The day we drove between Punda Maria and Letaba we noticed that we went through a large area where it looked as though a fire had swept through the area. At lunch, when we stopped at Shingwedzi, I saw a poster that explained the South African National Park’s policy on burning in the park. They do controlled burns purposefully so that the vegetation does not get too thick. Kruger’s vegetation is a savannah system which has developed over thousands of years with fire being an important part of the ecosystem. Most burns take place during the winter months of July through September although occasionally lightning may start a fire spontaneously, usually in the September through November time frame but has happened as early as May.
The park management has a formula for the percentage of the park where they will have a controlled burn depending on the amount of annual rainfall over the previous two years. The goal is to reduce the amount of grass so they don’t have high intensity spontaneous burns later in the season. The poster goes on to explain that plants in the savannah have evolved to reproduce after a fire. Savannah animals also have evolved to survive a fire. Large animals can sense fire a long way before it gets to where they are and have time to leave and small animals can hide under rocks or in holes, burrow into the ground or hide inside the thick bark of savannah trees. Fire does not penetrate any further than 5 cm. into the dirt.