Community-based fire management saves Wattled Crane breeding sites in the Driefontein Grasslands, Zimbabwe

The landscape in the Driefontein Grasslands, Zimbabwe’s key Wattled Crane area, is characterised by grasslands and seasonal riverine wetlands. Wattled Crane nesting sites are located in the low-lying areas. During the winter season, grass in the uplands and wetlands gets dry thereby creating favourable conditions for fires to spread ferociously across the landscape. Wattled Cranes are known to breed on raised patches or islands within wetlands. This reduces the vulnerability of their nests to fire. However, in the Driefontein Grasslands, due to low water levels in the seasonally-wet zones and the presence of dry vegetation during the winter season, uncontrolled fires can destroy nests and kill unfledged chicks. Over the past ten years, cases of uncontrolled fires destroying wetland vegetation that provides cover required for the Wattled Cranes to nest and rear chicks successfully, have been reported.

Grassed wetland or Wet grassland? Vegetation characteristics and water levels fluctuate with seasons in the Driefontein Grasslands

Grassed wetland or Wet grassland? Vegetation characteristics and water levels in wetlands fluctuate with seasons in the Driefontein Grasslands

To alleviate this challenge, BirdLife Zimbabwe has been working with local communities to promote village-based fire management systems. This involves fire management awareness during the winter season and promotion of collective fire fighting by community members. Six villages (Chinyaure, Chipisa, Chivake, Daviot, Shashe and Widgeon) have adopted collective fire management systems. In the event of an outbreak, village fire fighting teams work together to prevent from ravaging wetland zones where vegetable gardens and crane breeding sites are located. The area between Daviot and Chinyaure villages, incorporating the wetlands used for breeding by four Wattled Crane pairs, has been a fire hotspot almost every year since 2004. This year, the area remained unaffected by fire till the onset of the rainy season as the community succeeded in containing one fire outbreak. Two Wattled Crane pairs bred successfully. Mr Langton Machando, who leads the Daviot Support Group (community champions for crane conservation), attributed this success to BirdLife Zimbabwe’s protracted fire management and crane conservation awareness campaigns.

Two things that communities protect when there is a fire outbreak- Wattled Crane nests and vegetable gardens (in the background)

Two things that communities protect when there is a fire outbreak- Wattled Crane nests and vegetable gardens (in the background)

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