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Controlled Burnings

June 10, 2013 Unique Safaris | Controlled Burnings in Tanzania

The crossings on the Mara River are usually between July and October, which we refer to as ‘dry season’. In the past 8-10 years, the majority of the wildebeest herds (65% of the current herds) do not cross into Kenya due to the loss of viable grazing land in the Mara. It is estimated the Maasai Mara has lost approximately 60% of their grasslands and 70% of their resident wildlife population in the past 10 years. There are primarily two reasons for this – an increase in Maasai cattle grazing in the reserve and Kenya’s policy of not doing controlled burns during the year. You will find that Tanzania is quite serious and at times rigid about protecting the Serengeti eco-system, but they cannot dictate what Kenya does in the small northwestern part of the system that lies in Kenya. Sometimes people complain about the rigidity because off-road game drives are severely restricted, but it is all for the good of the eco-system since some grasslands are hypersensitive to vehicle traffic which can inhibit the re-growth of important grasses.

Tanzania National Parks has had a policy to do controlled burns sometimes two times a year, but at least once a year. Most of the burns (controlled fires) are done just at the end of the green season, with most of the burning being done in June, when the grass is not too terribly dry, which could cause the burn to become out of control. These controlled burns will ultimately stimulate the growth of new, healthy grass during the dry season and also helps to create natural fire-breaks during the dry season when natural fires can potentially cause a lot of damage. Burning after the green season also helps to reduce tste tste flies and to eliminate noxious weeds that may have begun to grow. The health of the Serengeti’s grassland and the loss of crucial habitat in the Maasai Mara has had the effect of keeping the herds in the Tanzania portion of the Serengeti year round with the majority of the herds spreading out between the northeast-northwest Serengeti during the dry season months. This makes for a stunning spectacle and in an area of the Serengeti that has undulating hills and beautiful vistas.

The portions of the Mara River that we most often see herds crossing are actually in the Serengeti on both sides, so we see herds crossing back and forth all of the months of the dry season. The grass is rich and usually abundant in the Mara Triangle, the Wogakuria Hills and Kogatende areas, so the herds just go back and forth over the river; a change in the age-old pattern of the migration. This has obviously been to the benefit of Tanzania tourism and there are many small, luxurious tented camps that have been allowed to be built near the Mara River. Witnessing a crossing is still hit and miss, since no one knows when a group wants to cross or will be committed to crossing and they can stand on the banks of the river for hours and hours before they decide to cross or stay put.

We love to have our repeat clients experience both the green season (November-June) and the dry season (July-October) to explore the full range of the migration and the vast areas of the national park. The ideal, over time, is to experience the three major elements of the wildebeest migration- calving, rut and river crossings! Our sales staff are always available to talk with you on the phone to personalize your safari and help you to understand the complexity of the famous migration.

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