From the Ashes

2 April 2019 | The Mara |

Far from a depressing event, in the Mara fire means life and activity – particularly for a fervid photographer

Photograph by Tyler Davis

The seemingly endless plains of the Maasai Mara provide the perfect backdrop to the excitement and drama that unfolds here on a daily basis. Grass as far as the eye can see, interrupted by the occasional flat-topped trees that are dotted across the horizon.

With the migration slowly starting to make its way back north from the southern regions of the Serengeti, the grass in the Maasai Mara has had time to flourish. Driving through the Mara Triangle I often find myself gazing out in silence, transfixed by the deliciously healthy grasslands all around. The last 18 years of management have been good to this landscape – the ecosystem is thriving.

As part of the Mara Conservancy’s Management Plan, an area of the Triangle is burnt each year. This is carried out on a rotational basis to ensure other areas are afforded years to grow and mature. Fires can be a useful tool to burn away grass and bush, stimulating a new flush of fresh grass for the purpose of improved grazing.

Smoke on horizon

Marbous and horizon

Storks in flight at fire

Last week a large block of land was intentionally burnt along the Oloololo Escarpment. The grass in this area was growing incredibly tall, preventing any wildlife from moving into this section. The delayed migration last year also meant that the zebra and wildebeest had not spent as much time in the area, and so the grass was starting to turn. The park rangers chose a day with a gentle breeze and a promise of a light rain in the evening. The grass was dry and needed little help to catch ablaze.

Burn and horizon

Road in burnt area

When I caught the first whiff of smoke, my heart raced. I am a wildlife photographer and the opportunities for unique shots escalate whenever a match is dropped. I leapt at the chance to get out in amongst the flames and smoke to capture moments that are so raw and emotional. Fire is a major agent of change and it really makes for exciting imagery.

Marabou Storks in fire

Stork with burnt mouse

Carcass in fire

Fire may bring death, but it also pulsates with life – what is now a scorched earth scene, reminiscent of a battle ground, will soon turn into a fresh oasis for animals of all shapes and sizes. Fire is a natural component of this landscape and the true impacts of a well-timed burn, like this one, will be seen in the months to come.

Ground Hornbill in fire

Hyena in burnt area

Stork picking in ashes

Birds in flight in smoke

Map of Fire 29 March

This map of the Maasai Mara gives an idea of the scale of the area burnt, marked out in red. The blue arrow indicates Angama Mara’s location.


AUTHOR: Adam Bannister

A South African-trained biologist, safari guide, author, filmmaker and photographer, Adam is, above all else, a gifted storyteller. After spending the past 10 years working in some of the world’s most beautiful wild places – the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa, Rajasthan in India, Brazil’s Pantanal, and the rainforests of Manu National Park in Peru – he is delighted to share his stories of one of the loveliest game reserves of them all, the Maasai Mara.

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