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of the environment in the Moremi Game Reserve and similar to the other forms of land use
in the Ramsar Site requires consideration in the formulation of the fire management plan.

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improves the quality of papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) that is harvested for making household
mats. Thus these activities are another ignition source for fires in the Ramsar Site.

4.5.2 Wildlife management areas

4.5.2.1 Tourism

The growth in value and benefits from tourism have been enormous and income from
tourism is the second highest income generator after diamonds in Botswana. The
Okavango Delta conjures up two images for many people – one a vast area of swamps and
the other an abundance of wildlife. These two features form the basis for the tourism
industry in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site that involves both community and commercial
photographic concession areas where tourists visit and are accommodated in lodges and
tented camps in designated areas to view and photograph wildlife and the scenic beauty of
the Okavango Delta. The other form of tourism is community and commercial based wildlife
utilization in the wildlife management areas and in the controlled hunting areas. This
involves commercial trophy hunting of large African ungulates under strict government
regulations administered by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks. Sixty percent of
people employed in Ngamiland are employed either in the tourism industry or in the
services and infrastructure that support the industry and therefore this form of land use is of
enormous social benefit to the communities living in the Ramsar Site. The aforementioned
tourist activities are located in extensive tracts of Permanent Swamps, Seasonal Swamps
and the different woodland communities and intentional and unintentional fires are a
frequent and often controversial feature of the different forms of land use in these areas.
Therefore the effects and use of fire in these tourist related areas requires serious
consideration in the formulation of the fire management plan for the Okavango Delta
Ramsar Site.

4.5.3 Game reserves

The land use category “game reserves” in Table 5 refers to the Moremi Game Reserve
located in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site. It is regarded as one of the premier wildlife
destinations in Africa and covers approximately one third of the Okavango Delta. It is
surrounded by the wildlife management area dealt with in section 4.5.2 and because it is
not fenced it allows free movement of wildlife across its borders providing a safety zone
during the hunting season (Roodt, 2006). Moremi forms an important component of the
tourism industry in the Ramsar Site and contributes significantly to the economic viability of
the area. A major portion of the Reserve comprises Mopane Woodlands with magnificent
forest stands of tall cathedral mopane trees. Besides mopane it has a great diversity of the
different vegetation units and includes extensive channels of Permanent Swamp, large
areas of floodplains in the Seasonal Swamps at Khwai and Xakanaxa (Roodt, 2006) and
Acacia Woodlands on Chiefs Island. The Moremi Game Reserve is administered by the
Department of Wildlife and National Parks in Maun. In discussions with departmental
officials it was stated that no controlled burning is applied as a management practice in
Moremi and in accordance with it being a natural area, lightning is recognized as the only
natural source of ignition permitted in the area and all anthropogenic fires entering or
occurring in the Reserve are controlled as far as possible. Fire is therefore a natural factor

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much easier than elsewhere where most settlements are further from the fishing grounds.
Fish populations are most concentrated in September to December when the Okavango
River is at its lowest and these are the peak months for fishing. In the Delta 46% of people
fish with line and hooks, 42% with baskets, 14% with gill nets, 9% with spears and 6% with
traps. (Mosepele, 2002). Of the various habitats, the floodplains in the seasonal swamps
are of the greatest value as places in which most fish breed. The most important feature of
the flooded areas is that they are rich in nutrients, which, together with the water, allow a
lush growth of plants and the emergence of insects and other small animals. All these
organisms provide young fish with a plentiful supply of food (Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2004).
The flood plains are very important breeding grounds for native tilapia fish (mainly
Oreochromis and Tilapai spp.) which is partly due to the slower flow of water, greater cover,
and decreased vulnerability to predation by tiger fish (Hydrocynus vittatus) (Cassidy, 2003).

The significance of fishing in the Okavango Delta to the fire ecology of the Ramsar site is
that fisherman are an important source of ignition using fire to remove excessive plant
growth to facilitate the setting of their nets in the water channels and lagoons. Fire is also
used to maintain the channels in an open condition to facilitate movement in their mokoros
associated with fishing activities (Cassidy, 2003).

4.5.1.4 Hunting

There is little information available on the extent of subsistence hunting as this topic is a
sensitive issue and understandably rural communities are not willing to divulge information.
Since there appears to be a correlation between burning and hunting, as many
stakeholders attribute wildfires to hunters and/or poachers rural communities fear
prosecution under the Herbage Preservation Act. Tinley (1975) however, mentions that the
Masarwa River Bushmen in the then Moremi Wildlife Reserve lived by hunting and were
responsible for burning the flood plain grassland, which sometimes burnt for weeks.
Cassidy (2003) reported that in interviews with communities it was stated that local hunters
like burning to attract game but that it had decreased in recent years because of more
effective law enforcement. Therefore hunting by rural communities is also a source of
ignition for fires in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

4.5.1.5 Harvesting reeds, thatching grass and papyrus

Reeds harvested from communities of Phragmites australis and P. mauritianus in the


Permanent and Seasonal Swamps are an important source of building materials for rural
communities in the Ramsar Site. Most of it is used for domestic purposes and for the
immediate benefit of households, but plant products are also sold to earn cash incomes,
and many goods are exported from the region. Most houses are thatched with grass and/or
reeds, while reeds are used extensively to make sleeping mats, walls, palisades and fences
(Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2004). Several grass species like Aristida stipitata, Cymbopogon
excavatus, Eragrostis pallens, Hyparrhenia rufa and Miscanthus junceus are harvested by
rural communities for thatching material for domestic purposes but also increasingly for sale
to commercial tourist operations. Cassidy (2003) reported that in interviews with rural
communities areas used for gathering thatching material and reeds are not harvested
annually and in the intervening year are often burnt to improve the quality and quantity of
the material produced by these plant communities. It was also reported that burning also

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households have no livestock (48% of farmers have no cattle and 61% have no goats).
Cattle and goats are more abundant than sheep pigs and donkeys and before the provision
of water from boreholes most of the livestock were concentrated close to the Okavango
Delta. However, there are now there are large herds to the south west of the Delta that are
kept in cattle posts in open communal or tribal areas, or on large fenced farms allocated to
individual farmers. Numbers of cattle have slowly increased in Ngamiland since the drastic
measures taken in 1996 to control contagious bovine plural pneumonia (CBPP). Livestock
bring a range of benefits to their owners: draught power is provided by oxen and donkeys,
milk, leather, meat and most importantly security and investment opportunities (Mendelsohn
& el Obeid, 2004). Overstocking, however has led to the loss of pastures in the drier areas
of the Ramsar Site hence substantial numbers of cattle are grazed on the floodplains in the
Seasonal Swamps when the annual flood subsides. Wildlife grazing also coincides with that
for cattle. The main livestock rearing areas in Ngamiland are Maun/Shorobe,
Toteng/Sehithwa/Tsau, Nokaneng/Gumare, Shakawe, and Seronga. The areas from
Nokaneng southwards to Lake Ngami and eastward to Toteng are primarily used as grazing
land intermixed with small arable fields (Bendsen, 2003).

4.5.1.2 Crop farming

Of the 48 900 hectares cleared for cultivation in Ngamiland only approximately 10 000
hectares are cultivated annually, of which 75 % is dryland cropping and 25% molapo or
flood recession farming. Along the Panhandle and in the Etsha area, where the
HaMbukushu are the dominant ethnic group, dryland farming is the main land use activity.
Molapo cultivation is found in the floodplains at the western and south eastern fringes of the
Okavango Delta, mainly in Tubu and in the Shorobe-Matlapaneng area (Bendsen, 2003).

There are 8 500 farming households close to the Okavango Delta in Ngamiland. Each
household normally cultivates a few hectares and sometimes keeps small herds of cattle
and goats, 95% or more of all farming is practiced on this basis. Farmers generally cultivate
pearl millet, maize and sorghum with watermelons, pumpkins and other crops being grown
to a lesser extent. True subsistence farming is only practiced by the poorest households,
who live mainly on the food they harvest with some additional food coming from fish, honey
and wild fruits. Crop farming is a summer activity and it is critical to prepare fields early so
that crops can be planted in December in order to take advantage of the heavy rains in
January and February. Careful timing of crop growth is more critical on dry-land fields than
with molapo farming where the ground remains moist for much longer. Molapo fields are
planted, mostly to maize, as the flood waters begin dropping, normally in September and
October. New fields are cleared for agriculture using the slash-and-burn method but the
growing number of people has limited the areas in which new fields can be cleared so rural
households have to use the same fields repeatedly. Since fertilizers, manure or compost is
not used to replenish soil nutrients fertility has declined. The farmers usually burn their
fields to clear them and in an effort to increase soil fertility (Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2004).

4.5.1.3 Fishing

Approximately 3 200 people are involved in fishing in the Okavango Delta, the majority of
which are small-scale fishermen who catch food for domestic consumption. The highest
concentration of fishermen is in the Panhandle because access to permanent water is

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farmers from about 1 500 years ago. Livelihoods during the long history of the Delta were
based on hunting, fishing and gathering, and most researchers agree that people living
during the more recent Late Stone Age would have been so-called Khoesan people. Some
Khoesan remained as hunter-gatherers and the ancestors of modern San people, but
others switched to livestock farming. Farming could have started here as long as 2 000
years ago after Bantu farmers arrived in southern Africa from east and west Africa
(Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2004).

Tinley reports that according to Stigand (1923) the Bayeyi first arrived at Lake Ngami in
about 1750, from north on the Linyanti, and another group of the same people migrated
southwards to the lower reaches of the Okavango River. The only inhabitants they found
were Masarwa River Bushmen in the swamps, the Bushmen lived in the sandveld, and the
Makalahari who lived in the Kwebe Hills. The Bayeyi cultivate to some extent, but live
mostly by hunting and fishing, using both portable and fixed nets and vegetable poison. In
about 1800 the Batawana moved north and settled first near Lake Ngami and the Kwebe
Hills. They subsequently moved on a number of different occasions to different parts of the
Okavango Swamp margins, and today are settled mainly at Maun. Stigand noted that in
1923 Maun was composed of 500 dwellings. The Batawana hunted and kept large herds of
cattle. Tinley also reported that in Gibbons in 1899 recorded that along the Makwegana
Spillway (Selinda Spillway) the country was densely populated by Mampukushu and their
large numbers of stock, and it was extensively cultivated.

According to Tinley (1975) Stigand (1923) notes that swamp and reed beds were burnt
annually in preparation for ploughing, and that it takes about 5 years for reed swamps with
soft soil to be converted to a hard surface covered in short lawn-like grasses. Likewise he
quotes Pole-Evans (1948) who after an expedition to Ngamiland in June - July 1937 “is
convinced that the lessening of the free water surface of the internal drainage basin has
been due to natural plant succession, in which, over time, vegetable remains are slowly
deposited, the shores are pushed outward and the area of open water reduced in size; this
process of deposition being aided for more than two centuries by man and his stock, fire
and shifting cultivation in and around the swamps”.

In view of the importance and effects of land use on the biota in the landscape a brief
overall description will be presented on the different activities associated with the
aforementioned categories of land use presented in Table 5.

4.5.1 Communal areas, settlements, arable and pastoral agriculture

4.5.1.1 Livestock Farming

The majority of tribal land in Ngamiland district has been zoned for communal use and
according to customary law, all tribesmen have open access to grazing and to natural
surface water for stock watering to meet their subsistence needs (Bendsen, 2003).
Approximately half of the households in Ngamiland own cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys and
pigs and there is a great variation in flock or herd size. Data from the 2005 livestock census
in the Ramsar Site showed that there are 193 927 cattle, 98 975 goats, 16 000 sheep, 7
276 horses and 12 179 donkeys (ODMP Draft Framework Plan, 2005). In general, wealthier
farmers with large households have the greatest numbers of cattle and goats, while poorer

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4.5 Land Use

Besides fire occurring widely in African grassland, savanna and wetland ecosystems it is
also frequently an important management practice in the different systems of land use that
are applied in these ecosystems. This is also true of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site and it
is therefore necessary to provide an overview of the different systems of land use that are
used in the Ramsar Site. This information is provided by the Twanana Land Board Report:
Land Use And Land Management Plan, (2006).

The current broad systems of land use applied in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site are
presented in Table 5.

Table 5. Existing broad land use categories in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

LAND USE CATEGORIES AREA – km2 %


Communal areas, settlements, 27023 48.8
arable and pastoral agriculture
Game reserves 5205 9.4
Wildlife management areas 23146 41.8
TOTAL 55374 100.0
Note: The total area given in the report is 55 599 km2 which differs from the total area for
the Ramsar Site of 55 374 km2 that is officially recognized by the ODMP Secretariat in
Maun. Therefore the areas for the different categories of land use have been adjusted
accordingly assuming that the proportions for the different categories have remained the
same.

The data in Table 5 indicates that the communal areas with their associated activities of
livestock and crop farming, fishing, harvesting reeds, thatching grass and papyrus, and
hunting constitututes the major form of land use in the Ramsar Site with nearly half of the
total area involved in this type of land use. The wildlife management areas are slightly less
but are involved in the lucrative tourist industry involving both photographic and wildlife
utilization activities based both in the commercial and community sectors. Also associated
with the wildlife form of land use is the Moremi Game Reserve involved in nature
conservation and tourism. All these different forms of land use involve or are affected by fire
in a positive or negative manner and must therefore be considered in the formulation of the
fire management plan. In doing so it is important to recognize that the area comprising the
Okavango Delta Ramsar Site has been settled and used by people for millennia and their
livestock, cropping and burning practices having significantly affected the composition,
structure and condition of the vegetation. Tinley (1975) states that from an ecological point
of view the history of a country is extremely important in fully understanding the ecosystems
as they are today. Particularly important are historical factors such as the duration of
habitation and specific occupations of the peoples or tribes, and the manner in which the
climate-soil inter-relationship has been utilized for subsistence and the marked effect this
may have on the appearance of the present day landscape and its vegetation cover.

Excavations indicate that the Tsodilo Hills area have been occupied continuously over the
past 50 000 – 40 000 years, first by hunter-gatherers and then by livestock and crop

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ecotone between woodland and water. C. dactylon occurring in marginal areas is in many
places reduced to an extremely short cover by trampling and grazing but with the first
subsurface infiltration of flood waters, or the first rains in November recovers well. Fire
burns extremely slowly and usually dies when it enters such lawn grass terrain (Tinley,
1975). The inner part of the floodplain supports grasses that grow up with rising waters, and
while remaining rooted in the soil, have emergent parts floating on the surface – especially
Acroceras, Echinochloa, Oryza, Panicum and Setaria spp. At the distal end of the floodplain
where the inundation is shorter and shallower, grasses such as Cynodon, Paspalum,
Setaria and Vetivaria spp. merge into the rainfed grasslands at the edges (Howard, 1992).

Trees are rare on floodplains proper in the Seasonal Swamps and are usually found only on
levees or islands – these islands sometimes originating from termite mounds that invaded
the floodplain during a series of dry years. Palms are characteristic of these areas with
Phoenix reclinata on the islands and Hyphaene petersiana on the terraces. The sequence
of grasses, sedges and aquatics is often compressed and channels from the main river
flood back into the riverine and fringing woodlands giving the appearance of a wooded
floodplain (Howard, 1992). In the center of the larger islands, where the ground is salty from
trona deposits, only the spiky grass Sporobolus spicatus survives.

Figure 14. Hyphaene pertersiana on the terraces in the Seasonal Swamps of the
Okavango Delta.

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Figure 13. The successional plant communities in the channels of the Permanent
Swamps – Vossia cuspidate flanked by Cyperus papyrus with tall
Miscanthus junceus in the background.

Depending on the annual flow the boundary between the Permanent and Seasonal
Swamps varies yearly. The seasonal swamps are composed of the same complex systems
as the permanent swamps, the main difference being the large extent of seasonally
inundated areas, usually referred to as delta floodplains (van der Heiden, 1992). Flood
waters usually reach the Seasonal Swamps during the dry winter months, although heavy
falls of rain may cause local flooding in summer. For any point on a seasonally flooded plain
there will be varying degrees of dryness, wetting and inundation caused by the flood, and
these may be augmented (and spread out) by local rainfall. This results in changing
conditions for flood plain plants and animals and, often, an extended growing season. This
extended period of moisture availability and the nutrient recharge from the floods are two
conditions that favour the high primary productivity of sub-tropical African floodplains
(Howard, 1992). In the Seasonal Swamps the grasslands typically meet the woodlands
abruptly in the floodplains. This grassland is seasonally inundated in mid-winter (June –
July), to varying depths or the soil becomes moist under foot with no surface water
showing. Some margins of depressions and channels are covered by the rhizomatous
grass genus Echinochloa (Tinley, 1975) presumably E. stagnina as Field (1976) notes that
this species provides valuable grazing for cattle and grows in water in the Okavango Delta
and is associated with Vossia cuspidata. Tinley (1975) states this species is usually heavily
grazed, and in July aerial portions are rare and the grass canopy has been trampled to a
flattened mat. Echinochloa stagnina can occur both in permanent swampy areas of the
flood plain and on ground which is only moist seasonally. Cynodon dactylon and
Sporobolus spicatus are especially valuable on the margins of the flood plains on the

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are seasonally flooded for months. It also occurs at a few sites along the Nqoga River and
according to Smith (1976) this is the most widespread plant community in the Panhandle.
The Phragmites mauritianus reedbed community is flooded seasonally to a greater depth
and for longer duration than the Pennisetum glaucocladum reedbed community that is
situated on elevated scroll bars that are flooded seasonally for short periods (days to
weeks) but it also grows in the upper reaches of the Nqoga River. The Miscanthus junceus
community is restricted to areas where water levels are relatively constant over annual and
decadal time scales (Ellery 2003).

Vegetation on the islands in the Perennial Swamps exhibits a marked zonation pattern.
Island fringes are often characterized by a broad-leaved evergreen riparian community of
Diospiros mespiliformis, Ficus natalensis, F. sycamorus, F. verriculosa, Garcinia
livingstonia, Phoenix reclinata, and Syzygium cordatum. This gives way, towards the island
interior, to a community dominated by Acacia nigrescens, Croton megalobotrys and
Hyphaenea petersiana. The central regions are characterized by either a short, sparse
grassland dominated by Sporobolus spicatus or are completely devoid of vegetation, with
sodium bicarbonate encrusted soil surrounding a central pan of extremely high conductivity
(Cowling et al. 1997).

There is a distinct change in vegetation moving outwards from the channel margins to the
seasonal flood plains (Ellery et al., 2000). Dense stands of papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) flank
the river, while reeds (Phragmites australis) and taller (thatching) grass (Miscanthus
junceus) grow on slightly elevated, but flooded land (Cassidy, 2003). A feature of the middle
and lower reaches of the Delta is the gradual reduction in size of the Cyperus papyrus
plants, decreasing from 3.5 – 4.0 meters in the Upper and Lower Panhandle zones to
between 1.5 – 2.0 meters in the Okavango Delta itself (AquaRAP, 2003). Behind the
papyrus, the flood plains are mainly covered in shorter aquatic grasses and sedges
(Cyperus articulatus, C. denudata, Cladium mariscus and Panicum repens. Small islands
have formed in the panhandle where the river channels have moved, leaving perched
ridges of sand. These are covered primarily with phoenix palms (Phoenix reclinata)
(Cassidy, 2003).

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rhizomes that floats during periods of high flow and subsides during low flows and even
during periods of low flows the rhizomes are not aerially exposed. In dominant stands of C.
papyrus other plant species make up less that 10% of the standing crop of vegetation
(Ellery, 2003).

The rapid and abundant growth rate of papyrus is surprising with it occurring in infertile
Kalahari sands and in nutrient deficient fresh water, and is as a result of being able to
absorb nutrients even when they occur in very low concentrations (Ross, 1987). Papyrus
swamps are considered to have the highest primary productivity of any natural plant
community, this is because of its ability to recycle carbon and mineral nutrients from old to
new portions of the plant (Ellery, 1988). Additional nitrogen essential for plant growth also
comes from microscopic bacteria and algae found between the scale-leaves of papyrus and
in moist soils but are unable to survive in areas permanently submerged by water.
Therefore the dynamics of the flood waters of the Delta during which dry periods occur are
critical to the nutrient system of the swamps. The papyrus also has a specialized C4
pathway of photosynthesis absorbing solar energy more efficiently than other plants.
Commencing in summer the spiky flower heads of papyrus, called “umbels” produce
abundant seeds that fall into the river and are dispersed downstream as they ripen. Seeds
that become embedded in the bud germinate but the main form of increase in this species
is by vegetative reproduction from its well developed rhizome system. The thick rhizomes
that form the papyrus beds send up new shoots at regular intervals and within 90 days have
grown, matured and died. This process is continual, and as one shoot dies so the plants
withdraws its nutrients and uses them for others. This efficient nutrient cycling is the other
reason for this plant species abundant growth which continually accumulates creating a
build-up of organic debris causing the water to become acid and deoxygenated (Ross,
1987).

Mean height can be used as an indicator of vigour in papyrus plants and a vigorous and
expanding community has a greater average culm height and diameter and maintains this
height almost to the edge of the community. Circular patches of papyrus with a stunted
appearance and domed profile are in a moribund condition and indications are that the
frequency of rhizome branching decreases with nutrient availability. There are two growth
habits of papyrus: floating and rooted. Floating plants have only delicate, straight,
unbranched spongy water roots whereas, rooted plants also have robust, suberised,
branched “mud” roots but in all cases the roots of papyrus are adventitious and have no tap
roots. When rooted plants are normally submerged, they can be distinguished from floating
plants by their shorter rhizome internodes, curved culm bases and low density culms
tapering abruptly above the much shorter scale-leaf sheaths. The lightness of the culms is
due to the better developed aerenchyma (loosely packed cells with large air spaces, which
permit diffusion of oxygen to the rhizomes). The growth rate of papyrus is very high and in
Uganda was estimated at 110 tons per hectare per annum (Thompson, 1974) and
according to Roggeri (1995) the primary production of floating papyrus swamps averages
an annual dry matter production of 48 - 143 ton per hectare in Africa.

The papyrus communities are flanked by reed beds of Phragmites, Typha bulrushes,
Pennisetum glaucocladum and then Miscanthus junceus in the shallowest waters. The
Phragmites mauritianus reedbed community is widespread in the channel margins in the
upper reaches of the Panhandle where the soils that have a high inorganic matter content

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condition of the vegetation in these three woodland communities will be dealt with in detail
in section 5.2 in which the condition of the grass sward in these communities was
quantitatively assessed in relation to the occurrence of fire in the Ramsar Site.

4.4.2 Permanent and Seasonal swamps

The Permanent Swamps are located in the centre of the Delta where the water levels are
the deepest and water is present year-round. This vegetation unit is made up of complex
systems of vegetated flooded flats, channels, islands of varying size and madiba (lagoons).
The permanent swamp vegetation is typified by emergent, floating, and submerged
vegetation communities, consisting of hydrophytic grasses, sedges and aquatic species.
The flood plains consist mostly of sedges and grasslands. The northern part of the swamp
is characterized by communities dominated by papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), whereby more
than 90% of the biomass is comprised of this giant sedge, and only at the interface of the
madiba and channels are associated plants more noticeable (van der Heiden, 1992).

Figure 12. Cyperus papyrus in the Permanent Swamps in the Okavango Delta.

Papyrus is the largest sedge and one of the largest entirely herbaceous plants, it forms
extensive, virtually monospecific stands in which it contributes more than 95% of its
community phytomass. Papyrus propagates by means of ramets and it produces between 4
to 8 ramets per year (Ellery, 1988). It dominates the deepest waters and forms margins to
the major channels. Water seeps through the walls of the papyrus into the back swamp, but
the channels carry the bulk of the solid bedload material i.e. the sandy sediments are
confined to the channels. The C. papyrus community grows in luxuriant stands and can
reach heights of 4 – 5 metres. It typically comprises an entangled mass of horizontal

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conclusion is confirmed by C. mopane being very tolerant of poorly drained or alkaline soils
and those with a high clay content and does not thrive on Kalahari sands. Mopane trees
can obtain a maximum height of 25m when growing on rich alluvial soils and are referred to
as cathedral mopane. Shorter trees are more common in areas that are poor in nutrients or
have suffered extensive fire damage. Stunted mopane will form a low scrub, perhaps only
5m tall. All mopane trees are deciduous and shed their leaves in September or October.
The trees themselves are an important source of food for wildlife such as elephants as the
leaves have a high nutritional value, rich in protein and phosphorus, which is retained even
after they have fallen from the trees. Ground cover in Mopane Woodlands is usually sparse,
with slender grasses and forbs providing scant plant material (McIntyre, 2003). This is
because mopane trees have a mesh of surface layer roots that compete with the grass
component for moisture (Smit & Rethman, 1998). The dominant grass species occurring in
Mopane Woodlands are Aristida spp., the annuals Poganarthria fleckii and Urochloa
tricophus. Interspersed with either the shrub mopane or tall cathedral mopane areas are
belts of dense, monospecific Philenoptera nelsii woodlands on deep sandy soils (McIntyre,
2003).

Figure 11. A fine stand of Mopane Woodland in the north eastern region of the
Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

A noteworthy feature of the grass sward in all three of these woodland vegetation types is
that the grass sward is dominated by annuals with Schmidtia kalihariensis, Urochloa
tricophus, Pogonarthria fleckii, Dactyloctenium giganteum, Eragrostis viscosa, Digitaria
velutina, Aristida congesta and Aristida stipoides being abundant species. The current

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• Riverine forests also referred to as riparian forests are very common. They line many
of Botswana’s rivers and are found throughout the Okavango-Linyanti area. Typical
trees and shrubs include Diospiros mespiliformis (jackalberry),Garcinia livingstonia
(mangosteen), Kigelia africana (sausage tree), Croton megalobotrys (large
feverberry), Acacia nigrescens (knobthorn), Sclerocarya birrea caffra (marula),
Philenoptera violacea (raintree), and various species of fig e.g. Ficus sycmorus and
F. verrucucosa . Further away from the river the riparian species disappear rapidly.

Immediately south of the Gumare fault on the western side of the Okavango Delta occur the
Acacia Woodlands on soils with a higher clay content extending in a broad front down to
Sehitwa and Lake Ngami and then in a north easterly direction up to Maun on the distal end
of the Okavango Delta. The Acacia Woodlands are dominated by Acacia species, notably
Acacia erioloba, A. mellifera and A. tortilis. A. fleckii is also often encountered in this
vegetation type. On the higher lying ridges particularly between Maun and Sehitwa fairly
dense colonies of Terminalia prunoides are found. Due to the slightly more fertile soil
several perennial grass species are found making this vegetation type suitable for livestock
production but due to high livestock numbers it is severely overgrazed (McIntyre (2003).

Figure 10. Acacia Woodlands in the south western region of the Okavango Delta
Ramsar Site.
In the north east of the Ramsar Site extending up from Maun are the Mopane Woodlands
dominated by Colophospermum mopane. Both the Burkea and Mopane Woodlands occur
on soils formed by flooding during wetter periods thought to be tens of thousands of years
ago. However, the soils in the north-east have a higher clay content which is responsible for
the dominance of C. mopane in this vegetation unit (Mendelsohn & el Obeid (2004). This

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Baikiaea plurijuga, Schinzophyton rautanenii, Guibortia coleosperma, and Terminalia


sericea.

Figure 9. A typical example of Burkea Woodland in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site

In a few areas in the far north of Botswana Baikiaea plurijuga (teak) forms semi-evergreen
forests on Kalahari sand. Often these woodlands occur on fossil dune-crests. As this
species is not fire resistant, these stands are only found where fire is rare, and slash-and-
burn type cultivation methods have never been used. The Burkea Woodlands range from
open savannas to dense stands with an understory of thickets of often thorny shrubs. There
are distinctive vegetation sub-groups on Kalahari sands that are described by McIntyre
(2003) as follows:
• Terminalia sericea sandveld that occurs on deep, loose, unfertile sands which cover
large areas of the Kalahari. The main species are Terminalia sericea and
Philenoptera nelsii. These generally occur with Burkea africana and Combretum
collinum.;
• Acacia erioloba woodlands also occur on sand, but often where there are fossil river
valleys that have an underground supply of water throughout the year. Acacia
erioloba have exceedingly long tap roots that reach this underground supply
sustaining large stands of these mature trees 16 – 17m in height. They are slow
growing and give good shade so do not have a dense understory;
• Acacia tortilis woodlands are not found on deep sand, instead they prefer the fine
alluvium soils that water has deposited over time. Although homogeneous stand are
found less often than those of Acacia erioloba a number of very distinctive flat-
topped umbrella thorns can often be seen together;

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Figure 8. Location of the Acacia, Burkea and Mopane Woodlands and Seasonal and
Permanent Swamps in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site in Botswana.

4.4.1 Woodlands

Commencing with the Burkea Woodlands this vegetation unit occurs on Kalahari sands
extending northwards from the Gumare fault on either side of the Panhandle. The tree
component of the vegetation is characterised by Burkea africana, Pterocarpus angolensis,

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Table 4. The areas and proportions of the major vegetation units in the Okavango
Delta Ramsar Site and their relationships with the original vegetation
types identified and classified by Jellema, Ringrose & Matheson, (2002) at
the Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Delta Research Centre in Maun.

VEGETATION UNIT ORIGINAL VEGETATION AREA – km2 %


TYPES
Acacia Woodlands i) Treed shrubland with Acacia
ii)Shrubbed grassland with
sagebrush;
iii) Treed grassland on former
26179 47
floodplain;
iv) Shrubbed grassland on
former floodplain.
Burkea Woodlands i) Shrubland towards dune
crests with Burkea and
Baikiaea;
ii) Grassed shrubland in dune
11277 20
valleys with Terminalia and
Baphia.
Mopane Woodlands i) Shrubbed woodland with 10806 20
mixed Mopane.
Seasonal Swamps i) Dry floodplains and island
interiors; 2517 5
ii)Shrubbed woodland of
riparian zones.
Permanent Swamps i) Swamp vegetation with 4595 8
fringing emergents.
TOTAL 55374 100

The results in Table 4 indicate that the Acacia Woodlands comprise the largest vegetation
unit in the Ramsar Site and together with the Burkea Woodlands and Mopane Woodlands
make up 87 % of the dryland areas with the Seasonal Swamps and Permanent Swamps
forming the remaining 13 % of the total area. The location of the different vegetation units in
the Ramsar Site is presented in Figure 8.

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show that besides the winds blowing predominantly from the east, strong winds in excess of
20 km/h do occur for 35 % of the time which will and can have a very significant effect on
the potential for fires in the Ramsar Sites particularly during the dry late winter period i.e.
August to October.

4.4 Vegetation

In order to describe and assess the fire ecology of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site a
comprehensive description is required of the different types of vegetation occurring in the
study site. The vegetation is a product of the edaphic and climatic environment of an area
and its botanical composition and structure determines both the potential necessity for it to
burn. Consequently the description of the vegetation will be conducted to facilitate the
development of a practical fire management for the Ramsar Site.

Due to the wide range of habitats that range from perennial swamp to semi-arid savannas
the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site has a high plant/area ratio when compared to other parts
of southern Africa having 1 061 different plant species (ODMP Draft Framework Plan,
2005). For purposes of management the vegetation of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site
has been simplified from the original classification of 45 vegetation types to 10 major
vegetation types as developed by Jellema, Ringrose & Matheson, (2002) at the Harry
Oppenheimer Okavango Research Center (HOORC) in Maun. However, for the purpose of
developing a fire management plan it was necessary to simplify the classification further
and use was made of the simple and practical classification by Mendelsohn & el Obeid
(2004) in the book, the Okavango River viz. Acacia Woodlands, Burkea Woodlands,
Mopane Woodlands, Seasonal Swamps and Permanent Swamps. This was done by
combining some of the 10 vegetation types into the aforementioned units according to their
general similarities in botanical composition, physiognomy, soil type and recommendations
for controlled burning. The areas covered by the five major vegetation units and their
relationships to the original 10 vegetation types identified by Jellema, Ringrose &
Matheson, (2002) are presented in Table 4.

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Table 2. The monthly mean, maximum and minimum relative humidities for Maun
and Shakawe in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site for the period 1967 to
1998. Data expressed in degrees celsius.

MONTH RELATIVE HUMIDITY RELATIVE HUMIDITY RELATIVE HUMIDITY RELATIVE HUMIDITY


08h00 - MAUN 14h00 - MAUN 08h00 - SHAKAWE 14h00 - SHAKAWE
Mean Max Min Mean Max Min Mean Max Min Mean Max Min
January 74 89 60 47 68 30 81 89 61 53 73 32
February 77 92 51 47 71 26 84 91 68 53 69 35
March 74 87 55 43 61 25 80 89 42 48 62 32
April 69 86 48 36 52 25 73 84 26 40 50 26
May 64 100 49 29 43 21 71 80 62 31 39 22
June 63 76 53 27 36 23 72 81 58 27 35 19
July 61 95 51 26 42 21 70 76 59 20 34 20
August 48 62 39 21 29 16 59 69 47 20 28 15
September 41 58 26 19 29 11 51 58 38 19 27 13
October 45 56 34 24 34 15 53 65 35 26 54 15
November 55 71 33 33 44 17 64 76 48 37 53 22
December 68 83 53 42 61 25 75 83 62 45 60 32

The data in Table 2 indicates that the relative humidities at Shakawe tend to be higher than
at Maun. In both cases the relative humidities are higher in summer from November to
March during the wet season and decrease during the dry winter season winter to a
minimum during August to October. As with the temperature profile the highest fire danger
will be greatest during this period during the day but decreasing significantly at night as
indicated by the minimum relative humidities recorded at 08h00. Similar to the temperature
profiles these relative humidity data indicate that there is ample opportunity for manipulating
the intensity of fires in the Ramsar Site both for controlling wildfires fires and applying
controlled burns.

4.3.5 Wind

The wind profiles for Maun and Shakawe in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site are presented
for in Table 3.

Table 3. Annual percentage frequency of wind direction recorded at Maun (1968


– 1978) and Shakawe (1966 – 1969) in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site
(Tawana Land Board Report: Land Use and Land Management Plan,
2006).

MAUN DIRECTION N NE E SE S SW W NW CALM


FREQUENCY - % 12 17 20 11 6 2 3 4 25
SHAKAWE DIRECTION N NE E SE S SW W NW CALM
FREQUENCY - % 8 5 21 10 8 2 3 4 39

The results in Table 3 indicate that at Maun and Shakawe 48 % and 44 % respectively of
the wind blows from an easterly direction compared to 15 % and 17 % respectively from
other directions during the year. Data from Tinley (1976) showed that wind speeds during
the year were 5 - 13, 14 – 24 and 25 – 40 km/h for 65, 30 and 5 % of the year. These data

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Table 1. The monthly mean, maximum and minimum air temperatures for Maun
and Shakawe in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site for the period 1967 to
1998. Data expressed in degrees celsius.

0 0
AIR TEMPERATURE - C AIR TEMPERATURE - C
MONTH MAUN SHAKAWE
Mean Max Max Mean Min Min Mean Max Max Mean Min Min
January 32 36 20 12 31 35 20 18
February 32 37 20 17 31 35 20 17
March 32 35 19 17 31 34 19 17
April 31 34 16 13 30 34 16 13
May 28 31 11 8 28 30 12 7
June 25 28 8 5 26 28 7 5
July 26 28 7 5 26 28 6 4
August 29 31 10 8 29 31 9 6
September 33 35 15 13 33 35 13 11
October 34 37 19 17 34 37 18 16
November 34 37 20 7 34 37 19 13
December 33 36 20 14 33 36 20 18

The results in Table 1 indicate that the temperature profile for Maun and Shakawe is for all
practical purposes similar with the hottest period being generally from September to April
and the coolest period from May to August. From a fire behaviour perspective the maximum
temperatures of >300C during August to October indicate that this is the period with the
highest fire danger in the year because this is when generally grass fuel is at it driest and
under these conditions high air temperatures promote high fire intensities. The lowest
minimum temperatures occur between May and September generally at night and under
these conditions the fire danger will be low resulting in less intense fires. However, any air
temperature below 160C will result in a relatively cool fire and a low fire danger. These
temperature data indicate that there is ample opportunity of manipulating the intensity of
fires in the Ramsar Site both for controlling wildfires fires and applying controlled burns.

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The annual inflow of water into the Okavango River recorded at Mohembo for the period
1984 to 2005 is presented in Figure 7.

14000
WATER INFLOW - cubic metres/ second

12860

d
12000
10447

10000 cd
8694
7882
bc Mean Annual Inflow - 7113 cusecs
7619 7754
8000 6784
6507 6491 6563
6106 abc abc abc
ab ab 5482 ab ab
6000 4967 5170 ab
ab 4432
a ab
4000 a

2000

0
84

90

91

92

93

94

95

96

98

99

01

02

03

04

05
19

19

19

19

19

19

19

19

19

19

20

20

20

20

20
Year

Figure 7. Total annual inflow of water during January to July into the Okavango
River recorded at Mohembo in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site for the
period 1984 to 2005.

The results in Figure 7 show that that the greatest overall inflows of water into the
Okavango River during the period 1984 to 2005 occurred in 1984 and 2004. While during a
significant number of years particularly during the 1990’s the inflow of water was below
average a regression analysis showed that there was no statistically significant trend for the
inflow of water to have either decreased or increased during this 21 year period (r = 0.167;
DF = 13; P = NS). These results indicate that the annual flow of water into the Seasonal
Swamps is highly dynamic and that this in turn would cause a great variation in particularly
the grass fuel loads in this vegetation unit resulting in a highly variable number and intensity
of fires occurring in this vegetation unit.

4.3.4 Air temperature and relative humidity

The Okavango Basin is characterized throughout by warm or hot conditions during most of
the year and for much of every day. Annual temperatures throughout the area average
20oC, increasing by two or three degrees from north to south as a result of the higher solar
radiation in the southern areas. When there are no clouds, temperatures can peak as high
as 40oC (Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2004). Air temperature and relative humidity data are
available for Maun and Shakawe and these will be used to describe the annual profiles for
these two climatic parameters in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site. The monthly mean,
maximum and minimum air temperatures and relative humidities for Maun and Shakawe for
the period 1967 to 1998 are presented in Table 1 and 2.

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deteriorating to a serious drought during 2003. Conditions improved during 2004 but were
again followed by serious drought circumstances in 2005. This fortunately ended with the
copious rainfall that commenced in January 2006 and continued through the late summer
and autumn period during March and April. This representation of the annual rainfall it
particularly pertinent to the production of grass fuel as Danckwerts (1982) found that there
was a highly significant correlation between grass production and the previous twelve
months rainfall. This rainfall information can therefore be used to gauge the production of
grass fuel prior to the onset of the fire season in the winter and is well illustrated by the
significant production of grass fuel that was produced in the Ramsar Site during the late
summer and autumn period of 2006.

4.3.3 Annual flood – Okavango River

The other source of moisture that influences the vegetation in the Ramsar Site are the
annual flood waters entering the Okavango River at Mohembo from Namibia and Angola.
The volume of water in the annual flood determines the extent to which the Seasonal
Swamps are inundated by water and when it recedes the degree to which the vegetation
grows and produces plant fuels available for the occurrence of fires. Preliminary data
provided an initial opportunity to investigate this information. The mean monthly inflow of
water between January and July for the period 1984 to 2006 is presented in Figure 6.

1800
1650
1600
1457
d
1400
d 1182
1200
Cusesc

879 b
1000 758
676
800 b 545
ab
600 ab
400 a
200
0
January February March April May June July

Month
Figure 6. Mean monthly inflow of water into the Okavango River from January to
July recorded at Mohembo in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site for the
period 1984 to 2006. Data expressed in cubic metres of water per second
i.e. cusecs. Note: Different alphabetical letters indicate significant
differences between mean values at P<0.05.

The results in Figure 6 indicate that for the period 1984 to 2006 the peak flood period was
generally during March, which while it was not significantly different from the inflow during
April these two months generally have significantly greater inflows of water than the
preceding and succeeding months.

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TWELVE MONTHS RAINFALL - 2000 - 2002

800
PREVIOUS TWELVE MONTHS RAINFALL-mm

Abundant Soil Moisture,


700
Grass Forage & Fuel
600

500
Mean Rainfall - 446 mm
400 Dry Season
Dry Season
300

200

100

0
Oct

Oct

Oct
Nov

Nov

Nov
Apr

Apr

Apr
Jun

Aug

Jun

Aug

Jun

Aug
Jul

Jul

Jul
May

Dec

May

Dec

May

Dec
Mar

Mar

Mar
Jan
Feb

Sep

Jan
Feb

Sep

Jan
Feb

Sep
2000 2001 2002

YEAR/MONTH

PREVIOUS TWELVE MONTHS RAINFALL - MAUN - 2003 - 2006

800
PREVIOUS 12 MONTHS RAINFALL

Abundant Soil Moisture,


700 Grass Forage & Fuel

600 Average Season


500
Mean Rainfall - 446 mm
400
Drought Drought
300
200
100
0
Nov

Nov

Nov
Feb

Aug

Feb

Aug

Feb

Aug

Feb
May

Dec

May

Dec

May

Dec

May
Jan

Jun

Sep

Jan

Jun

Sep

Jan

Jun

Sep

Jan
Apr

Apr

Apr

Apr
Jul

Jul

Jul
Oct

Oct

Oct
Mar

Mar

Mar

Mar

2003 2004 2005 2006

YEAR/MONTH

Figure 5. The previous twelve months rainfall recorded at Maun for the period 2000
to 2006 illustrating the highly variable nature of the seasonal and annual
precipitation in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

The results in Figure 5 clearly illustrate the excellent above average rainfall conditions that
prevailed during 2000. This was followed by generally dry conditions during 2001 and 2002

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rainfall gradient that exists from the moister northern sector to the drier southern sector.
Detailed annual and monthly rainfall records for Maun and Shakawe are presented in
Appendix 2.

MEAN MONTHLY RAINFALL MAUN & SHAKAWE


137
140
122 MEAN ANNUAL RAINFALL:
MEAN RAINFALL - mm

120 Maun = 446 mm (1922 - 2006)


110
99 Shakawe = 536 mm (1932 - 2004) 101
100 Coeff. Variation = 32 %
80 77
80
67

60 55 MAUN
47
SHAKAWE
40
24 24
16
20 13
5 2 3 3
1 0 0 0 0 0
0
JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC

MONTH

Figure 4. Mean monthly and annual rainfall recorded at Maun and Shakawe in the
Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

The results in Figure 4 clearly illustrate the summer rainfall nature of the Ramsar Site with
significant rainfall commencing in November, increasing to a peak in January and February
and declining in April and May. The rainfall is highly variable with a coefficient of variation of
32% for the Ramsar Site as a whole. Research in the Eastern Cape Province of South
Africa has shown that one of the most effective ways of representing the variable nature of
the annual rainfall and its effect on plant growth is to plot the previous twelve months rainfall
on a monthly basis and compare it with the long term mean annual rainfall for the region.
These data have been calculated for the Maun region of the Ramsar Site and are
presented in Figure 4 for the period 2000 to 2006.

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formation of grey, olive or blue-coloured layers beneath the surface (Mendelsohn & el
Obeid, 2004).

4.3 Climate

4.3.1 Introduction

Weather conditions during the annual climatic cycle play a fundamental role in the potential
for fires to occur and the intensity with which the will burn during different times of the year
and different times of the day. Therefore it is necessary to present a detailed description of
the annual climatic conditions in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

Mendelsohn and el Obeid (2004) provide a succinct description of the climate of the
Okavango Basin which changes from north to south. The rainfall is three times higher in the
north where the air is more humid, cloud cover is greater and evaporation rates are lower
than in the southern areas around the Okavango Delta. The steady southward changes in
these three features mean that the Okavango River flows progressively into drier country. In
essence, the river becomes more of an oasis in the south where the surrounding
environment becomes increasingly arid. All of this gives the water increasing value to
people, animals and plants in the south.

These trends result from the interplay between the two major climate systems that affect
the Basin’s climate. The first is the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), which brings
moisture from the north. Northern areas in the Basin thus receive more and earlier rain and
less and less moisture remains as the tropical air moves south, resulting in reduced cloud
cover and rainfall, and higher solar radiation and rates of evaporation. The ITCZ moves
southward early in the summer and back north in autumn, and this is why almost all rain
falls in summer. Most moisture in the ITCZ feeds into equatorial Africa from the south
easterly Indian Ocean trade winds, but moist air also blows into the ITCZ from the Atlantic
ocean from across the Congo Basin and northern Angola and down towards the highlands
in the upper catchment.

A second climate system counteracts the flow of moisture from the ITCZ. This is the zone of
high-pressure anticyclone cells that lie to the south. The cells also move north and south,
bringing cool and dry air to southern Africa. Interactions between the anti-cyclonic cells and
the ITCZ amount to something of a contest, the southerly high-pressure cells feeding in dry
air, which pushes away the warm and moist ITCZ air. The high-pressure cells shift north to
dominate the Basin in winter but also during sporadic dry spells in summer, while wet
summers occur when the ITCZ has pushed far south.

4.3.2 Rainfall

The ODMP Draft Framework Document (2005) reports the climate in the Ramsar Site as
semi-arid with rainfall averaging between 250 – 500mm per annum. Rainfall is one of the
primary factors influencing plant growth and the production and accumulation of plant fuels
that influence and sustain the occurrence of fires in the Ramsar Site. Long term rainfall data
are available for Maun and Shakawe and are presented in Figure 2. These two rainfall
stations represent the northern and southern regions of the Ramsar site and illustrate the

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The Okavango River flows into this Kalahari Basin and is shaped by a series of tectonic
faults. As mentioned earlier the distal end of the Delta is controlled by the Kunyere and
Thamalakane faults, with their down-throw to the northwest and the proximal end of the
Delta by the Gomare/Chobe fault with the down-throw to the southeast. The pattern of
these faults delineates a graben structure, filled with alluvial sediments. This graben
structure is believed to be situated at the tip of the still propagating western off-shoot of the
East African rift system. Perpendicular to this Delta graben, a system of faults controls the
course of the Okavango River (van der Heiden, 1992).

4.2.2 Soils

Soils are important to all life in the Okavango Basin. They provide the medium from which
plants obtain water and nutrients, and the properties of the soils determine what plants
species are present and thus the value and diversity of vegetation communities. Properties
of soils vary in terms of their depth, structure and chemical composition, and these affect
how much water soils retain, the depth to which roots extend to, and what nutrients are
available. The physical structure of plant communities is also influenced by soils. A plant
species may be stunted in one area of shallow or sterile soil but it will grow tall in deep
fertile soils elsewhere. The waters of the Okavango River are very clean and clear because
most of the water filters out of sandy soils made up of largely quartz grains in the
catchment. These do not easily dissolve or break-up to release soluble chemicals or tiny
particles that would otherwise be washed into the river as minerals and mud. Also most of
the rainwater sinks into the ground rather than running off the surface.

The fine to medium arenosol sands that characterize so much of the Basin are called
Kalahari sands. The sands often extend to a depth of up to 300 meters in places. Sand
grains usually make up 70% of the body of the soil and 10% consists of clay and silt. There
are few nutrients (especially nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) in the sand and the
porous structure means that there is little run-off or water erosion. Water drains through the
body of the soil rapidly, leaving little moisture at depths to which most plant roots can reach.

The fluvisols are limited to areas immediately adjacent to the Okavango River and were
deposited by high water flows on the flood plains. The fluvisols in the Delta have a higher
nutrient content as they have progressively accumulated nutrients over long periods. The
sediments usually consist of a mix of silt, clay and fine sands.

Calcisols are found in abundance along fossil drainage lines mostly at the distal end of the
Delta. Layers of calcium carbonate salts lying at some depth below the surface characterize
these soils, which consist mostly of fine sand and smaller portions of clay and silt. The
calcium carbonate sometimes forms blocks of calcrete and potentially are quite fertile and
retain water to a much greater degree than arenosols.

Luvisols are also present around the edges of the Delta, and these are potentially the most
fertile soils as a result of deep accumulations of clay and organic material. They are porous
and usually retain high levels of moisture.

The formation of gleyisols is partly due to water logging at shallow depth for some or all of
the year. Prolonged water saturation in the presence of organic matter results in the
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The Okavango River with its catchment in Angola, flows across the Caprivi Strip in Namibia
and enters Botswana at the town of Mohembo in the north-western region of Botswana.
Before it fans out into the Delta the rivers follows for about 95km, a narrow channel, 10 –
15km wide, known as the “Panhandle”. The river brings water from the central Angolan
highlands, where rainfall is three times higher than the 450 – 500 mm/year in the Delta
region. The average annual inflow at the border with Namibia at Mohembo is 10 000 million
m3. Downstream from the town of Seronga, the river spills out over a large area as it divides
into a number of distributary channels, forming a vast alluvial fan or classic “birds-foot”
delta, but which is in fact a large, conical alluvial fan (Ellery, 2003). Where the river fans out
into the Delta the low gradients (1:3 500) and dense vegetation temper the flow of the water
making it fill extensive floodplains and saturate the sandy soils. The main tributaries are the
Nqoga in the north-east, the Jao- Boro in the center, and the Thaoge (now extensively
blocked) in the west. The narrow Panhandle and alluvial fan portions are referred to as the
“Okavango Delta” and forms part of the internal drainage system known as the Kalahari
Basin.

The seasonal summer rains (December – February) in the catchment area, give a peak
inflow in April/May, and the wave of water is known as the “flood”. Local rainfall over the
Delta adds approximately 30 – 40% to this inflow. Of this total inflow, hydrological models
suggest that 95% is lost through evapo-transpiration and seepage. A prominent feature of
the inflow water is its purity, with a negligible suspended load, hardly any inorganic matter,
no chemical pollution and a low Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) content usually in the range of
25 – 40 ppm (van der Heiden, 1992).

The seasonal floodwaters cannot be accommodated in the distributary channel systems


and there is considerable overspill, forming perennial swamps in the upper delta and
seasonal swamps in the lower or distal reaches of the delta. The flood wave takes
approximately five months to reach the distal reaches, and the maximum aerial extent of
flooding is therefore in the dry season (July – August) (Ellery, 2003).

4.2 Geology and Soils

4.2.1 Geology

The geology of the Delta and catchment area of the Okavango River is well documented by
several authors, notably Mendelsohn & el Obeid (2004) and Main (2000). During the break-
up of Gondwanaland the margins of southern Africa were lifted to produce a rim of
highlands surrounding a massive shallow basin. Part of this is the Kalahari Basin that
started to fill with sediments 65 million years ago (Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2004). During
the Tertiary era, the Kalahari formed the largest area of sedimentary deposits in the
southern part of Africa and was thus a collection point for all the eroded sediments that
accumulated to great depths. Geologists recognize Kalahari sand by grades of sand sizes,
by the material from which the sand originated, and especially by the tendency of the grains
to conform to the rounded shape attributable to their wind-blown or aeolian origins.
Generally, the area of Kalahari sands occurs at an altitude of about 1 000m above sea level
(Maine, 2000).

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CHAPTER 4

4. STUDY SITE

4.1 Location and Description

The Okavango Delta Ramsar Site is situated at the northern most edge of the Kalahari
Desert in north western Botswana, in the Ngamiland Province which borders on the Caprivi
Strip of Namibia immediately to the north. It is 55 374 km2 in extent and the Delta portion of
the Ramsar Site comprises approximately 4595 km2 of permanent swamp and 2517 km2 of
seasonal swamp (ODMP Report: Development of the Vegetation Framework Management
Plan, 2005) depending on the size of the annual flood waters (Bonyongo, 1999), making it
one of the largest Ramsar wetlands in the world (Tacheba, 2002).

AFRICA

Angola

Botswana

Map Sources: Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2002 ODMP

Figure 3. Location of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site in Ngamiland Province in


north western Botswana.
The area is characterized by Kalahari sandveld that covers much of central and southern
Africa and is flat to undulating with an overlay of aeolian Kalahari sandbeds that can reach
a depth of up to 300 meters. The present day Okavango Delta is an alluvial fan, its shape
governed by tectonic faults. The distal end of the Delta is controlled by the two northeast-
southwest trending faults, the Kunyere and Thamalakane faults, with the down-throw to the
northwest. The proximal end of the Delta is limited by a third parallel fault, the
Gumare/Chobe fault with the down-throw to the southeast. The pattern of these faults
delineates a graben structure, filled with alluvial sediments. This graben structure is
believed to be situated at the tip of the still propagating western off-shoot of the East African
rift system. Perpendicular to this Delta graben, a system of faults controls the course of the
Okavango River (van der Heiden, 1992).

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vegetation using ecological criteria that have been developed in similar vegetation
communities for this purpose elsewhere in southern Africa.

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during the past century. At the turn of the century the Serengeti-Mara area was described
as an open grassland with lightly wooded patches, much as it is today. Following the great
rinderpest epidemic of 1890, human and animal populations are thought to have been
reduced to negligible numbers in the Serengeti-Mara region. Fires were infrequent due to
the low human populations and elephant numbers were low having suffered from heavy
ivory poaching during the previous decades. Over the next 30 to 50 years these prevailing
conditions of low fire frequencies and low elephant numbers saw the establishment of
dense woodlands and thickets. This woody vegetation provided ideal habitat for infestations
of the tsetse fly which further prevented any significant human settlement within the
Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Consequently by the early 1940’s the area had become
densely wooded and the Serengeti National Park and the Masai Mara National Reserve
were characterised by dense woody vegetation and remained in this condition for over 20
years. These woodlands began to decline significantly during the late 1950’s and early
1960’s in response to two factors. Firstly there was a marked increase in the frequency of
burning as a result of the dramatic increase in the human population that was recovering
from the secondary effects of the rinderpest epidemic. In addition the low ungulate
populations were unable to reduce the standing crop of grass particularly with the unusually
high rainfall experienced in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This resulted in increased
burning by Masai pastoralists to create better grazing for their livestock, tribesman used it to
facilitate hunting, some fires were inadvertently ignited by honey hunters and European
hunters used fire to attract game. The resultant high intensity fires proved devastating and
helped to clear the area of bush and attract ungulates to the highly nutritious grazing
created by the fires. The other effect of the increased human population was to compress
elephant populations into the protected conservation areas. The Serengeti-Mara woodlands
declined accordingly in response to increased utilization by elephants similar to what had
occurred in other parts of Africa when elephant numbers increased to very high densities.
The decline in the area of woodland in the Mara was greatest during the period 1961 to
1967 but continued into the 1980’s. Subsequently the situation changed in the Serengeti
where the elephant population declined by 81% (2 460 vs 467) between 1970 and 1986 as
a result of poaching and resulted in the recovery of the woodland vegetation. Conversely
the elephant numbers continued to increase in the Mara due to immigration and natural
population growth. These changes in elephant densities have also been accompanied by a
steady increase in the wildebeest population which has risen from 250 000 in the 1960’s to
its current level of 1.5 million resulting in a decline in the frequency and intensity of fires
with lower rainfall also contributing to this phenomenon. The situation at present is that
woodland vegetation is increasing in the Serengeti in response to low elephant densities
and reduced frequencies and intensities of fires. Conversely in the Mara the woodlands
continue to decline and the Themeda dominant grasslands are being maintained by the
large number of resident elephants despite a decline in the frequency and intensity of fires.

3.5.6 Discussion

This general overview of the effects of fire in African grasslands and savannas provides the
means of determining whether the research findings that have been obtained elsewhere in
southern Africa are also applicable to the arid savannas of Botswana in general, and the
Okavango Delta Ramsar Site in particular. This will be done by reviewing the local scientific
literature on the effects of fire in the Ramsar Site and also by assessing the condition of the

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vegetation with a fairly closed canopy. The fire sensitive tree species Ceiba pentandra
became dominant (Carson & Abbiw, 1990). Similar results have been obtained in the Lamto
Reserve in the Ivory Coast which receives a high mean annual rainfall of 1 300 mm and
forms part of the Guinea savanna immediately adjacent to the deciduous rain forest. The
savanna vegetation is subjected to annual burning during the middle of the dry season. In a
study investigating the exclusion of fire for 13 years it was found that after eight years the
open savanna rapidly changed into a dense closed formation and after 13 years the first
signs of forest developing occurred in the form of seedlings and saplings. This led to the
conclusion that in all the burnt savannas of Lamto the pressure of forest elements on
savanna vegetation is very high and the exclusion of fire initiates the development of forest
(Menaut, 1977). Similar trends have been found in the more arid savannas (500 - 700 mm
p.a.) in southern Africa where in the Kruger National Park the exclusion of fire caused both
an increase in the density and size of tree and shrub species (van Wyk, 1971).

The effect of frequency of burning on forage production has not been intensively studied in
Africa and only limited quantitative data are available. The general conclusion is that the
immediate effect of burning on the grass sward is to significantly reduce the yield of grass
during the first growing season after burning but the depressive effect disappears during the
second season (Tainton & Mentis, 1984; Trollope, 1984).

The effect of frequency of burning on the quality of forage is that generally frequent fires
improve and maintain the nutritional quality of grassland particularly in high rainfall areas
making it highly attractive to grazing animals. This phenomenon has been recorded
throughout the savanna and grassland areas of Africa (West, 1965; Tainton et al, 1977;
Moe, et al., 1990; Munthali & Banda, 1992; Schackleton, 1990). West (1965) stated that the
fresh green shoots of new growth on burnt grassland are very high in protein and quotes
Plowes (1957) who found that the average crude protein content of 20 grasses after
burning at the Matopos Research Station in Zimbabwe was 19%. This is approximately
twice the protein content of mature grasses that have not been burnt at the end of the dry
season. There is apparently no information available on the effect of frequency of burning
on the production and quality of browse by bush in the savanna areas.

3.5.5 Interactions between fire and herbivory

Utilization of vegetation by herbivory after burning can have a highly significant effect on the
botanical composition and structure of vegetation. An excellent example of the significant
effect of the interaction of wild ungulates and fire on vegetation is illustrated from research
reported upon by Dublin (1995) in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem in Tanzania and Kenya.

The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is an area comprising 2.5 million hectares situated on the
border between Kenya and Tanzania southeast of Lake Victoria. It has a rainfall gradient from
500 mm per annum in the dry south-eastern plains to 1 200 mm per annum in the moist
northwest region in Kenya (Sinclair, 1995). It constitutes one of the last natural ecosystems in
Africa and is famous for its annual migration of over a million wildebeest. Fire and herbivory
are very important factors in the functioning of this ecosystem and the interaction of these
two factors has a highly significant effect on the composition and structure of the
vegetation. Dublin (1995) states that this ecosystem has experienced major vegetation
changes in its recent history, alternating between open grassland and dense woodland

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3.5.4 Frequency of burning

The effect of frequency of burning on vegetation is influenced by event-dependent effects


and interval-dependent effects (Bond & van Wilgen, 1996). The event dependent effects
occur at the time of the fire and are influenced by the type and intensity of the burn and the
physiological state of the vegetation at the time of the fire. The interval dependent effects
are influenced by the treatment and growing conditions that occur during the interval
between the burns. These two overall effects tend to confound the interpretation of the
effect of frequency of burning and must be borne in mind when reporting on the effect of
frequency of burning.

Frequency of burning has a marked effect on the botanical composition of the grass sward
with species like Themeda triandra being favoured by frequent burning and Tristachya
leucothrix being favoured by infrequent burning in the moist grasslands of Kwazulu-Natal
Province in South Africa (Scott, 1971; Dillon, 1980). Similar results have been obtained in
the arid savannas of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa where it was found that
frequent burning favours an increase in Themeda triandra and a decrease in Cymbopogon
plurinodis (Robinson, Gibbs-Russell, Trollope and Downing, 1979; Forbes & Trollope,
1990). In East Africa Pratt & Gwynne (1977) reported that Themeda triandra is a common
constituent of grasslands in the Central Highlands of Kenya on undulating plateau and
mountain flanks where fires are regular occurrences and the grazing pressure is not too
high. Where fires are infrequent or absent the upland grassland tends to become
dominated by Pennisetum schimperi and Eleusine jaegeri which are coarse, tufted species
of very little value as grazing. These are interval dependent effects of frequency of burning
because T. triandra is sensitive to low light conditions that develop when the grass sward is
not defoliated and this species rapidly becomes moribund during extended intervals
between fires. Conversely species like T. leucothrix and C. plurinodis are not as sensitive to
low light conditions and survive extended periods of non-defoliation.

Conflicting results have been obtained on the effect of frequency of burning on bush.
Kennan (1971) in Zimbabwe and van Wyk (1971) in the Kruger National Park in South
Africa, both found that there were no biologically meaningful changes in bush density in
response to different burning frequencies. In the False Thornveld of the Eastern Cape in
South Africa Trollope (1983) found that after ten years of annual burning the density of bush
increased by 41 per cent, the majority of which were in the form of short coppicing plants.
Conversely Sweet (1982) in Botswana and Boultwood & Rodel (1981) in Zimbabwe found
that annual burning resulted in a significantly greater reduction in the density of bush than
less frequent burning. It is difficult to draw any general conclusions from these contradictory
results except to note that in all cases significant numbers of trees and shrubs bushes were
present even in the areas burnt annually, irrespective of whether they had decreased or
increased after burning. These very variable results would suggest that the effect of
frequency of burning on woody vegetation is more an event-dependent effect where factors
like the type and intensity of fire have had highly significant individual effects overshadowing
the effect of frequency of burning per se.

On the contrary the withdrawal of fire for extended periods of time appears to have a more
predictable effect. For example on the Accra Plains in south-eastern Ghana protection of
moist savanna from fire for 29 years has resulted in the development of a forest type

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3.5.3 Season of burning

Very little published quantitative information is available on the effect of season of burning on
the grass sward. West (1965) stressed the importance of burning when the grass is dormant.
Scott (1971) quoted data from the Southern Tall Grassveld of KwaZulu-Natal Province in
South Africa where the mean grass basal cover of plots burnt in autumn, late winter and after
the first spring rains for a period exceeding 20 years, was 12.8, 13.0 and 14.4 per cent
respectively. The absence of large differences in the mean basal cover obtained with these
different seasons of burning indicated that for all practical purposes burning when the grass
sward is dormant in late winter or immediately after the first spring rains has very little
difference in effect on the grass sward. This conclusion is supported by Tainton, Groves and
Nash (1977), Dillon (1980) and Everson, Everson, Dicks & Poulter (1988) who also found that
burning before or immediately after the first spring rains in KwaZulu-Natal Province had
essentially the same effect on the recovery of burnt grassland. Conversely, if the grass sward
is burnt later in the season when it is actively growing it causes a high mortality of tillers of
Themeda triandra, resulting in a significant reduction in the abundance of this species (Dillon,
1980; Everson, Everson, Dicks & Poulter, 1988).

The effect of season of burning on the recovery of grass was also investigated in the arid
savannas of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa (Trollope, 1987). This comprised
determining the effect of burning the grass sward in late winter, spring, late spring and early
summer. The results showed that burning in late winter consistently resulted in a significantly
better recovery in the grass sward during the first growing season after the burn than the other
treatments. This effect was still present during the second growing season but was not as
evident as during the first growing season. Conversely the early summer burns that were
applied when the grass was actively growing had a significantly depressive effect (P < 0.01)
throughout the recovery period on the regrowth of the grass sward in relation to the other
treatments. Thus the overall effect of the treatments was that burning when the grass was
actively growing adversely affected the recovery of the grass sward when compared with
burning when the grass was dormant.

Season of burning also has an effect on the botanical composition of the grass sward. It
was found in Kwazulu-Natal Province in South Africa that Themeda triandra declined after
burning in autumn in comparison to burning in winter and spring whereas Tristachya
leucothrix responded in the exact opposite manner (Bond & van Wilgen, 1996).

It is difficult to determine the effect of season of burning on bush because generally it is


confounded with fire intensity. This is because when the trees are dormant in winter the
grass is dry and supports intense fires whereas when the trees are actively growing during
summer the grass is green and the fires are much cooler. Suffice it so say that West (1965)
postulated that trees and shrubs are probably more susceptible to fire at the end of the dry
season when the plant reserves are depleted due to the new spring growth. However, the
results of Trollope, Potgieter & Zambatis (1990) showed that the mortality of bush in the
Kruger National Park in South Africa was only 1.3 percent after fires that had been applied
to bush ranging from dormant to actively growing plants. Therefore it would appear that
bush is not sensitive to season of burn.

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Bush is very sensitive to various types of fires because of differences in the vertical
distribution of the release of heat energy. Field observations in the Kruger National Park
and in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa and quantitative results from the central
highlands of Kenya indicate that crown and surface head fires cause the highest topkill of
stems and branches of trees and shrubs as compared to back fires (Trollope & Trollope,
1999). The reason for this is that head fires generate greater flame heights than back fires
thus resulting in the fire susceptible growing points of taller trees and shrubs being above
the flaming zone of combustion during back fires as compared to head fires.

3.5.2 Fire intensity

Fire intensity refers to the release of heat energy per unit time per unit length of fire front
(kJ/s/m) (Byram, 1959). There have been very limited attempts in African savannas and
grasslands at quantitatively measuring the intensity of fires and relating fire intensity to the
response of herbaceous and woody plants in terms of mortality and changes in physical
structure. Such research appears to be limited to studies conducted in the savanna areas of
South Africa.

The effect of fire intensity on the recovery of the grass sward after burning was investigated
in the arid savannas of the Eastern Cape. After a series of fires ranging in intensity from
925 to 3 326 kJ/s/m (cool to extremely intense) there were no significant differences in the
recovery of the grass sward at the end of the first or second growing seasons after the
burns (Trollope & Tainton, 1986) leading to the conclusion that fire intensity has no
significant effect on the recovery of the grass sward after a burn. This is a logical result as
otherwise intense fires would not favour the development and maintenance of grassland.

The effect of fire intensity on bush has been studied in the arid savannas of the Eastern
Cape Province (Trollope & Tainton, 1986) and the Kruger National Park (Trollope, Potgieter
& Zambatis, 1990) in South Africa and in the central highlands of Kenya (Trollope &
Trollope, 1999). This comprised determining the mortality of plants and secondly the total
topkill of stems and branches of bush of different heights. The results indicated that bush is
very resistant to fire alone and in the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa the mortality of
bush after a high intensity fire of 3 875 kJ/s/m was only 9,3 per cent. In the Kruger National
Park the average mortality of 14 of the most common bush species subjected to 43 fires
ranging in fire intensity from 110 to 6 704 kJ/s/m was only 1,3 per cent. In Kenya the mean
mortality of trees and shrubs was only 4.4%. In all cases the majority of the trees that
suffered a topkill of stems and branches coppiced from the collar region of the stem.
Therefore it can be concluded that, generally, the main effect of fire on bush in the savanna
areas is to cause a topkill of stems and branches forcing the plants to coppice from the
collar region of the stem. However, research in the Kruger National Park and the Eastern
Cape Province in South Africa, the central highlands of Kenya and in the Serengeti National
Park has also shown that bush becomes more resistant to fire as the height of the trees and
shrubs increase (Trollope & Tainton, 1986; Trollope, Potgieter & Zambatis, 1990; Trollope &
Trollope, 1999).

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modus operandi for controlled burning. In the context of controlled burning in the Okavango
Delta Ramsar Site the significance of these results is that the intensity of a controlled burn
can be significantly increased or decreased merely by manipulating the type of fire through
the ignition procedure. This will be dealt with later in detail in the section on controlled
burning.

Finally great strides have been made in the study of fire behaviour and it is now possible to
formulate realistic guidelines for land users in terms of type and intensity of fires.

3.5 Effects of Fire in African Grasslands and Savannas

Africa is referred to as the Fire Continent (Komarek, 1971) because of the widespread
occurrence of biomass burning, particularly in the savanna and grassland biomes. The
capacity of Africa to support fire stems from the fact that it is highly prone to lightning storms
and has an ideal fire climate comprising dry and wet periods. It also has the most extensive
area of tropical savanna in the world, which is characterised by a grassy understory that
becomes extremely inflammable during the dry season. As a result of the aforementioned
factors fire is regarded as a natural ecological factor of the environment that has been
occurring since time immemorial in the savanna and grassland areas of Africa. Its use in
the management of vegetation for both domestic livestock systems and in wildlife
conservation is widely recognized and used throughout the African continent (Tainton,
1999).

Fire ecology refers to the response of the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystem
to the fire regime i.e. type and intensity of fire and the season and frequency of burning
(Trollope, et al, 1990). To follow is an overview of the known effects of the fire regime on
grass and bush vegetation in Africa based on research results.

3.5.1 Type of fire

The most common types of fire in grassland and savanna areas are surface fires (Trollope,
1983) burning either as head or back fires. Crown fires do occur in savanna but only under
extreme fire conditions. Generally under these conditions they occur as passive crown fires
characterised by the “torching” of individual trees rather than as active crown fires that are
sustained by more abundant and continuous aerial fuels. The significance of the effect of
type of fire on plants is that it determines the vertical level at which heat energy is released
in relation to the location of bud tissues from which meristematic sites the plants recover
after burning.

Trollope (1978) investigated the effects of surface fires, occurring as either head or back fires,
on the grass sward in the arid savannas of the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The results
showed that back fires significantly (P < 0.01) depressed the regrowth of grass in comparison
to head fires because a critical threshold temperature of approximately 95o C was maintained
for 20 seconds longer during back fires than during head fires. It was also found that more
heat was released at ground level during the back fires compared to the head fires, therefore
the shoot apices of the grass plants were more adversely affected during the back fires than
during the head fires.

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The regression equation is based on the following statistics:

Number of cases = 200


Multiple correlation coefficient (R) = 0.7746 (P < 0.01).
Coefficient of determination (R2) = 0.6000.

The aforementioned fire intensity model developed in South Africa was tested in the central
highlands of Kenya in the overall range type classified as "Scattered Tree Grassland:
Acacia-Themeda" by Edwards & Bogdan (1951). The results showed that the fire intensity
model was able to predict the difference between high and low intensity fires and the model
provided a satisfactory basis for formulating guide lines for controlled burning based on fire
intensity (Trollope & Trollope, 1999).

3.3 Behaviour of Different Types of Fires

One of the components of the fire regime is the type of fire. Its inclusion as part of the fire
regime is justified on the basis that different types of fires behave differently and have
contrasting effects on the vegetation. In the grassland and savanna areas surface fires
burning as head and back fires are the most common types of fire. The behaviour of
surface fires burning with and against the wind were investigated by Trollope (1978) in the
savanna areas of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa. The results of the research
showed that head fires were on average approximately seven times more intense than back
fires. The intensity of the head fires was also far more variable than that of the back fires.
They ranged from very cool fires to extremely hot fires, whereas the back fires were all very
cool. Therefore the intensity of head fires was far more significantly influenced by the
environmental conditions prevailing at the time of the burn than the back fires.

3.4 Conclusions

Notwithstanding the difficulties of studying fire behaviour the information that has been
presented emphasizes the importance of this aspect of fire ecology. The identification of fire
intensity as an ecologically meaningful parameter describing the behaviour of vegetation
fires has enabled the quantification of fire behaviour and has provided a means of
quantifying the effects of fire on the biotic components of grassland and savanna
ecosystems. The development of a simple fire intensity model based on easily measured
environmental factors has also provided an objective means of formulating quantitative
guidelines involving fuel loads, fuel moisture, air temperature, relative humidity and wind
speed for controlled burning.

Comparison of the behaviour of head and back fires also clearly illustrates the differences
between these two types of fires. The contrasts in fire intensity have great biological
significance as they indicate the rate at which heat energy is released during head and
backfires and provide a greater understanding of the effects of fire on the ecosystem. The
contrasting behaviour of head and back fires is also pertinent to the formulation of safety
procedures for controlled burning. The fire behaviour data illustrate how by merely altering
the type of fire a burn can be converted from a cool fire into a raging inferno under the
same fuel and atmospheric conditions. These results provide the rationale for the practical
application of controlled burns and the safety procedures that are incorporated in the

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positively correlated with fuel moisture (Wright & Bailey, 1982) and therefore plays an
important role in controlling the flammability of fine fuels (Brown & Davis, 1973).

3.1.2.5 Wind

The combustion rate of a fire is positively influenced by the rate of oxygen supply to the fire
(Brown & Davis, 1973; Cheney, 1981) hence the effect of wind speed on fire intensity. Wind
also causes the angle of the flames to become more acute. With increased wind velocities the
flames are forced into the unburnt material ahead of the fire front resulting in more efficient
preheating of the fuel and greater rates of spread in surface head fires (Luke & McArthur,
1978; Cheney, 1981).

3.1.2.6 Slope

Slope significantly influences the forward rate of spread of surface fires by modifying the
degree of preheating of the unburnt fuel immediately in front of the flames. In a head fire, this
is achieved, as with wind, by changing the flames to a very acute angle and with slopes
exceeding 15 - 200 the flame propagation process involves almost continuous flame contact.
Conversely a down slope decreases the rate of spread of surface head fires (Luke &
McArthur, 1978) and at low wind speeds has the effect of converting a head fire into a back
fire.

Experience gained in the U.S.A. indicates that the increasing effect of slope on the rate of
spread of head fires doubles from a moderate slope (0 - 220) to a steep slope (22 - 350) and
doubles again from a steep slope to a very steep slope (35 - 450) (Luke & McArthur, 1978).

3.2 Fire Intensity Model

Based on research conducted in the Eastern Cape Province and Kruger National Park in
South Africa (Trollope, 1983; Trollope & Potgieter, 1985) a fire intensity model was
developed using a multiple regression analysis for surface head fires burning in grassland
and savanna areas. The model was based on the effects of fuel load, fuel moisture, relative
humidity and wind speed on fire intensity. Air temperature was considered but not included
in the model because it is significantly correlated with relative humidity.

The multiple regression equation for predicting fire intensity is:

FI = 2729 + 0.8684 x1 - 530 √x2 - 0.907 x23 - 596 1/x4

where: FI = fire intensity - kJ/s/m


x1 = fuel load - kg/ha
x2 = fuel moisture - %
x3 = relative humidity - %
x4 = wind speed - m/s

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3.1.2.1 Fuel load

Fuel load is regarded as one of the most important factors influencing fire intensity because
the total amount of heat energy available for release during a fire is related to the quantity
of fuel (Luke & McArthur, 1978). Assuming a constant heat yield, the intensity of a fire is
directly proportional to the amount of fuel available for combustion at any given rate of
spread of the fire front (Brown & Davis, 1973).

The most practical and efficient method for estimating grass fuel loads is with the disc pasture
meter developed by Bransby & Tainton (1977). The calibration for the general use of the disc
pasture meter is that developed in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. This calibration
has been found to be not statistically different from calibrations that have been developed in
grassland and savanna areas in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, the central
highlands of Kenya, the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and the Caprivi region in Namibia.
The generalized calibration that can be used is:

y = -3019 + 2260 √x

where: y = mean fuel load - kg/ha;


x = mean disc height - cm.

3.1.2.2 Fuel moisture

Fuel moisture has a negative effect on fire intensity and is a critical factor in determining the
intensity of a fire because it affects the ease of ignition, the quantity of fuel consumed and
the combustion rate of the different types of fuel. The most important influence of fuel
moisture on fire behaviour is the smothering effect of the water vapour released from the
burning fuel. It reduces the amount of oxygen in the immediate proximity of the burning
plant material thus decreasing the rate of combustion (Brown & Davis, 1973). Luke &
McArthur (1978) distinguish between the moisture content of living plant tissue and cured
plant material. The former varies gradually in response to seasonal and climatic changes
whereas cured plant material is hygroscopic and the moisture content is affected on an
hourly and daily basis mainly by absorption and adsorption in response to changes in the
relative humidity of the adjacent atmosphere.

3.1.2.3 Air temperature

Air temperature has a positive effect on fire intensity and its direct effect is to influence the
temperature of the fuel and therefore the quantity of heat energy required to raise it to its
ignition point (Brown & Davis, 1973). Air temperature also has indirect effects via its
influence on the relative humidity of the atmosphere and moisture losses by evaporation
(Luke & McArthur, 1978).

3.1.2.4 Relative humidity

The relative humidity of the atmosphere has a negative effect on fire intensity by influencing
the moisture content of the fuel when it is fully cured (Luke & McArthur, 1978). It is

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CHAPTER 3
3. OVERVIEW OF THE FIRE ECOLOGY OF AFRICAN GRASSLANDS AND
SAVANNAS

3.1 Fire Behaviour

The effect of fire on natural ecosystems involves the response of living organisms to the
release of heat energy through the combustion of plant material. The manner in which, and
the factors that influence the release of heat energy, involves the study of fire behaviour. In
Africa there is a serious deficiency of knowledge concerning the behaviour of fires and this is
particularly applicable to the savanna and grassland areas of the continent. Virtually no
attempt has been made to quantify the dynamics of the release of heat energy during a fire
and the subsequent response of plants to it. This general statement is equally true for the
different grassland, savanna and wetland systems in Botswana in general and the Okavango
Delta Ramsar Site in particular. The determination of such relationships helps explain many of
the apparently inexplicable effects of fire that are often cited in the literature.

3.1.1. Fire intensity

In the study of fire behaviour various parameters have been developed to quantitatively
describe the behaviour of fires burning in vegetation but in this discussion only those
parameters that are pertinent to the effect of fire on the flora will be considered. Research
on fire behaviour in the savanna areas of the Eastern Cape Province and the Kruger
National Park in South Africa lead/led to the conclusion that the most appropriate parameter
to use for describing fire behaviour and its effects on the vegetation was fire intensity as
defined by Byram (1959) i.e. fire intensity is the release of heat energy per unit time per unit
length of fire front. Numerically it is the product of the available heat energy and the forward
rate of spread of the fire front and can be expressed as the equation:

I=Hxwxr

Where: I = fire intensity - kJ/s/m;


H = heat yield - kJ/kg;
w = mass of available fuel - kg/m2;
r = rate of spread of the fire front - m/s.

3.1.2. Factors influencing fire intensity

The factors influencing the behaviour of fires will be discussed in terms of those variables that
should be considered when applying controlled burns. A review of the literature reveals that
these can be listed as fuel load, fuel moisture, air temperature, relative humidity and wind
speed (Brown & Davis, 1973; Luke & McArthur, 1978; Cheney, 1981; Leigh & Noble, 1981;
Shea, Peet & Cheney, 1981; Wright & Bailey, 1982).

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that one does not have legal rights over. Clarify the administration of the Act and the
requirements by relevant stakeholders for being able to use controlled burning as a
range management practice in terms of the Act;
2.6 Involve Botswana Government staff and other relevant stakeholders in the
development of the fire management plan thereby ensuring the necessary transfer of
skills and knowledge for the management of fire in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

In order to fulfill the objectives and develop a fire management plan the following process of
consultation was under taken.

Government

Okavango Okavango
Delta ODMP Delta
Ramsar Ramsar
Site Site
Dept Forestry &
Range Resources

Identification of
problem(s)

Objective(s)

Solution(s)

Consultants Stakeholders

Figure 2. The consultation process undertaken for developing the Fire Management
Plan for the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

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CHAPTER 2
2. OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT

The overall objective of the project was to gain an understanding of the impact of fire in the
Delta and based on literature reviews, interviews with stakeholders and an assessment of
the condition of the vegetation, develop a fire management plan for the Okavango Delta
Ramsar Site in order to ensure sustainable use and management of the vegetation in the
Delta and to control injudicious burning and wildfires occurring in this unique African
wetland ecosystem.

The specific objectives of the project were to:

2.1 Determine the basic causes of fire in the Delta and identify those that are natural and
those that are of anthropogenic origin and where possible to establish to what extent
anthropogenic fires are accidental or deliberate;
2.2 Determine the effects of fires on the major landscapes/vegetation types and the
associated fauna;
2.3 Develop simple and practical quantitative ecological criteria that can be used to
differentiate between areas that can be considered for controlled burning and areas
where fire should be excluded to safeguard the productivity, sustainability and
biodiversity of the ecosystem. Such criteria based on the botanical composition, cover
and standing crop of the vegetation have been successfully developed and used for
fire management in other savanna areas in southern and east Africa. Consequently
one of the primary objectives of this study in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site will be
to develop similar ecological criteria that can be used to both control the occurrence of
wildfires and to provide clear guidelines for the use of controlled burning as an
ecologically acceptable management practice for the different systems of land use in
the Ramsar site;
2.4 Use existing maps obtainable from the Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research
Center (HOORC), the vegetation classification by Mendelsohn & el Obeid in 2004 and
quantitative ecological criteria for identifying vegetation types in the Ramsar site with
different potentials for supporting fires as a means of effectively preventing, controlling
or managing wild fires with limited fire fighting resources. Based on data collected
during field trips produce a fire management plan that:
• States the ecologically permissible and non-permissible reasons for using fire
as a range management practice;
• Describes the fire regime in terms of type and intensity of fire and season and
frequency of burning recommended for the permissible reasons for using fire
as a range management practice;
• Describes the post-fire range management recommended for areas used for
different systems of land use;
• Describes the practical procedures to be followed and equipment to be used
for the successful and safe application of controlled burning;
• Identifies aspects of the fire regime and its effects on the ecosystem that
require further research;
2.5 Address the requirements of the Herbage Preservation Act relating to controlled
burning that states that it is illegal and punishable by law to set the rangeland on fire
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al, 1998) and in the Serengeti National Park (Dublin, 1995). Experience gained by field
personnel of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) support this concept as
they suggest that the Okavango Delta system is driven by an interaction of available water,
fire and elephants (Personal Communication, 2006).

Therefore in order to develop a meaningful fire management plan for the Okavango Delta
Ramsar Site it is first necessary to develop a comprehensive description of the fire regime
in the Ramsar Site i.e. type and intensity of fire and season and frequency of burning. This
must be followed by an investigation of the fire ecology of the Ramsar Site describing the
effects of type and intensity of fire and season and frequency of burning on the vegetation
and fauna if possible. A description of the general fire regime and fire ecology will be
possible for the drylands of the Ramsar Site (Mopane, Acacia & Burkea Woodlands) and
will be achieved by drawing on the published effects of fire in southern African savannas
and studying the reported investigations on fire in the Delta by Heinl (2005), Tacheba
(2002), Cassidy (2003), Tlotlego (2004) and Banda (2004). This will be more difficult for the
Permanent and Seasonal Swamps because of the lack of long term research data both on
the fire regime and fire ecology of these two vegetation units. However, indications on the
season and frequency of burning will be obtained from satellite data analyzed and
summarized by Cassidy (2003), Heinl (2005), Tacheba (2002) and Tlotlego (2004). In
addition to this information a preliminary assessment of the condition of the vegetation in
relation to fire will be conducted in the aforementioned major vegetation types. This will be
done using, where applicable procedures and quantitative criteria that have been
developed in southern and east Africa to assess whether there is an ecological requirement
and necessity for controlled burning as a management practice for the vegetation in its
current and potential condition. Finally personal interactive surveys will be conducted based
on a standardized questionnaire with appropriate representatives from traditional
communities, tourism sector stakeholders and relevant Government departments and
divisions to determine their perspectives on the current reasons for burning and the fire
regime and fire ecology of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site.

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• Tacheba (2002) determining the extent and season during which fires occurred
during September 2000 and 2001 and the effects of these fires on the structure
and biodiversity of plant communities in the wetlands of the Okavango Delta;
• Cassidy (2003) investigating the livelihoods and spatial dimensions of
anthropogenic burning in the Okavango Panhandle, Heinl (2005) studying fire
and its effects on vegetation in the Okavango Delta,
• Tlotlego (2004) investigating the effects of fire threatening the production of
thatch grass in the Panhandle;
• Banda (2004) researching the influence of burning on microorganisms along the
Boro route in the Okavango Delta.

While all studies are highly commendable and significant scientific contributions to
describing and understanding the fire ecology of the Okavango Delta they are all short-term
investigations that cannot fully describe the long-term effects of burning on the vegetation in
the different vegetation types in the Delta. Considerable information is available on the
general effects of the fire regime on the non-flooded vegetation types in the Delta Ramsar
Site from research conducted in the arid savannas elsewhere in southern Africa (Bond &
van Wilgen, 1996; Trollope, 1982; Trollope, 1984; Trollope, 1999; van Wilgen et al, 2003).
This opinion is supported by Heinl (2005) who concluded that the general response of the
vegetation to fire in the drylands of the Okavango Delta is similar to the savannas
elsewhere in southern Africa. However, long-term data on the effects of fire on the
vegetation in the Permanent and Seasonal Swamps is not available.

The concern for the negative impact of fire on the vegetation specifically in the dry sand
veld areas is supported by a preliminary investigation conducted in 2005 by two of the
consultants (Dr & Mrs Trollope) in Concession Area No 34 located north east of Maun and
contiguous to the southern border of the Moremi Game Reserve. Observations showed that
wildfires that had occurred during 2005 in Mopane Woodland with a sparse cover of pioneer
grass species dominated by Aristida congesta, the herbaceous layer had been very
negatively affected and converted into extensive areas devoid of herbaceous vegetation
and prone to wind erosion. This observation led to the conclusion and recommendation that
the Mopane woodlands in particular should be excluded from burning and wildfires should
be controlled especially in normal to below average rainfall years as a matter of priority in
this vegetation type. (Trollope & Trollope, 2005). Therefore an important element in the
sustainable management of vegetation in the Delta is the development of a comprehensive
fire management plan to control frequent wild fires that threaten to seriously damage and
alter the vegetation resources and impact on rare and endangered species e.g. slaty egret
and sititunga habitats.

However, it should be borne in mind that the often perceived negative impacts of fire on the
vegetation are the combined interaction of fire and herbivory. Therefore considering that the
human population and its associated livestock numbers have increased considerably since
early times, the perceived negative impacts of fire in the Delta region may also have been
magnified by the interaction of fire and livestock, both domestic and wildlife, rather than fire
per se. This possibility also applies to the wildlife areas where the severe impact of
increasing numbers of elephants in the Delta system may also have combined with fire to
escalate the pressure on the Okavango Delta ecosystem. The interacting effects of fire and
herbivory have been clearly and well documented in the Kruger National Park (Trollope et

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Arising from this contractual commitment and in order to ensure the Okavango Delta’s
conservation and wise use, the Okavango Delta Management Plan (ODMP) project
proposal was drawn up in 2002 as a means: “to integrate resource management for the
Okavango Delta that will ensure its long term conservation and that will provide benefits for
the present and future well being of the people, through sustainable use of its natural
resources”. The strategy that was adopted to achieve the implementation of the ODMP was
amongst other things, to collectively create a greater sense of responsibility and
accountability amongst communities and in existing institutions with a mandate to manage
the Delta and its resources. In doing so, 10 components and their respective responsible
institutions were identified. One of the primary and important components listed in the
ODMP report was that of Vegetation Resources and its management is the responsibility of
the Department of Crop Production (DCP) in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department
of Forestry and Range Resources in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. This
component has the responsibility “to ensure sustainable management of the Okavango
Delta vegetation initiated and supported by providing accurate data and assisting in
resolving vegetation management conflicts” This includes considering the ecology and use
of fire in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site where generally wild fires are perceived to be an
increasing problem in terms of their frequency, severity and uncontrolled nature. This issue
has been raised by both communities and tourism sector stakeholders during consultation
meetings and their concerns are echoed by the large areas of the Delta, both in the wetland
portions and the surrounding dry sand veld, that are seen to be burnt each year (Terms of
Reference: Development Of A Fire Management Plan In The Okavango Delta Ramsar
Site, 2004)(Appendix 1). This concern about the widespread occurrence of wildfires
provided the motivation for initiating this project to study the fire ecology of the Okavango
Delta Ramsar Site and to formulate a fire management plan as part of the responsibilities of
the Vegetation Resources component.

The vegetation of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site can be divided into five broad
vegetation units, namely, the Permanent Swamps in the north western Panhandle region of
the Delta and extending south east into the fan of the Delta; the Burkea Woodlands on
either side of the Permanent Swamps; the Seasonal Swamps adjacent to the Permanent
Swamps in the fan of the Delta, the Mopane Woodlands surrounding the Delta in the north
east and the Acacia Woodlands in the south west (Mendelsohn & el Obeid, 2004). From
historical accounts it appears that the inhabitants of the Okavango Delta used fire to burn
the vegetation resources for different lifestyle practices for centuries. Tinley (1975)
mentions that the Maswara River Bushmen who have inhabited the Delta since before 1750
“do considerable damage to the country by firing the flood plain grasslands, which
sometimes burn for weeks”. In 1800 the Batawana community moved northward and settled
in the Maun area where Stigand in 1923 noted that there were 500 dwellings at Maun and
referred to the fact that they burnt the swamp and reed beds annually in preparation for
ploughing. Despite fires being common and widespread in and around the Okavango Delta
and as noted are an integral ecological process and historical land-use practice, the fire
ecology of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site has until recently never been intensively and
scientifically investigated. A major step forward has been the five recent post-graduate
research projects. These were conducted by:

• Heinl (2005) studying fire and its effects on vegetation in the Okavango Delta;

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CHAPTER 1

1. INTRODUCTION

On the 4th April 1997, Botswana became a contracting party of the “Ramsar Convention”
and listed the Okavango Delta, spanning an area of between 10 000 and 16 000 square
kilometres, depending upon the extent of the annual flood waters, as one of the world’s
largest remaining inland wetland ecosystems of international importance. The Okavango
Delta Ramsar Site, which includes the Delta is situated at the northern most edge of the
Kalahari Desert in north western Botswana and comprises an area of 55 374 square
kilometres. The Delta is sustained by water from the Okavango River yielding between 8 -
15 thousand million cubic metres per annum from its catchment areas in Namibia and
Angola (Okavango Delta Draft Framework Plan, 2005). The location and extent of the
Ramsar Site are illustrated and presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Location of Ngamiland in Botswana and the borders of the Okavango Delta
Ramsar Site.

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• Initiation of a community based fire management program in the rural communities in


the Ramsar Site;
• Fire fighting/management training courses for developing local capacity for planning
and applying fire management practices and programs;
• Training in the assessment of range condition for controlled burning and the use of
the Management Orientated Monitoring System for Natural Resource Management
(MOMS) for the capture of range condition data as a means of developing a
vegetation monitoring program for the Ramsar Site.

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burning of areas in the Seasonal Swamps and the Acacia, Burkea and
Mopane Woodlands can be determined using this criterion;
 In order to prevent overgrazing it is important to ensure that the burnt area
exceeds the short term forage requirements of the grazing animals that are
attracted to the highly palatable and nutritious regrowth that develops after a
burn i.e. burn relatively large areas at any one time. Another effective strategy
is to apply a series of patch burns at regular intervals throughout the duration
of the burning window during the dormant season. This has the effect of
attracting the grazing animals to the newly burnt areas after the different fires
thereby spreading the impact of grazing over the entire burnt area and
avoiding the detrimental effects of heavy continuous grazing after the burns.

Practical Application of Controlled Burning

In the practical application of a controlled burning program the following factors must be
considered:
• Weather conditions as described and assessed using the recommended Fire Danger
Rating System;
• Choosing the appropriate burning procedure for the application of the controlled burn
i.e. applying a block burn or a patch mosaic burn;
• The provision of adequate and appropriate firebreaks for the area being burnt;
• Having adequate equipment for both initiating and controlling the fire;
• Ensuring that the field staff are equipped with suitable protective clothing and
footwear;
• Having appropriate forms of communication available to enable effective
communication during the burning operation.

Application of Fire Management Plan

Fire management in the Ramsar Site needs to be implemented in a coordinated manner


and include all the role players within the Ramsar Site. The following aspects have been
considered and described in detail for the practical application of the proposed fire
management plan for the Ramsar Site:
• The appointment and establishment of a District Fire Committee with head quarters
in Maun and acting as the District Fire Coordination Centre;
• Development of a fire prevention plan involving strategic and asset protection fire
breaks and fire fighting capabilities;
• Recommendations on the location of suitable manned and equipped fire crews in the
sub-district wards at Maun, Seronga, Shakawe and Tsau;
• Minimum fitness standards for the selection of personnel for the fire crews;
• Provision of effective communications for field crews during fire operations;
• Provision of guidelines for effective minimum requirements of equipment and
personnel for commercial and private stakeholders in the Ramsar Site;
• School education program aimed at developing fire awareness and understanding
fire ecology of local ecosystems;
• Advocacy and fire awareness programs for educating the local and tourist public;

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Fire Management Plan

A fire management plan has been formulated for the Ramsar Site and includes the
following recommendations:
• The reasons for burning identified in the review of literature were simplified and listed
as follows:
 It is ecologically permissible to burn the vegetation for the removal of moribund
and/or unacceptable grass or other plant material like reeds as a means of
rejuvenating the plant community;
 It is ecologically permissible to burn the vegetation to control the encroachment
of undesirable plants e.g. controlling bush encroachment.
• The following fire regime in terms of type and intensity of fire and the season and
frequency of burning is recommended for the Ramsar Site:
 Fires burning with the wind either as surface head fires in grassland or a
combination of surface head fires and crown fires in tree and shrub vegetation
must be used in controlled burning. This is because surface head fires cause
least damage to the grass sward and crown fires can cause maximum damage
to woody vegetation when fire is used to control bush encroachment;
 When burning to remove moribund and/or unacceptable grass material a cool
fire of <1 000 kJ/s/m is recommended. This can be achieved by burning when
the air temperature is <20°C and the relative humidity >50 %. When burning to
control undesirable plants like encroaching bush, a hot fire of >2 000 kJ/s/m is
necessary. This can be achieved when the grass fuel load is >4 000 kg/ha, the
air temperature is >25°C and the relative humidity <30 %. This will cause a
significant topkill of stems and branches of bush species up to a height of 3 m.
In all cases the wind speed should not exceed 20 km/h;
 Controlled burning should only be applied when the grass sward is dormant.
Relating this principle to the different vegetation units it is recommended that
when burning to remove moribund, unpalatable grass material in either the
Burkea, Acacia or Mopane Woodlands where plant growth is dependent only
on rainfall, then these areas should be burnt at the end of the dormant winter
season in approximately October after the first spring rains of >13 mm. When
burning to control the encroachment of undesirable plants like bush
encroachment, a high intensity fire is required and it is recommended that this
be applied before the first spring rains in August/September when it is
extremely hot and dry. In the case of burning in the Seasonal Swamps where
the growth of the vegetation is generally influenced by the annual flood waters
entering the Delta the ideal burning window for removing moribund and/or
unpalatable grass material is during the period May to July, applying the fires
when the grass sward is dormant before the flood waters start rising. If it should
be necessary to reduce the growth of trees and shrubs in the Seasonal Swamps
then burning must be applied later in the winter during August/September when
it is extremely hot and dry thereby ensuring high intensity fires necessary to
control encroaching trees and shrubs;
 When burning to remove moribund and/or unacceptable grass material the
frequency of burning will depend upon the accumulation rate of excess grass
litter. Field experience indicates that burning is necessary for this reason
when the grass fuel load exceeds 4 000 kg/ha and therefore the frequency of

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• The development of a simple and practical vegetation map of the Ramsar Site based
on the five vegetation units comprising the Acacia, Burkea and Mopane Woodlands
and the Permanent and Seasonal Swamps that have proved to be a very practical
classification of the vegetation for management purposes;
• The initiation of a fire research program to determine quantitatively the effects of type
and intensity and season and frequency of burning on the botanical composition,
productivity, sustainability and biodiversity of the different dominant plant
communities occurring in the different vegetation units identified in the fire
management plan for the Ramsar Site;
• The development of a simplified technique for assessing the condition of the
vegetation, particularly the grass sward, using key grass species;
• The testing of the calibration for the disc pasture meter for estimating grass fuel
loads in the different vegetation units in the Ramsar Site;
• Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the condition of the grass sward and the
tree and shrub vegetation in all the different vegetation units in the Ramsar Site;
• Conduct detailed autecological studies on the key grass, non-grass herbaceous
species and tree and shrub species in the Ramsar Site commencing with Cyperus
papyrus in the Permanent Swamps;
• Investigate whether a symbiotic relationship exists between Cyperus papyrus,
Phragmites, mauritianus, Miscanthus junceus, Echinochloa stagnina and Vossia
cuspidata and mycorrhiza and the role that mycorrhiza may play in the uptake of
nutrients, particularly phosphorous in the Permanent Swamps;
• Investigate the impact of frequency and season of burning of Cyperus papyrus on
aggradation, deposition of bed-load sediments and channel flow in the Okavango
Delta as these functions are vital to the dynamics, functioning and survival of the
Okavango Delta;
• Investigate the flammability of Cyperus papyrus to test the hypothesis that this
species contains volatile substances that enhances its flammability and therefore its
threat as fire hazard in the Permanent Swamps in the Ramsar Site;
• Investigate the effect of frequency of burning on water quality as related to fish die-
off to test the hypothesis that emissions and ash from fires are responsible for the
die-off of fish populations after fires in the Delta;
• Investigate the role of fire in preventing channel blockages by testing the hypothesis
that reductions in frequency of burning and complete fire suppression are agents of
channel blockages in the Delta;
• Determine the effect of type and intensity and season and frequency on reptile
populations, particularly pythons, in the Permanent Swamps as several stakeholders
have enquired about these fauna in the Delta;
• Recommend that climatic and weather data be made more available and readily
accessible to the general public in the Ramsar Site in order facilitate the formulation
of an effective fire management and fire prevention program for the Ramsar Site;
• Recommended that the number of weather stations in the Ramsar Site be
significantly expanded to provide a more comprehensive coverage of the climatic
conditions in the region.

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 Many of the firebreaks were planned not taking local circumstances and
weather into consideration. For instance, some fire breaks were constructed
parallel to the prevailing easterly winds and would therefore not prevent a
wildfire from spreading in a westerly direction. Aerial surveys also showed that
existing strategic fire break systems have not been maintained and unless
attended to immediately would not be effective in controlling the spread of
wildfires during this fire season;
 Greater use could be made of natural barriers in the landscape as firebreaks
and with limited use of strategic burning potential buffer zones could be
created with minimal impact on the sensitive environment in many areas of
the Ramsar Site.
• The Herbage Preservation Act promulgated in 1977 is the legal framework
administering the management of fire in Botswana. A detailed study of this
legislation indicates that certain changes are needed to enable the effective
management of fires both in Botswana and in the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site
viz.:
 The Act requires additions to its existing content to assist the State
Departments and land users in the implementation of the recommendations
that are proposed in the fire management plan. These include a system to
evaluate the fuels before burning to determine the necessity to burn;
 The implementation of a Fire Danger Rating system that would create a safer
environment to carry out controlled burning and provide the predictive means
for reducing the threat of fires to humans, infrastructure and the environment
as a whole;
 The establishment of a District Fire Committee for which membership must be
made mandatory for all representatives of land users within the Ramsar Site
and must include all stakeholders, both state and private;
 The establishment of sub-district wards at Maun, Seronga, Shakawe and
Tsau under the control of the District Fire Committee based in Maun;
 The de-centralization of the existing Government fire crews to the sub-district
wards to allow for crews to react to the initial attack on wildfires on
government and community land.;
 The establishment of 11-person fire crews stationed at the sub-district wards
where they will be closer to assist with extended attack on fires and be
available to assist with burning existing firebreaks and perform any controlled
burning required by the communities and/or other stakeholders;
 The decentralization of the issuing of burning permits to offices in the sub-
district wards;
 The existing burning permits must include a burning plan outlining reason for
burning, range condition, resources and manpower and weather conditions
and fire danger index for the day of the burn;

Research Requirements & Scientific Services

An assessment of current knowledge on the fire ecology of the Ramsar Site led to the
following recommendations on immediate and long term applied and basic research
requirements and the development of scientific services necessary for implementing the
proposed fire management plan:

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rather by the excessive fuel loads that accumulate rapidly in the dense stands of
papyrus;
• The technique used to assess the condition of the grass sward in the Acacia, Burkea
and Mopane Woodlands and the Seasonal Swamps proved to be very successful in
indicating whether the grass sward in these vegetation units needed to be
considered for burning or not. The ecological criteria used in this technique for
assessing the condition of the grass sward relative to fire proved to be very effective
and comprised:
 Burning is ecologically acceptable if the grass sward is in a climax and/or sub-
climax stage dominated by Decreaser and/or Increaser I grass species as a
means of maintaining the potential of the grass sward to produce grazing for
both domestic livestock and wildlife. Conversely burning should not be applied
when the grass sward is in a pioneer condition dominated by Increaser II
grass species in order to allow it to develop to a more productive stage
dominated by Decreaser grass species;
 Burning is ecologically acceptable if the grass sward is in a moribund/ and or
unpalatable condition as a means of restoring the vigour of the grass sward
and allow new nutritious regrowth to occur. Field experience indicates that
when the standing crop of grass >4 000 kg/ha in African grasslands and
savannas then the grass sward has become moribund and/or unacceptable to
grazing animals and needs to be defoliated by burning or some other means.

Current Fire Control Strategies

An assessment of the current strategy to control fire in the Ramsar Site provided the
following information:
• Currently all fire fighting equipment and staff are centralized in Maun and an
inspection of these resources showed that there were 16 fire fighting units referred to
as “slip-on’s” or “bakkie sakkies” and these were assessed to be adequate for the
task of suppressing wildfires in the Ramsar Site. However, a significant number of
the units were not in working order and available for instant use if required. Also the
units stored at the offices of the Department of Forestry and Range Resources were
not suitably housed under cover and were exposed to the elements of the weather
and were showing signs of deterioration due to the effects of rain, high day
temperatures and harsh sunlight;
• An assessment of the number and condition of the knapsack sprayers
showed that there were an inadequate amount for the task at hand and were
generally in very poor non-working condition being stored in the open between two
buildings at the departmental office. There are approximately121 fire beaters but
these need to be properly stored and maintained;
• The assessment revealed that the staff involved in fire suppression were
inadequately trained and not equipped with suitable clothing and footwear for fighting
fires;
• It was concluded that the decentralization of responsibilities, staff and
equipment is a pre-requisite for the development of an effective fire suppression
capability in the Department of Forestry and Range Resources;
• An assessment of the existing fire breaks in around the Ramsar Site led to the
following conclusions:
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 to improve access to the Permanent and Seasonal Swamps for fishing and
setting of nets;
 to improve the quality of papyrus for weaving of mats by removing old dead
shoots and stimulating new growth;
 to improve access in the Seasonal Swamps for harvesting bulbs of water
lilies;
 to clear land in preparation for establishment of crops;

• The main season of burning for both the dryland Acacia, Burkea and Mopane
Woodlands and the Seasonal and Permanent Swamps is the dry period of the year
approximately between May and October. However, the swamps tend to burn earlier
peaking in June immediately before the arrival of the floodwaters while the dryland
woodland areas burn later at the end of winter before the start of the rainy season in
October;

• The annual frequency of fires varies significantly in response to a highly variable


rainfall and in the case of the swamps to variations in the inflow of water into the
Okavango River. The most frequently burnt vegetation units are the Permanent
Swamps and Burkea Woodlands with the Seasonal Swamps having significant
numbers of fires but occurring less frequently. The Acacia and Mopane Woodlands
are very infrequently burnt because of their low grass productivity;
• The effects of fires differed between the flooded swamp areas and the dryland areas;
 In the swamp areas fires have little effect on the vegetation because the
growing points of the plants are either inundated by water or are growing in
moist soil.
 In the dryland vegetation units the general response of the vegetation to fire is
similar to the savannas elsewhere in southern Africa where grassland and
open savanna are promoted by frequent burning and vice versa.

Assessment of Condition Of Vegetation

The assessment of the condition of the vegetation in the different vegetation units led to the
following conclusions:
• The Seasonal Swamps and the burnt area north east of Tsodilo in the Burkea
Woodlands had the highest potential for producing grass fuel that could initiate and
sustain wildfires compared to the other vegetation units. This is because the grass
sward in these areas was dominated by perennial grass species with an inherently
higher genetic potential to produce large quantities of grass fuel compared to the
grass sward in the other vegetation units which was dominated by annual grass
species with a low potential;
• The Permanent Swamps comprising extensive plant communities dominated by
Cyperus papyrus (papyrus) and Phragmites spp. (reeds) had extremely high fuel
loads capable of generating high intensity fires. These plant species have an
extremely high growth rate and are highly resistant to burning because their growing
points are either inundated by water or are growing in moist soil. The papyrus was
found not to contain highly flammable volatile and it was concluded that the
extremely high intensity fires associated with this plant community were caused

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“Panhandle”. The river brings water from the central Angolan highlands, where rainfall is
three times higher than the 450 – 500 mm/year in the Delta region and the average annual
inflow at the border with Namibia at Mohembo is 10 000 million m3. Downstream from
Panhandle the Okavango River spills out over a large area as it divides into a number of
distributary channels, forming a vast alluvial fan.

Climate

The Okavango Basin is characterized throughout by warm or hot conditions during most of
the year and for much of every day. Annual temperatures throughout the area average
20oC, increasing by two or three degrees from north to south as a result of the higher solar
radiation in the southern areas. When there are no clouds, temperatures can peak as high
as 40oC. The winds in the Ramsar Site blow predominantly from the east with strong winds
in excess of 20 km/h occurring 35 % of the time which can have a very significant effect on
the potential for fires in the Ramsar Sites particularly during the dry late winter period.

Land Use

The major forms of land use in the Ramsar Site are communal areas used for pastoral and
arable agriculture (49%), wildlife management areas involving tourism (42%) and the
Moremi Game Reserve involving nature conservation and tourism (9%).

Review Of Literature

A review of the available literature on the fire ecology of the Ramsar Site, information
obtained via interviews with different stakeholders, an analysis of the occurrence of fires
recorded by satellite and an assessment of the condition of the vegetation in the different
vegetation units led to the following conclusions regarding the occurrence and effects of
fires in the study area:
• Fire is recognized both scientifically and politically as an important ecological factor
and a traditional land-use practice;
• The overwhelming majority of fires are anthropogenic in origin being associated with
the different human activities that include livestock farming, wildlife management,
hunting, fishing, tourism, harvesting plant materials for household needs, preparing
croplands and preparing firebreaks for safeguarding property;
• The ecologically acceptable reasons given for using fire as a management practice
are:
 to improve the quality of grazing for domestic livestock and wildlife;
 to attract wildlife to green grazing for improved viewing by tourists;
 to attract wildlife to green grazing for improved hunting;
 to improve the quality of thatch grass and reeds by removing plant debris after
harvesting;
 to construct burnt firebreaks to safeguard property;
 to increase fish populations in the Permanent and Seasonal Swamps by
stimulating new shoots palatable to fish and promote better nesting conditions
for fish when the flood arrives;

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• Banda (2004) researched the influence of burning on micro-organisms along the


Boro route in the Okavango Delta.
While all these studies are highly commendable and significant scientific contributions to
describing and understanding the fire ecology of the Okavango Delta they were are all
short-term investigations that could not fully describe the long-term effects of burning on the
vegetation in the different vegetation types in the Delta.

Objectives

The overall objective of the project was to gain an understanding of the impact of fire in the
Delta and based on literature reviews, interviews with stakeholders and an assessment of
the condition of the vegetation, develop a fire management plan for the Okavango Delta
Ramsar Site in order to ensure sustainable use and management of the vegetation in the
Delta and to control injudicious burning and wildfires occurring in this unique African
wetland ecosystem. The specific objectives of the project were to:
• Determine the basic causes of fire in the Delta;
• Determine the effects of fires on the major landscapes/vegetation types and
associated fauna;
• Develop simple and practical quantitative ecological criteria that can be used to
differentiate between areas that can be considered for controlled burning and areas
where fire should be excluded to safeguard the productivity, sustainability and
biodiversity of the ecosystem.
• Produce a fire management plan that:
 States the ecologically permissible and non-permissible reasons for burning;
 Describes the fire regime in terms of type and intensity of fire and season and
frequency of burning recommended for controlled burning;
 Describes the practical procedures to be followed and equipment to be used
for the successful and safe application of controlled burning;
 Identifies aspects of the fire regime and its effects on the ecosystem that
require further research;
• Addresses the requirements of the Herbage Preservation Act relating to controlled
burning;
• Involve Botswana Government staff and other relevant stakeholders in the
development of the fire management plan.

Study Site

The Okavango Delta Ramsar Site is characterized by Kalahari sandveld that covers much
of central and southern Africa and is flat to undulating with an overlay of aeolian Kalahari
sandbeds that can reach a depth of up to 300 meters. The present day Okavango Delta is
an alluvial fan, its shape governed by tectonic faults. The distal end of the Delta is
controlled by the two northeast-southwest trending faults, the Kunyere and Thamalakane
faults, with the down-throw to the northwest. The proximal end of the Delta is limited by a
third parallel fault, the Gumare/Chobe fault with the down-throw to the southeast. The
pattern of these faults delineates a graben structure, filled with alluvial sediments. The
Okavango River with its catchment in Angola, flows across the Caprivi Strip in Namibia and
enters Botswana at the town of Mohembo in the north-western region of Botswana. Before
it fans out into the Delta the rivers follows a narrow channel, 10 – 15km wide, known as the
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
On the 4th April 1997, Botswana became a contracting party of the “Ramsar Convention”
and listed the Okavango Delta, spanning an area of between 10 000 and 16 000 square
kilometres, as one of the world’s largest remaining inland wetland ecosystems of
international importance. The Okavango Delta Ramsar Site, which includes the Delta is
situated at the northern most edge of the Kalahari Desert in north western Botswana and
comprises an area of 55 374 square kilometres. The Delta is sustained by water from the
Okavango River yielding between 8 - 15 thousand million cubic metres per annum from its
catchment areas in Namibia and Angola.

Arising from this contractual commitment and in order to ensure the Okavango Delta’s
conservation and wise use, the Okavango Delta Management Plan (ODMP) project
proposal was drawn up in 2002. An important components listed in the ODMP report was
that of Vegetation Resources and its management is the responsibility of the Department of
Crop Production (DCP) in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Forestry and
Range Resources in the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. This component
has the responsibility “to ensure sustainable management of the Okavango Delta
vegetation initiated and supported by providing accurate data and assisting in resolving
vegetation management conflicts” This includes considering the ecology and use of fire in
the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site where generally wild fires are perceived to be an
increasing problem in terms of their frequency, severity and uncontrolled nature. This
concern about the widespread occurrence of wildfires provided the motivation for initiating
this project to study the fire ecology of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site and to formulate a
fire management plan as part of the responsibilities of the Vegetation Resources
component.

The vegetation of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site can be divided into five broad
vegetation units, namely, the Permanent Swamps in the north western Panhandle region of
the Delta and extending south east into the fan of the Delta; the Burkea Woodlands on
either side of the Permanent Swamps; the Seasonal Swamps adjacent to the Permanent
Swamps in the distal portion of the Delta, the Mopane Woodlands surrounding the Delta in
the north east and the Acacia Woodlands in the south west. From historical accounts it
appears that the inhabitants of the Okavango Delta used fire to burn the vegetation
resources for different lifestyle practices for centuries. Despite fires being common and
widespread in and around the Okavango Delta and as noted are an integral ecological
process and historical land-use practice, the fire ecology of the Okavango Delta Ramsar
Site has until recently never been intensively and scientifically investigated. A major step
forward has been five recent post-graduate research projects investigating different aspects
of the fire ecology in the Ramsar Site, viz.:
• Heinl (2005) studied fire and its effects on vegetation in the Okavango Delta;
• Tacheba (2002) determined the extent and season during which fires occurred
during September 2000 and 2001 in portions of the Permanent and Seasonal
Swamps and areas of Mopane and Acacia Woodlands;
• Cassidy (2003) investigated the livelihoods and spatial dimensions of anthropogenic
burning in the Okavango Panhandle;
• Tlotlego (2004) investigated the effects of fire threatening the production of thatching
grass in the Panhandle region of the Delta;
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Mac and Brenda McKenzie deserve special mention for all the assistance, advice,
friendship and emergency email service when all else failed!

To those stakeholders we did not get the opportunity to interview or consult please accept
our apologies – it in no way negates the value of your information but it was purely due to
time constraints that the opportunity did not materialise.

To our fellow EnviroNet consultants – thank you for the camaraderie, hard work and team
spirit. To Anya Hofman from the GTZ office in Gaborone, your assistance and advice was
sincerely appreciated. Finally, special thanks are due to the Lowveld Fire Association in
Nelspruit, South Africa for the provision of the Cessna 206 to facilitate the surveys of the
Delta and to Egmund van Dyk, a truly accomplished pilot and friend.

Winston and Lynne Trollope

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The preparation of the Fire Management Plan for the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site has
been both an enriching, exciting and challenging experience and the EnviroNet Consultants
wish to express their most sincere appreciation and thank all their colleagues and new
found friends who have facilitated and contributed in many ways to this assignment. In
particular we wish to express our gratitude to Dr Comfort Molosiwa, Project Co-ordinator for
the Okavango Delta Management Plan, for his valuable guidance on the ODMP
requirements for the structure and format for the presentation of reports, for his patience
and invaluable assistance in many aspects of the project and the finesse with which he
accomplishes many things. We wish him well in the preparation of the overall Management
Plan for the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site. We thank Ms Portia Segomelo for her
dedication, leadership and introduction to the ODMP at the commencement of the project.
Mr Sekgowa Motsumi, the ODMP Information and Communications Officer always
meticulously read the reports and offered constructive comments which were most
valuable, and the staff at the ODMP we thank for the warm welcome to Maun and their
courteous co-operation and assistance at all times.

We express our appreciation to Mr Raymond Kwerepe the immediate past Director and the
new Director Dr K Molopang of the Department of Forestry and Range Resources in
Gaborone for facilitating the project and providing administrative support. Mr Boikago
Maswabi and his staff, especially Malaakgosi Mafhoko and Mmika Letileng, at the
Department of Forestry and Range Resources in Maun, were always enthusiastic, co-
operative and great people to work with. Our field trips engendered a friendship that will not
easily be forgotten and we truly appreciated their willingness and enthusiasm to conduct
surveys during public holidays and over weekends and their eagerness to adopt new
technology for assessing range condition and their interest in the Fire Danger Rating
System.

Invaluable assistance was also unstintingly offered by the staff of the Harry Oppenheimer
Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, in Maun and we would like to thank
in particular the Director, Dr L Ramberg, Dr Casper Bonyongo, Dr Cornelis van der Post,
Mike and Francis Murray-Hudson, Dr Susan Ringrose, Connie Masalila, Hannelore
Bendsen, Marion Morrison, Herbert and staff of the HOORC Library. We express our
grateful thanks to Mike Murray-Hudson, Mosie Innele and Thebe for their patience in
stopping on innumerable occasions during a visit by boat to the HOORC field station and
for sharing their insights on the Delta with us. Their excellent boating skills made our
investigation of the seasonal swamps a fascinating and truly enlightening experience. Dr
Casper Bonyongo also provided most valuable insights into the functioning of the
Okavango ecosystem, assisted with numerous articles and books on the Delta and was
always willing to discuss and comment on many topics and ideas related to the project.

To the many other stakeholders from the commercial sector, government departments,
NGO’s, communities and private individuals, who shared their knowledge and enlightened
us on this fascinating and wonderful ecosystem, we thank you for your time and
information. Special thanks go to Map Ives, Mark Kyriacou, Lloyd Wilmot, Alan Schmidt,
Patrick Pentstone, Pete Hancock, Debbie Gibson, Batusi Letlhare, Simon Allen, Lee
Ouzman, Willie and Anne Phillips, Jan, Eileen and Donovan Drotsky and Piet Scheepers.

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List of Appendices
Appendix 1 Terms of Reference ………………………… 166
Appendix 2. Rainfall data for Maun and Shakawe ………………………… 174
Appendix 3. Details of responses from interviews with stakeholders ……… 179
Appendix 4. Proposed amendments to the Herbage Preservation Act …… 193
Appendix 5. Grass Fuel and Forage Factors ……………………….. 202
Appendix 6. Botanical Survey Data Digital copy only

ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS


ODMP Okavango Delta Management Plan
DFRR Department of Forestry and Range Resources
ARB Agricultural Resources Board
DWNP Department of Wildlife and National Parks
DCP Department of Crop Production
HOORC Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Center
ITCZ Inter-tropical Convergence Zone
PRA Participatory Rural Appraisal
CBPP Contagious Bovine Pleural Pneumonia
FDI Fire Danger Index
PPC Personal Protective Clothing

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List of Tables

Table 1. The monthly mean, maximum and minimum air temperatures for Maun
and Shakawe in the ODRS for the period 1967 – 1998 .……………….… 26
Table 2. The monthly mean, maximum and minimum relative humidity for Maun
and Shakawe in the ODRS for the period 1967 – 1998 .……….………… 27
Table 3. Annual percentage frequency of wind direction recorded at Maun
(1968 – 1978) and Shakawe (1966 – 1969) in the ODRS .……….………… 27
Table 4. The areas and proportion of the major vegetation units in the ODRS and
their relationships with the original vegetation types identified and
classified by Jellema, Ringrose and Matheson at HOORC in Maun …….…… 29
Table 5. Existing broad land use categories in the ODRS ……………...…… 39
Table 6. Technique for assessing the grazing potential of the grass sward
and the necessity for controlled burning in the Acacia, Burkea and
Mopane Woodlands and the Seasonal Swamps in the ODRS ………..... 70
Table 7. Technique for assessing the potential of the grass sward to produce
thatch material and the necessity for controlled burning in the ODRS ..…..… 74
Table 8. The effects of basal cover (point to tuft distance – cm), grass standing
crop (kg/ha) and the proportion of annual grasses and non-grass
species (%) on the resistance to accelerated soil erosion in the Seasonal
Swamps and Acacia, Burkea and Mopane Woodlands in the ODRS ………... 87
Table 9. The mean canopy cover, height and prominent tree and shrub species
recorded in the Seasonal Swamps and Acacia, Burkea and Mopane
Woodlands in the ODRS …………………… 88
Table 10. A comparison of the botanical composition (%), density (plants/hectare),
phytomass (tree equivalents per hectare) of an unburnt area and a
frequently burnt area in the Tsodilo region of the Burkea Woodlands
in the north western region of the ODRS …………………………..… 90
Table 11. The impact of frequent high intensity fires on the mortality of large trees
>10m in height in the Tsodilo region of the Burkea Woodlands in the
north western region of the ODRS …………………………….. 91
Table 12. Fire Danger Rating System for controlled burning and fire suppression
in African Grasslands and Savannas …………………………….. 105
Table 13. Burning Permit Plan …………………………….. 107
Table 14. Calibration for the Disc Pasture Meter developed in the Kruger National Park
in South Africa and recommended for use in estimating grass fuel loads in
African grasslands and savannas for management purposes
(Trollope & Potgieter, 1986) ………………………….….. 116
Table 15. Fire Danger Rating System using Fire Danger Indices as a means for
selecting suitable burning conditions for controlled burning ………………….… 125

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Figure 26. Potential of the vegetation to produce grass fuel to initiate and sustain fires,
and forage for domestic livestock and wildlife in the Seasonal Swamps and
Acacia, Burkea and Mopane Woodlands in the ODRS, expressed as
fuel and forage scores ………………..………….. 83
Figure 27. Mean frequency of Decreaser, Increaser I and Increaser II grass
species in the seasonal swamps and Acacia, Burkea and Mopane
Woodlands in the ODRS, expressed as fuel and forage scores ………… 84
Figure 28. The mean grass fuel loads expressed in kilograms per hectare
recorded in the seasonal swamps and Acacia, Burkea
and Mopane Woodlands in the ODRS ………………….………… 86
Figure 29. On the left is the more dense woody vegetation in the unburnt
area at Tsodilo and on the right is the more open vegetation in
the burnt area 8km north east of Tsodilo ………………….………… 92
Figure 30. A view of the significant mortality of the large trees >10m in the
burnt area north east of Tsodilo and the negative impact of bark
stripping by elephant and fire on a large Pterocarpus angolensis
(Kiaat) tree in the burnt area ………………….………… 93
Figure 31. Narrow water channels lined with dense stands of papyrus (Cyperus
papyrus) four to five metres in height dissecting the permanent
swamps in the Panhandle region of the Okavango Delta ………………….. 93
Figure 32. On the left a view of the papyrus community near Seronga that
had regrown after 3 months to a height of approximately 3m
after a fire in January, 2006, on the right a mature stand of unburnt
papyrus located opposite the burnt area showing the accumulation
of dead shoots that grow, mature and die after 90 days ………………….. 94
Figure33. Views of the high intensity fire that burnt the papyrus swamps
th
opposite Drotskys Cabins at Shakawe on 19 November, 2005 ………… 95
Figure 34. From left to right: the high flammability of dry papyrus umbels
burning intensely in contrast to the green, live papyrus umbel
and finally the successful but less intense combustion of a
combination of dry and green, live papyrus umbels ………………….. 96
Figure 35. Proposed decentralization of the fire related responsibilities of the
District Fire Committee in Maun to Sub-District Wards in Seronga,
Shakawe, Tsau and Maun as provided for under the proposed
Amendments to the Herbage Preservation Act ………………….. 102
Figure 36. The infrastructure showing delegation of responsibilities for issuing
burning permits for controlled burning by the District Fire Committee ………. 103
Figure 37. The Disc Pasture Meter developed by Bransby and Tainton (1977)
used to estimate the standing crop of herbaceous plant material in
a grass sward …………………. 116
Figure 38. The procedure for using a perimeter ignition to apply a block burn ………… 127
Figure 39. Illustration of head, back and flank fires resulting from applying a
Point ignition ………………….. 128
Figure 40. The procedure for using a point ignition for applying a patch mosaic burn …. 132
Figure 41. Procedure for constructing dry and wet line fire breaks ………………….. 131
Figure 42. The Botha Fire-Box comprising four sheets of corrugated iron fitted
with four wooden handles ………………….. 133
Figure 43. A drip torch used for laying fire lines ………………….. 134

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List of Figures
Figure 1. The Okavango Delta Ramsar Site (ODRS) ….………………………… 1
Figure 2. The process of consultation undertaken to develop a
Fire Management Plan for the ODRS ………............................. 6
Figure 3. Location of the Okavango Delta Ramsar Site in Ngamiland Province
in north western Botswana ………………….………… 18
Figure 4. Mean monthly and annual rainfall recorded at Maun and Shakawe
in the ODRS ………………….………… 22
Figure 5. The previous twelve months rainfall recorded at Maun for the period
2000 – 2006 illustrates the highly variable nature of the seasonal and
annual rainfall in the ODRS ……………………………. 23
Figure 6. Mean monthly inflow of water into the Okavango River from January
to July recorded at Mohembo for the period 1984 – 2006.
Data expressed in cubic meters of water per second i.e. cusecs ………… 24
Figure 7. Total annual inflow of water during January to July in the
Okavango River recorded at Mohembo in the ODRS
for the period 1984 – 2005 ……………………….…… 25
Figure 8. Location of Acacia, Burkea and Mopane Woodlands and
Seasonal and Permanent Swamps in the ODRS ……………………………. 30
Figure 9. A typical example of Burkea Woodland in the ODRS ………………….. 31
Figure 10. Acacia Woodland in the south western region of the ODRS ………………….. 32
Figure11. A fine stand of Mopane Woodland in the north eastern region of the ODRS.. 33
Figure 12. Cyperus papyrus in the Permanent Swamps in the ODRS …………………. 34
Figure 13. The successional plant communities in the channels of the
Permanent Swamps – Vossia cuspidata flanked by Cyperus papyrus
With tall Miscanthus junceus in the background …………………………… 37
Figure 14. Hyphaene petersiana on the terraces in the Seasonal Swamps of the ODRS 38
Figure15. The interrelationships between the causes of fires in the ODRS and the
activities related to different systems of land use that may result in
the development of wildfires ……………………………. 55
Figure 16. The total number and distribution of fires in the different vegetation
units recorded in the ODRS during the year 2000 …………………………… 56
Figure 17. The total number and distribution of fires in the different vegetation
units recorded in the ODRS during the year 2001 ……………………………. 58
Figure 18. The total number and distribution of fires in the different vegetation
units recorded in the ODRS during the year 2002 ……………………………. 60
Figure 19. The total number and distribution of fires in the different vegetation
units recorded in the ODRS during the year 2003 ……………………………. 62
Figure 20. The total number and distribution of fires in the different vegetation
units recorded in the ODRS during the year 2004 ……………………………. 64
Figure 21. Total number and distribution of fires in the different vegetation
units recorded in the ODRS during the year 2005 ……………………………. 66
Figure 22. Total number of fires recorded per year by satellite and the
mean annual rainfall for Maun and Shakawe in the ODRS
for the period 2000 – 2005 ……………………………. 67
Figure 23. Mean number of fires recorded per month by satellite in
the ODRS for the period 2000 – 2005 ……………………………. 68
Figure 24. Total number of fires recorded per vegetation unit by
satellite in the ODRS for the period 2000 – 2005 ……………………………. 69
Figure 25. On the left a typical stand of papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) growing in the
Panhandle region of the ODRS with a fringe of floating Vossia cuspidata
grass at the base of the tall growing papyrus community. On the right a
well developed reed community of Phragmites australis growing in the
Permanent Swamps of the Boro River in the fan region of the
Okavango Delta ……………………………. 81

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6.2.4.2.3 Communications ………………………………. 139


6.3 Fire management plan for the ODRS ………………………………. 140
6.3.1 District Fire Committee ………………………………. 140
6.3.2 District Fire Coordination Centre ………………………………. 140
6.3.3 Fire prevention plan ………………………………. 141
6.3.3.1 Strategic fire breaks ………………………………. 141
6.3.3.2 Asset protection fire breaks ………………………. 141
6.3.4 Fire fighting capabilities ………………………………. 142
6.3.4.1 Coordinating fire fighting ………………………………. 142
6.3.4.1.1 Initial attack (Rapid Response) ………………. 144
6.3.4.1.2 Extended attack ………………………………. 144
6.3.4.1.3 Aerial coordination ………………………………. 144
6.3.4.2 Government Sub-District Ward fire crews …………… 144
6.3.4.3 Communications ……………………………….. 146
6.3.5 Guidelines for minimum requirements for commercial/
private stakeholders ……………………………….. 147
6.3.5.1 Per single tourist lodge/tented camp site …………….. 147
6.3.5.2 Per prescribed burning operation ………………. 147
6.4 Advocacy and Fire Awareness Education ………………………. 147
6.4.1 Advocacy ………………………………. 148
6.4.2 Awareness campaigns and programs ………………………. 149
6.4.2.1 Tourism sector ………………………………. 149
6.4.2.2 Community-based fire management ………………. 149
6.4.2.3 School education program ………………………. 150
6.5 Recommendations for Future Training and Capacity Building
for Future Fire Management ……………………………….. 151
6.5.1 “On the Job” training of staff ……………………………….. 151
6.5.2 Future training ……………………………….. 152
6.5.2.1 Fire fighting/management training ……………….. 152
6.5.2.2 Training in monitoring ……………………………….. 153
6.6 General Discussion and Conclusion ……………………………….. 153

REFERENCES ……………………………….. 157

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5.3.2.1 Current situation ………………………………. 100


5.3.2.2 Proposed changes to the Herbage Preservation Act . 100
5.3.2.2.1 Establishment of District Fire Committees
and Sub-District Wards ………………………. 100
5.3.2.2.2 Delegation of responsibilities for issuing
Burning Permits ………………………………. 102
5.3.2.2.3 Fire Danger Rating System ………………. 103
5.3.2.2.4 Prohibition on burning vegetation ………………. 106
5.3.2.2.5 Duties to extinguish fires ………………………. 106
5.3.2.2.6 Readiness for fighting fires ………………………. 106
5.3.2.2.7 Burning permit ……………………………… 106
5.3.3 Proposed amended Herbage Preservation Act ……………… 108
5.4 Identification of Deficiencies in Current Knowledge on Fire
Ecology of the Ramsar Site ………………………………. 108
5.4.1 Applied research ………………………………. 108
5.4.2. Basic research ………………………………. 110
5.4.3 Scientific services ………………………………. 112

CHAPTER 6
6. RECOMMENDED FIRE MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR THE ODRS .……. 113
6.1 Introduction ………………………………. 113
6.1.2 Reasons for burning ………………………………. 113
6.1.3 Ecological criteria for prescribed burns ………………………. 115
6.1.4 Fire regime ………………………………. 118
6.1.4.1 Type of fire ……………………………. 118
6.4.1.2 Fire intensity ………………………………. 119
6.4.1.3 Season of burning ………………………………. 119
6.4.1.4 Frequency of burning ………………………………. 120
6.1.4.5 Post-burn range management ………………………. 120
6.2 Application of a Controlled Burning Program ………………………. 120
6.2.1 Fire Danger Index for controlled burning ………………………. 120
6.2.1.1 Practical example of the calculation of the Fire
Danger Index ………………………………. 126
6.2.2.2 Vegetation monitoring ………………………………. 126
6.2.2 Burning procedure ………………………………. 127
6.2.1.1 Block burns ………………………………. 127
6.2.2.2 Patch mosaic burns ………………………………. 128
6.2.3 Fire breaks ………………………………. 131
6.2.31. Dry and wet line fire breaks ………………………. 131
6.2.3.2 Cut-line fire breaks ………………………………. 132
6.2.3.3 Tracer line fire breaks ………………………………. 132
6.2.3.4 The Botha Fire-Box ………………………………. 133
6.2.3.5 Width of fire breaks ………………………………. 133
6.2.4 Burning equipment ………………………………. 134
6.2.4.1 Equipment for initiating a fire ………………………. 134
6.2.4.2 Equipment for controlling and fighting fires ………. 135
6.2.4.2.1 Persona protective clothing (PPC) ………. 135
6.2.4.2.2 Fire fighting tools ………………………………. 137

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4.3.3 Annual flood – Okavango River ………………………………. 24


4.3.4 Air temperature and relative humidity ………………………. 25
4.3.5 Wind ………………………………………. 27
4.4 Vegetation ………………………………………. 28
4.4.1 Woodlands ………………………………………. 30
4.4.2 Permanent and Seasonal swamps ………………………. 32
4.5 Land Use ………………………………………. 39
4.5.1 Communal areas, settlements, arable
and pastoral agriculture ………………………………. 40
4.5.1.1 Livestock ………………………………. 40
4.5.1.2 Crop farming ………………………………. 41
4.5.1.3 Fishing ………………………………. 41
4.5.1.4 Hunting ………………………………. 42
4.5.1.5 Harvesting reeds, thatching grass, papyrus
And veld products ………………………………. 42
4.5.2 Wildlife management areas ………………………………. 43
4.5.2.1 Tourism ………………………………. 43
4.5.2. Game reserves ………………………………. 43

CHAPTER 5
5. FIRE ECOLOGY OF THE OKAVANGO DELTA RAMSAR SITE (ODRS) 45
5.1 Collection, Assimilation, Analysis and Evaluation of
Information Pertinent to the Fire Ecology of the ODRS ………. 45
5.1.1 Review of literature on the fire ecology of the ODRS ………. 45
5.1.1.1 Ignition sources of fire ………………………………. 46
5.1.1.2 Reasons for burning ………………………………. 46
5.1.1.3 Season of burning ………………………………. 46
5.1.1.4 Frequency of burning ………………………………. 47
5.1.1.5 Type and intensity of fire ………………………………. 47
5.1.1.6 Effects of fire ………………………………. 48
5.1.2 Interviews related to the fire ecology of the ODRS ………. 50
5.1.3 Satellite data related to the fire ecology of the ODRS ………. 55
5.1.3.1 Annual occurrence and distribution of fires ………. 55
5.2 Assessment of the Condition of the Vegetation Relative
to Burning in the Major Vegetation Types in the ODRS ………. 70
5.2.1 Introduction ………………………………………. 70
5.2.2 Procedure for assessing range condition ………………. 70
5.2.2.1 Grass sward ………………………………………. 70
5.2.2.2 Tree and shrub vegetation ………………………. 79
5.2.2.3 Permanent swamps ………………………………. 81
5.2.3 Results ………………………………. 82
5.2.3.1 Grass sward ………………………………. 82
5.2.3.2 Tree and shrub vegetation ………………………. 88
5.2.3.3 Permanent swamps ………………………………. 93
5.2.3.4 Discussion and conclusion ………………………. 98
5.3 Assessment of Current Strategies to Control Fire in the ODRS …… 99
5.3.1 Fire suppression ………………………………. 99
5.3.2 Herbage Preservation Act ………………………………. 100

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page
LIST OF FIGURES ……………………………………….. vi
LIST OF TABLES ……………………………………….. viii
APPENDICES ……………………………………….. ix
ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS ………………………………………. ix
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ………………………………………. x
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ………………………………………. xii

CHAPTER 1 ………………………………………. 1
1. INTRODUCTION ………………………………………. 1
CHAPTER 2 ………………………………………. 5
2. OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT ………………………………………. 5
CHAPTER 3 ………………………………………. 7
3. OVERVIEW OF FIRE ECOLOGY OF AFRICAN
GRASSLANDS AND SAVANNAS ………………………………………. 7
3.1 Fire Behaviour ………………………………………. 7
3.1.1 Fire intensity ………………………………………. 7
3.1.2 Factors influencing fire intensity ………………………………. 7
3.1.2.1 Fuel load ……………………………………….. 8
3.1.2.2 Fuel moisture ……………………………………… 8
3.1.2.3 Air temperature ….…………………………………... 8
3.1.2.4 Relative humidity ………………………………………. 8
3.1.2.5 Wind ……………….……………………… 9
3.1.2.6 Slope ………………………………………. 9
3.2 Fire Intensity Model ………………………………………. 9
3.3 Behaviour of Different Types of Fires ………………………………. 10
3.4 Conclusions …………..…………………………... 10
3.5 Effects of Fire in African Grasslands and Savannas ………………. 11
3.5.1 Type of fire ………………………………………. 11
3.5.2 Fire intensity ………….……………………………. 12
3.5.3 Season of burning ……………………………………….. 13
3.5.4 Frequency of burning ………………………………………. 14
3.5.5 Interactions between fire and herbivory ………………………. 15
3.5.6 Discussion ………………………………………. 16

CHAPTER 4 ………………………………………. 18
4. STUDY SITE ………………………………………. 18
4.1 Location and Description ………………………………………. 18
4.2 Geology and Soils ………………………………………. 19
4.2.1 Geology ………………………………………. 19
4.2.2 Soils ………………………………………. 20
4.3 Climate ………………………………………. 21
4.3.1 Introduction ………………………………………. 21
4.3.2 Rainfall ………………………………………. 21

Okavango Delta Management Plan – June 2006 ii


A FIRE MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR THE
OKAVANGO DELTA RAMSAR SITE
IN BOTSWANA
W.S.W. Trollope, L.A. Trollope, C.de B. Austin,
A. Held, A. Emery & C.J.H. Hines

Draft Report

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June, 2006