Controlled small-scale fires are traditionally used in the African savannah to flush out small mammals for hunting. Poachers in Zimbabwe are carelessly deploying crude versions of this practice, causing unmanageable bush fires and large-scale destruction.

For generations, experienced local hunters have ensured that the impact of burning on the environment and nearby communities is minimal (see J. G. Pausas and J. E. Keeley BioScience 59, 593–601; 2009). According to locals, however, African hunting-party demographics have changed. Such parties now often comprise men who are younger and from outside the community. This may tie in with the emigration of older men from their villages, enticed away by illegal mining operations, for example.

In their absence, the ethos of controlled-fire hunting is no longer instilled into youngsters. If they are not locals, even experienced hunters have no vested interest in small-scale burning that could yield less quarry but maintains the nearby area.

In our view, mitigating the alarming spread of hunting-related bush fires calls for collaborative efforts by communities, government and non-governmental organizations.