Fire devastates SA's leading park

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The Independent Online
Johannesburg - A bush fire has devastated at least a quarter of South Africa's leading tourist attraction, the Kruger National Park. Thousands of animals and birds had probably died in the fire, the worst in more than 40 years. Authorities at the Kruger, which draws 700,000 tourists annually, said the blaze was sparked by lightning a week ago, compounded this week by high temperatures and gale force winds.

Founded in 1926, the park covers 7,700sq miles of bush, half the size of Switzerland, and has the greatest diversity of wildlife of any in the world. Kruger's statistics are impressive: 336 species of indigenous trees, 112 species of shrubs, more than 1,000 herb species and a profusion of flowers after seasonal rains. It has 147 species of mammals and 510 of birds - from turkey-like ground hornbills to orange-eyed, shimmering starlings, impala, elephants, leopards and cheetahs.

Mr Van der Linde said the fire has burned 25 per cent of the Kruger around the Satara camp in the southern part of the park. "A large number of animals are likely to be burnt to death," he said.

"The highest mortality of all the animals will probably be the impala because they are the most densely populated in that area," he added. Smaller mammals, tortoises and insects are also likely to be affected, raising concerns for the park's bio-diversity. The extent of the loss of animal life would only be known when the smoke cleared and fire was dampened down.

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