Tanzania refutes allegation of fire deliberately set in Serengeti

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TANZANIA (eTN) – Tanzania has refuted the allegation that it had set fire in northern parts of Serengeti to block the annual wildebeest migration to Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

A section of Kenya’s media on Monday reported that Tanzanians living around the Serengeti National Park have set the area on fire to block the wildebeest migration.

According to the story, the decision to block the wildebeest migration has brought many concerns to the Kenyan government.

The story further said fires, which have so far lasted two weeks, have delayed hundreds of wildebeests from Serengeti plains gathered on the Mara River from crossing into Kenya.

In a quick rejoinder, Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA)’s Public Relations Manager, Pascal Shelutete, said the Wildebeest Migration has not been affected as claimed and that the scientific calendar for the migration to cross into the Masai Mara will be in September or October.

In a statement seen by The East African, Mr. Shelutete said what happened in the northern part of Serengeti was “early burning,” which has taken place in an area of not more than 0.5 square kilometers and which actually has no impact at all in wildlife movement patterns.

“Early burning has been practiced for years without affecting the migration which, we are sure our neighbors in the Maasai Mara who are also conservationists are aware of this,” reads part of the official statement.

The General Management Plan of the Serengeti National Park has a fire management scheme, which allows the practice of early burning. This is a type of fire, which is set early while grasses are still green.

The fire is practiced for several reasons, which include reducing the number of destructive insects such as the tsetse fly, and reducing the amount of litter that can catalyze fire during the dry season.

A TANAPA spokesperson further said that early burning facilitates new forage for animals, as some seeds can only germinate after been burnt, and also when old grasses are burnt, new ones germinate.

“In line with this, early burning was practiced in some parts of [the] Northern zone, namely as Wogakuria towards Nyamalumbwa plains,” Mr. Shelutete said, adding, “These areas were selected following [a] high number of tsetse fly and large amount of litter. This excursion is being undertaken every year and has never affected [the] phenomena of migration.”

Annual calendar of migration
As per the annual migration calendar, Mr. Shelutete said it suffices to state that it is not yet time for the main migration to occur in the Masai Mara, as the right time is September and October.

Currently, the main migration is still on movement from the west towards northern part of the Serengeti.

Usually wildebeest and zebra cover 1,000 kilometers in their course of migration throughout the year, the statement said.

Mr. Shelutete further said that scientifically, these migratory animals spend two months at a time during a year in the Masai Mara and the rest of the ten months, wildebeest spend their time in the Serengeti.

“These animals are too many (1.5 millions) and, therefore, cannot stay in one area; they must move in search of new pasture and exchang[e] males to avoid inbreeding,” reads part of the statement.