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July 2010 Bush Blog

Park Celebrations and Mid-Year Musings...

July is the middle of the year.  This is not a very spectacular statement, I know, but it does make us wonder just where 2010 has gone.  Or 2009 for that matter.  It seems like just yesterday that we were exploring this new and exciting piece of African wilderness, planning where we could site camps, where we could conduct walks, what we could see and how we could sell something that has – effectively for the last 40 years – been largely unsellable.  That was September 2008.  It is now almost a full 2 years since we set out on our Gorongosa journey and we have to say that it has certainly been a journey worth writing home about.  In truth, it has been just incredible to see how the wildlife and people of this seriously devastated region have bounced back in such a short time. 

On safari, I often use the rapidly increasing impala population here as an excellent example of how things can come back if they are given a little helping hand.  When we arrived in the Park there were very few of these important keystone species (they’re intermediate feeders so are important indicators of vegetation quality, etc, in an eco-system), and those that were here kept a big distance from the vehicles and the walks.  Now, a short 22 months later (the time it takes an elephant embryo to develop in its mum’s tum in fact), impalas are everywhere, super relaxed and super healthy and thriving in every sense.  All this is largely thanks mostly to the efforts over the past 15 years of the Government of Mozambique, WWF, and then the Carr Foundation and the new Gorongosa Restoration Project and its donors (Greg Carr, USAid, Portugal, etc), not to mention the individual efforts of those people who have served in the Park in this time to make it a conservation story worth reporting on and definitely worth visiting. 

All of these players and more were involved towards the end of July in celebrating the Park’s 50th anniversary as a National Park.  This was a great event in Chitengo Camp that was watched over by the rising full moon and a beaming audience of dignitaries, musicians, village leaders, dancers, and park staff alike. The event was made even more poignant by the announcement some few days before of the inclusion of Mount Gorongosa into the Park boundaries – an event which has been on the cards since Ken Tinley conducted his seminal study of the Gorongosa eco-system back in the late 1960s (a nice leather-bounded copy of which is now to be found in our camp library - thanks Greg). Well the mountain as part of the National Park is now a reality, and a great one at that.  Of course, the reality of actually saving the mountain and its fragile eco-system is the next big challenge, as is the continuation of the good progress made thus far in restoring the main Park.  Law-enforcement, conservation ecology, research, human development, field management, re-introductions, re-forestation, tourism development, and a whole host of other facets are the reality now, more so than ever, to get Gorongosa sustainable and flying high as the flagship conservation story of Mozambique again.  This is no small feat, but one whose infancy was worth celebrating over a cold 2M beer or three on a beautiful moonlit night in late July.  Well done Gorongosa and we look forward to being part of the next 50 years of conservation history in Mozambique...

On the wild side this month we had some fun and games with our four-legged and feathered friends – most notably a really good month of lion viewing and, in keeping with the celebratory nature of this month, we were lucky enough to see the new cubs that have been expected for some time now as their heavily lactating mum has been seen more and more in the vicinity of our camp.  She eventually pulled them out for us one evening at sunset on a day when (as is always the case) I forgot my camera back in camp!  We managed to take some really really bad pictures on our phone which look more like blurry teddy bears than 2-month old lion cubs, but still.  There are 3 new names on the Gorongosa lion roll-call, and this makes the whole “no-picture” thing fade into insignificance.  We will no doubt see much more of these little tykes over the years and we will share their lives and images with you as we go.  Their arrival compliments the sighting of two more lion cubs on the other side of the Park close to Lake Urema, although these two brothers are a little older (14-16 months) and seem to be more established in their little piece of big cat paradise.


Elephants have also been thriving in the late wet conditions (still no sign of the winter rain abating!) and we have seen many of these impressive pachyderms around the western side of the Park which is unusual for this time of year when we expect them to be over at the lake more.  We have also seen some buffalo herds this month which is always a treat when you consider that there were some 14,000 buffalo here before the conflict and now there are no more than a couple of hundred.  

Birding has been first-class as ever with many really great sightings.  A flock of over 300 pratincoles on a newly burnt marsh was one memorable occasion, as was the sighting of our resident Pel’s Fishing Owl during a morning walk in which she flew right over us, twice.  The mountain trips we conducted also brought out good sightings of the Green-Headed Oriole, as well as the impressive Livingstone’s Turaco and other rain-forest specials. 

We had some fun guests in July including our first from Down Under - Geoff and Christine made a huge Ozzie impact on all of us at Explore Gorongosa and we look forward to hosting more fun types from Australasia soon.  We also had a keen birding couple from the UK who racked up over 120 birds in 4 days with the help of a really relaxed Trogon in our kitchen!  We have also included some pics within this blog from our recent Reefs to Rockies recce group - four women and their cameras could only spell trouble for Gorongosa's wildlife (not to mention Rob's Y chromosome!)  All credit for the great shots seen here go to the lovely people at Reefs to Rockies in Denver...

So although the year is now past its half-way mark (halftime oranges anyone?) we think it has been a pretty good one all things considered.  And so as we look towards the downhill portion of 2010, we have to just ask you one thing – why oh why are you not here with us right now, swinging from a hammock, cold G&T in hand, watching the gentle Msicadzi meander by, considering your next spot of wildlife watching whilst a fish eagle calls at you from across the river?  If you have no good answer to this question, which you surely can’t, please remind yourself that a spot of slow safari-ing does wonders for the soul... see you soon!

Happy days and best,

All of us here at Explore Gorongosa

p.s. On a separate and really saddening note, we were all shocked to hear recently of the loss of one of Mozambique’s wilderness warriors – Gilberto Vicente.  GV, as we knew him, was a great conservationist who worked tirelessly in a number of roles throughout Mozambique for the conservation cause.  He will be hugely missed and we pass on all our thoughts to his family, friends and colleagues.

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