation to erupt instantly into flames fanned by a strong wind.

He is out on R3 000 bail and is to appear in court again on February 10.

The mountain blaze, which made world news headlines, flared up again late on Friday to threaten homes in Sea Point.

Residents in Springbok Road, below Signal Hill, had to leave their homes but returned in the early hours of of Saturday to douse their homes with garden hoses.

Some packed suitcases just in case.

Hot spots continued to flare up late on Saturday but by evening they were reported to be under control.

Charlton said fynbos comprised an intricate ecosystem that meant insect species could be lost for good and that seed-bearing plants were most at risk.

“In the recent fires vegetation that has burned has been only five years old or younger – really bad news because the fynbos has not yet had a chance to set seed.”

Charlton said fynbos needed at least eight, but ideally closer to 20, years before it burned.

Fiona Kalk, spokesperson for the Table Mountain National Park, said delicate and slow-growing Cape silver trees had burned on Lion’s Head.

She said the park was still counting the cost of the damage but that there would definitely have been loss of wildlife such as reptiles, snakes and tortoises.

Kalk added that a helicopter was being used to water-bomb flare-ups on Saturday while ground crews were damping down hot spots.

Two helicopters were on stand-by.

She said a serious flare-up in Tamboerskloof behind the German School had been water-bombed and a team had been sent to put out a flare-up near the Signal Hill car park.

The upper Deer Park area below Tafelberg Road was burning strongly on Saturday afternoon.

She added that firefighters were grateful for the food that had been pouring in to their Newlands control office from the public.

The SPCA has had teams scouring the mountain for injured animals.

Andries Venter, manager of the inspectorate and horse care unit, said he had received reports of injured buck but had not yet found them.

He said they had a response unit on stand-by and were prepared to go up as soon as any report came in. If you see an injured animal call him on 083 678 8460.

There is a risk of rockfalls and mudslides, especially if heavy rain arrives early.

Charlton said it was still early enough for ground-plant cover to grow provided there was gentle rain early in the season “but if we have a real deluge a week from now there is a very real risk of substantial damage from loose rocks”.

Strong winds and high temperatures were predicted until Wednesday, she added, so there was still a very strong possibility that the fire could flare out of control again.


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