In Case of Fire
August 21 2017

On the morning of 4th August, the research team headed into the site as usual, but ‘usual’ was not what the team had planned for that day.  The plan for the morning was to carry out some controlled burning to an area within the release site.  Fire is a natural part of grassland ecology; levels of nutrients and soil minerals are increased following a fire and the germination of plants is stimulated resulting in healthy new vegetation that is nutritious for grazing animals.  Controlled burning can be a necessary tool in managed ecosystems and whilst every year a protective firebreak around the outside of the release site is performed there has been no fire, controlled or wild, within since 2011.

But it wasn’t just the geological benefits the research team had in mind when planning the fire.  With a release of impala scheduled in the near future, the provision of a large open area would offer the antelopes safety where short grass and sparse shrub cover exposes an on-coming predator, meaning the chance of being ambushed is greatly reduced.  And with the extra-added benefit that a change to one’s habitat goes far in stimulating interest in their territory, yes, it surely was time to do some burning. 

However, there was just one thing, or rather 11 things, that had to be taken into consideration.  It would not be safe to begin any controlled burning whilst the pride’s whereabouts was unknown and so the research team used natural tactics to lure the lions to the management area where they could be contained safely away from fire and observing human activity.  Confident that the pride would be motivated to investigate the alarm call of prey species, the sound of zebra was played across Ngamo from behind the adjacent management area and, sure enough, the pride arrived and entered one by one and the burning commenced. 

Once the manpower and vehicles had exited the site, the management area was opened and the pride wandered back into their territory.  They headed straight for the newly burnt area in ‘Serengeti East’ and the team were excited to observe the lions’ reactions.  It was a first time for some of the younger pride members but for Milo, this was not so novel and whilst AS5 stood cautiously at the very edge of the blackened soil, Milo casually wandered onto the warm and smouldering ground.  It wasn’t long before Nala and KE3 began checking out the change to their habitat and while AT1 was sprinting back and forth chasing birds, the rest of their pride mates lazed on the burnt ground.  It seems for some that a change really is just as good as a rest. 

AS5 unsure about the change in his surroundings

Milo has no such concerns

Nala and KE3 investigate

About the Ngamo Lion Release Site

The 6 adults (1 male and 5 females) of the ‘Ngamo Pride’ were captive born and released into the ‘Ngamo Lion Release Site’ in 2010, having been walked in the rehabilitation phase of the ex situ conservation project, the African Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Programme.  The pride’s 5 offspring (1 male and 4 females) were born in the site and have had no human contact, display natural behaviours, and are intended for release into the wild in the final phase of the Programme.

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