Tanzania has refuted allegations that locals living around the Serengeti had set fire in northern parts of the park to deliberately block the annual wildebeest migration to 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 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.
The story further said that the blocking of the wildebeest migration has caused ripples in the tourism industry on the Kenyan side, which reported that tourists who have pitched camp along the banks of the river to watch the migration are forced to pay more than they had planned because of this delay.
But Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA)’s Public Relations Manager, Pascal Shelutete said the wildebeest migration has not been affected as claimed because the migration to cross into the Maasai Mara is expected to take place 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 kilometres and which actually has no impact in wildlife movement patterns.
“Early burning has been practiced for years without affecting the migration which we are sure our neighbours in the Maasai Mara who are also conservationists are aware of this,” reads part of the official statement.
The General Management Plan of Serengeti National Park has a fire management scheme, which allows the practice of early burning. This is type of fire, which is set early while grasses are still green.
The fire is practiced for several reasons, which include reducing number of destructive insects such as tsetse fly and reduce the amount of litter that can spark fires during dry season.
TANAPA spokesperson further said that early burning facilitate new forage for animals as some seeds can only germinate after being 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.“These areas were selected following the 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”.
Currently the animals are still moving from the western towards northern part of Serengeti, the statement reads. Usually wildebeest and zebra cover 1000 kilometres in their course of migration through the year.