Botswana — The local community rushed to the aid of a private safari camp last month after the heat from a vehicle exhaust system ignited the sun-baked grass bordering Makgadikgadi pans.
The huge bush fire that raged for over three days consumed several hundred square kilometers of savannah south of Gweta.
First on the scene were many of the employees from Unchartered Africa’s Jack’s Camp. However, as soon as the scale of the crisis was known, the local community sprung into action under the supervision of Gweta Station Commander Moshashane.
Throughout the battle, key members of the local community were out in force trying to minimize the damage to their land and, on some occasions, even diverted manpower from other areas to come to the aid of Jack’s when the fire threatened the camp.
Senior Chiefs Mapine, Steven, Batule and Gabusitwe as well as Councilor Moses all helped bring the fire under control.
Jack’s Camp Guide Super Sand said that it was a credit to both the community and Jack’s Camp that there was so much consideration and concern for the environment.
By offering such a demonstration of support, the community indicated a clear realization of the economic benefits that tourism has brought to the area in terms of employment and increase in custom to local business owners.
The rapid response by the local population played a major role in protecting Jack’s Camp and in helping to save the Makgadikgadi from much more seriousdamage.
According to camp officials, it is also possible that without the community’s contributions, the annual migration of zebra and wildebeest would have been seriously threatened. Researchers have suggested that due to the new fence lines that prevent free movement and access to alternative grazing, the migrating animals could have been wiped out within a week.
Several disasters may have been avoided, but community members and camp officials agree there are lessons to be learned that could help reduce the risks posed by future fires.
The community will be looking to local government to provide clear guidance on fire prevention initiatives such as the grading of major access roads into the Makgadikgadi to serve as fire barriers as well as the construction of fire breaks around cattle posts and tourism operations to protect livelihoods and sources of income.