On August 6th, two days before leaving Mozambique, I took a much-anticipated day trip to Mt. Gorongosa. This mountain, the highest peak in the country, is home to a montane rainforest environment uncommon in southern Africa, and thus bursting with unusual and often endemic species. The drive there was a wonderful 2-hour or so ride along extremely bumpy mountain roads, but it was totally worth it. I first explored the Murombodzi waterfall, a stunningly beautiful area unfortunately surrounded by a lot of slash-and-burn destruction. It was thrilling to be in a place that I had seen so many photos of in the past. Piotr had told me to collect everything, as virtually every species on the mountain is unique. I collected quite a few insects, including two species of katydids that are very uncommon and possibly new to science. I also found a positively spectacular spiny orb weaver spider.
The hike down to the falls from the mountain campsite (basically skiing down a sheer dirt slope) was tough, but hiking back up was even tougher. I was so tired and out of breath that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but make it I did.
Later in the day, I had the chance to visit some of the fields on the mountain where crops are being grown with coffee trees. There is an ambitious coffee project going on which has a lot of momentum. The mountain was made part of the park in 2010 when officials realized that without the rain-catching power of the mountain forest, the rest of the park would die. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people living on the mountain, and most are subsistence farmers. The only way of life they know is to slash and burn large chunks of rainforest, leaving huge areas dead. The new coffee project aims to give these people control of coffee plantations, which will yield much-needed revenue. The coffee trees require shade to grow, so creating coffee plantations also requires planting rainforest trees. The idea is that this will create a source of income for the people and also rejuvenate the damaged rainforests. However, the coffee trees take 4 years to fully mature, so it is a slow and difficult process. I was called upon to collect samples of pests that were infesting some of the crops. I collected several pest species, including thrips and planthoppers. Hopefully they will be controlled with minimal use of pesticides. While there I also found a wonderful large pyrgomorphid grasshopper Dictyophorus griseus. This animal is deadly toxic to vertebrates and advertises this fact with bright red underwings when threatened. Since it knows it is protected, it rarely jumps and is very docile when handled.
Hopefully I will be able to return to the mountain at some point in the future and do some night collecting. I would especially love to see the Mount Gorongosa pygmy chameleon, endemic to this mountain. Someday…