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Update: Progress in wake of wildlife park fire

Posted by: Bobbi Miller, Field Conservation

In June, we posted urgent news from the field about a devastating fire that severely damaged parkland in Russia vital to the survival of endangered cranes. Touched by the tragedy, our generous readers and zoo supporters contributed $800 to help Cranes of Asia, a WPZ Partner for Wildlife, purchase firefighting equipment to control dangerous fires in the future. Here is an update on the progress of that critical effort…

The afternoon was still and hot until the winds began to pick up at the Muraviovka Park in the Amur region of Russia. It was the sort of day where you can feel something is about to happen, you just aren’t sure what that something might be—until you look out to the horizon and see it, the smoke from a wildfire.

On May 2 this year, the crew at Muraviovka Park—a crucial nesting and breeding ground for the endangered red crowned crane, and the home of WPZ Partner for Wildlife Cranes of Asia—could do little but watch as over 90% of the park was burned. Due to the delicacy of the habitat, fires are fought on the ground because it’s too difficult to bring in a fully loaded water tanker. The crew at the park did everything they could to fight the fire, many of which are started in that region by farmers burning bales of straw in crop fields, smoldering camp fires left unattended, or the occasional “just for fun” fire. One of the best ways to prevent these sorts of devastating fires in the park is to conduct prescribed burns—a practice that allows you to burn a designated area as a fire break, eliminating all flora that might fuel a larger fire. This practice has raised interest among local firefighters, and a strong negative reaction from the governmental agency responsible for nature protected territories.

Game rangers and wardens are opposed to the idea of prescribed burns since they’re not trained for them and don’t trust the process to be safe. When the park staff burned approximately 430 hectares of wetlands this fall, leaving a mosaic of burned wide stripes and large islands of untouched grasslands suitable for crane nests, the government threatened to sue had the local firefighters not come out in favor of the burns.

We posted the story about the fire on our blog in June and through generous donations by friends of the zoo, we were able to send over $800 to our partner Cranes of Asia to use towards the purchase of firefighting equipment. In an effort to show their dedication to not just the park, but to the surrounding farms, Cranes of Asia Executive Director Sergei Smirenski purchased 24 brass water pumps in the U.S. this fall and donated them to the Amur Region Fire Department, which ended up being breaking news in the area.

The public was extremely excited about the gift, and has since asked the park to organize and conduct special training sessions in prescribed burning for the local firefighters in 2011.

It is these efforts, and your help, that will keep the crane habitat safe and healthy for years to come. On behalf of partner Cranes of Asia, we at Woodland Park Zoo would like to thank you for your generous donations and your help in spreading the word about this and other conservation needs around the globe.

Photos (from top to bottom): Red crowned crane by Igor Ishenko, Muraviovka fire by Sergei Smirenski, Fire aftermath by Sergei Smirenski, Sergei delivers brass pumps by Adam C. Stein, Oriental white stork by Andre Ogleznev.