Beautiful, splendid, savage: any and all of these words accurately describe the rich, corporeal landscape that is Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Life beats its heady drum in that rugged place, which escapes any narrow classification. In 2013, a team of intrepid researchers, led by GWC’s Director of Global Biodiversity Exploration, ventured to the remote Cheringoma Plateau within Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. Their goal? To survey the wildlife and plant biodiversity at three sites that biologists had not yet surveyed over a four-week period.
Site One: Nhagutua Camp
To begin their journey, the team set up camp on the southern rim of a deep limestone ridge. The shallow soils around the gorge retain little water during the dry season. However, just off to the side, a 20-meter-deep canyon with a steady stream provided the team with water supplies. The real gem of this particular site rested at the bottom of the deep gorge: a spectacular old-growth riverine forest. With a good deal of strategic slipping and crafty climbing, the team was able to descend into the gorge and explore the unmapped caves and caverns that dot the sides. Renowned frogman and team member Mark-Oliver Roedel may have discovered some new frog species within the caves, most likely endemic to the area.
Site Two: Archway Gorge Camp
Next, the team settled down near the bottom of a long and narrow canyon, where the scientists encountered bustling animal activity, including elephant herds and glimpses of spotted hyenas. The camp was situated in elevated woodland with plenty of shade, though surrounded by a dry expanse comprised of miombo and dambo on calcareous sandstone. From goliath beetles to huge grasshoppers, the insect population in the park was truly staggering in their compact beauty and extraordinary diversity. The team encountered a fabulous array of colorful beetles and mesmerizing ants, many of them new to science. Further down the river, beyond the canyon, the team discovered some interesting marshy areas as well, where crocodiles stalked with their characteristic swagger.
Site Three: Waterfall Camp
The southernmost site of the survey was located about 20 km southwest of Muanza, near a shallow but fairly wide river with a small waterfall cascading into a deep pool. Rock pools covered with thick layers of moss and lichens dotted the length of the river. The surrounding areas boast of long stretches of shady riparian forest and beautiful patches of papyrus and tall grasses, and yet most of the terrain is covered with various types of miombo-like woodland and some open, grassy dambo. The underlying rock formation is argillaceous sandstone. The road leading to the site goes through several different types of woodland and marshes and turned out to be perfect for transect sampling. The team witnessed fresh lion and buffalo tracks, which although thrilling, warranted extra caution.
“Identifying an organism is the first, most important step in an effort to protect it,” says GWC Associate Researcher Piotr Naskrecki. Results from this project revealed the Cheringoma Plateau to be in a thriving ecological condition, despite years of civil unrest in the area and general neglect. While the latter has been a boon, the former was devastating for some of the Park. The results of the survey and continued exploration will help further the Gorongosa Restoration Project headed by Dr. Edward O. Wilson. Ideally, progress made at Gorongosa will lead to other much-needed restoration projects in parks around Mozambique.
Grassland, miombo forest, flood plains