Serengeti Watch – News Updates

Greetings!

We all know the Amazon is burning, a disaster that’s sparked protest around the world. But what about fires in Africa, reportedly even more extensive? And in particular, what about the Serengeti, which sees frequent natural and man-made fires? We report on this here. And conversely, on the more critical issue of water.

FIRE IN THE SERENGETI

Beneficial or Harmful?

The answer, for the Serengeti and many other parts of Africa, is that fire is a natural and beneficial part of savannah ecosystems. Grasslands are important carbon sinks that fire helps regenerate.

A recent article by Colin Beale from the University of York states,

"Without fires, many savannahs (and the animals they support) wouldn’t exist, and lighting them is a key management activity in many of the iconic protected areas of Africa. For instance the Serengeti in Tanzania is known worldwide for its safari animals and awe-inspiring wildebeest migration – and our work shows that around half of its grasslands burn each year.

Last year, I led research which helped show how important fire is to biodiversity in these areas. We looked at those parts of the savannah that had a lot of different types of fires – some big, some small, some hot, some cool and sometimes no fire at all – and found they had up to 30% more diverse mammal communities and 40% more diverse bird communities."

This relates back to a report in our April newsletter showing how outside pressure from farms and livestock are degrading land within the Serengeti ecosystem itself. Research found human activity has affected grass cover, soils, beneficial natural fires, and the overall risk from climate change.

In short, fire is an essential part of grassland ecology. In the Serengeti human activities are reducing fire, a risk for the ecosystem’s health and future.

(photo: Jim Zucherman)

WATER

This is an ongoing and more critical issue for the health and survival of the Serengeti.

We’ve reported on a series of proposed dams that would threaten the Mara River, lifeblood of the migration, and we helped organize a meeting on this issue.

Now there has been some progress: a commitment by both Kenya and Tanzania to keep the river healthy at a recent conference sponsored by USAID. In addition, our partner, No Water No Life, has reported on continuing evictions of illegal settlers from Kenya’s Mau Forest, the vital water catchment that supplies the Mara River Basin. It’s a sad story for those who were allowed to settle in this protected forest. However, it would be catastrophic to permit further destruction of the forest for the estimated million people living downstream.

The issue will stay with us. A recent article describes how worsening drought linked to climate change is destroying pasture land. A growing number of Maasai are turning to agriculture. More agriculture, more people, more demand for water, more political pressure to provide it.

Watch a good video on the Mara River.

(photo: Xavier Surinyach)

Provide clean water to school children

With our Tanzanian partner, Serengeti Preservation Foundation, we’re enhancing our education program by providing water filters for schools. We’ve donated 40 filters to eight schools this year, and we plan to donate more. The cost to purchase and transport each filter is $80.

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