Serengeti fires – an act of god or mischief of man


(Posted 21st July 2018)


The annual migration of the wildebeest, something ingrained in their DNA as they must follow available pastures to feed or else die of starvation, has followed more or less the same route for millenia. Blissfully unaware of frontiers, which were introduced by colonial powers after the Berlin conference in 1884/85 during which Africa was divided among the resource hungry European nations, have the wildebeest, as many other species, been traversing the sprawling Serengeti, where they spend much of the year – including the calving season – but also must cross the Mara river to feed on the rich pasture found in the Masai Mara.
Serengeti and Masai Mara, located in modern age in two countries, are therefore linked for as long as the great herds exist.

The documentary by multi award winning film director and conservationist Alan Root, released in 1974, gives a broad overview of the migration since the big herds came into existence tens of thousands of years ago.

Trying to stop this migratory habits is beyond mankind, or should be, as without the migration the herds starve.
The annual spectacle of large numbers of them crossing the Mara river and running the gauntlet of crocodiles and predators normally starts in late June or early July after which the herds move through the Masai Mara like a giant lawn mower. They are eating their way across the Mara from one end to the other before returning to the Serengeti for their long march back to the low grass plains between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, where the special calcium rich nutrients in the grass help to develop the next generation of wildebeest before they are born in February or March during the calving season.

The arrival of the wildebeest has at times though been delayed when extensive bushfires spread across the part of the migration in the Serengeti, a major obstacle for the herds but ultimately not preventing them from reaching the river and crossing it into the pasture rich undulating plains of the Masai Mara – simply because it is a do or die situation for them.

This year, like before, have fires mysteriously sprung up directly in the migration path and as every time is speculation rife what was the cause of those fires. Some fires are truly acts of nature, perhaps after a lightning strike or when a drop of water serves as a magnifying glass to ignite tinder dry grass, some are accidents through carelessly thrown away cigarette butts and others, well, can be both planned burns – now who plans burns in the direct path of the oncoming migration – or simply human mischief.

Six years ago a spat over the cause of the fires prompted a series of articles and blog posts to be written about the subject while allegation and accusations spread and it is as usual up to readers to draw their own conclusions, if an act of god was responsible or if mischievious individuals turned into arsonists with intent – the intent to hinder the migration and deny the neighbours the annual migration spectacle while, probably unintended, putting the live of the entire great herds at risk of starvation.

Combined with the ill conceived highway across the migration route of the wildebeest would it probably be enough to cut the size of the herd’s numbers down to a fraction of what they are today which would be a loss not just for Kenya but to an even greater extend to Tanzania where the herds spend most of the time of the year, besides the loss for mankind overall given that the migration is called one of the seven natural wonders of the world.


Meanwhile have the 2018 fires spread and as seen in the past slowed down the herds but ultimately will not stop them from reaching their objective, which is crossing the Mara river and then filling their empty bellies with the nutrient rich grass across the Masai Mara, a spectacle tens of thousands of tourists come to see every year between July and October just as tens of thousands of tourists come to the Serengeti to see the migration there at various locations.