Fire costs Etosha millions – by Irene !Hoaës

Fire costs Etosha millions – by Irene !Hoaës   

14 October 2011

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Namibia — Wild animals worth at least N$18,6 million were lost during the four-day wild fire that raged in the Etosha National Park last month.

Among the dead animals are 25 black rhinos, five white rhinos, 11 elephants, 60 giraffes, 30 kudu and three lions.

These animals are rated as high value animals, as they are part of the Big Five, which are normally the main attraction in any wildlife tourism related entity.

According to the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, it is possible that many other smaller species may also have been killed during the fire, hence the possibility that the value of the animals lost could be higher.
Approximately 300 000 hectares covering the area to the south and east of Halali Camp up to the Kalkheuwel Waterhole were burnt during the fire.

The fire started on Farm Success, located south of the park and spread through other farms (Streben, Lyn Plaas, Mara and Vrede) before entering the park on September 22.
The minister said the cause of the fire is suspected to be charcoal production on Farm Success.

The area is known to be one of the key charcoal-producing areas.
Meanwhile, another fire was also reported in the Namib Naukluft Park, during the past weekend.

She said the fire, which started on October 7, was only extinguished two days ago.
The fires were started by lightning and burnt parts of Ganab and Solitaire.
“I am happy to note that the fire was stopped and no wildlife mortalities reported,” the minister told journalists at a media briefing yesterday.

Nandi-Ndaitwah said veld fires are an important element of the savannah ecosystem. They maintain the savannah structure, prevent bush encroachment and open up systems for other species such as springbok.

“However, necessary measures are needed to manage and deal with such fires to minimise and prevent losses of high value species such as elephant, rhino and lion.”
Although the Etosha Natioanl Park has firebreaks, the fire managed to jump and spread into the park as a result of strong winds accompanying the fire.

In addition, environment officials said, the fire was accompanied by a very thick smoke, which confused the animals, hence the large number of fatalities.

“It is a loss to the nation but because of our effective conservation methods, you can still not miss to see and enjoy our wildlife, when you go to the park,” Nandi-Ndaitwah said.

The fires were extinquished with the help of MET staff in the parks and the Namibian Defence Force.

The ministry has now adopted adaptive and mitigating procedures such as implementing controlled burning programmes to reduce grass biomass, before the onset of the dry season, strengthening and improving field staff capacity, increasing research and monitoring activities as well as updating fire fighting equipment for field staff to adequately manage and control unplanned fires.

Nandi-Ndaitwah called on the public not to throw away bottles in the veld, as excessive sunrays can cause the bottles to burn and start fires.

She also called on charcoal producers to take necessary precautions to prevent fires resulting from their operations.

“As a government we are concerned,” she said.

During the past weeks, veld fires caused havoc in Namibia, where thousands of hectares of grazing land and animals were destroyed.
In the Blumfelde vicinity at least 2 300 sheep and 28 cattle died because of veld fires a few weeks ago.

In addition, more than 9 000 hectares of grazing land and 547 small livestock, including goats and sheep, were killed in the Dâures Constituency of the Erongo Region, a month ago.

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