|Pedro Muagura, Director of Conservation, Parque Nacional da Gorongosa.|
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Along the stream atop the Muromedzi waterfall we sat watching the production of seedlings. The preparation of soil for each seedling was done with the caring hands of a midwife. The volunteers and Park staff sat in this rich earth and sang songs of Mt. Gorongosa. The songs were accompanied by the sounds of flowing water and the birds in the surrounding trees. The scene gave us hope that this mountain can be healed from the cutting and clearing that has taken place by farmers pushing further into the forest.
Pedro Muagura oversees the seedling production and planting, and the other forty nurseries on the mountain. This single nursery has the capacity for nearly 100,000 trees. Muagura is the Conservation Director of Gorongosa National Park. He is like one of the great trees of this mountain which he fights to restore. He stands tall in leading his mountain scouts with the charisma of a military general preparing for battle. Muagura also adapts to the changing conditions of the mountain as he is one day working with a BBC film crew and the next he is apprehending poachers in the Park. As he sings one of the mountain songs of conservation with his forest managers he exudes the spirit of this beautiful mountain that goes deep, like the roots of this forest.
Muagura showed us a variety of trees in the nursery. He and his staff strive to match the diversity of forest lost by slash and burn agriculture. He is connected to the trees in so many ways. Muagura named one of his daughters Bridelia, after the this beautiful Bridelia tree that grows in the montane rainforest.
Seeing the movements of the volunteers and mountain staff in the nursery showed us the entire procedure in preparing the trees for reforestation. For each seedling a recycled plastic sugar bag is filled with the rich mountain soil that has been pre-sifted for roots and rocks. The bags of soil are packed in tight rows on the ground for the specific tree species to be planted within. Some of the young seedlings are later placed under a thatch-covered platform that provides a shaded area matching the shading effect of the forest canopy. As the seedlings continue to grow they are shifted in position along their row in order to break the root ball forming outside the planter.
After about 2 ½ months in the nursery, the seedlings are ready to plant on the mountain. Muagura and his scouts conduct extensive patrols across the mountain in part to target areas that require restoration. We had the good fortune to travel with Muagura and his forest managers and many volunteers to take some of the seedlings up the mountain to an area of cut forest covered by old maize crops. At the base of the four-kilometer ascent up the mountain each seedling was removed from its soil and planter and wrapped in fern leaves. We then meandered up a narrow trail around a small village through freshly burnt landscape and then up through lush green montane rainforest. After passing dense understory on the steep slope we came to a sterile region full of dried maize plants with barren tree trunks that stood like skeletons on the crest.
On the crest the team began their work by laying out a guiding rope in this well-managed planting effort. Muagura pointed out the specific areas to be planted at the edge of the intact forest.
The approach to this devastated section of mountain was depressing, for us visitors. However, the work of this amazing group of people gave us all hope. We had hope that the remaining forest will be preserved. We had hope that the tree-planting will restore lost habitat. We had hope that these beautiful people will continue to sing their mountain songs.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
The Gorongosa scout unwrapped the smoked meat from the bound-up reeds and the flies came in immediately to the charred pieces of flesh and exposed bone. It was hard to tell there were two animals on the ground before me. It was even more challenging to tell what species they were. The scout in his dark green fatigues with Parque Nacional de Gorongosa arm patch leaned over and picked up a larger and flatter piece of meat. He turned it over and I could recognize that the split-open head was that of a reedbuck.
|Reed buck, bush buck, snares, and machete.|
The scouts had been at an outpost on the edge of the Park and had located the two animals hanging dead in a tree in a poacher’s camp. The poachers were gone. However, in the area the scouts had picked up 36 wire snares. In the camp were also a machete and a spear. Typically a spear like this is used to put away an injured animal trapped in a snare.
A major struggle with the effort of restoration in the Park is the continued poaching or illegal hunting of wildlife. The rangers and scouts here are doing excellent work but the Park is huge. There are currently 24 outposts spread across the perimeter. Each post has 2 to 4 scouts, but more patrols are needed.
|Inspecting one of the largest of the gin traps confiscated in|
the Park with Gorongosa science technician Luis Oliveira.
One important item about bushmeat that I stress with my students working on the African Bushmeat Program is that “bushmeat” is a misnomer. The concept of illegal hunting applies to fish as well. This showed up in Gorongosa last week with a poacher’s camp along Lake Urema. It didn’t have dead antelope but dead fish. Lots of fish. The camp had hundreds of catfish laid out on the grass. Two fisherman were seen on approach but they deserted the camp as the scouts arrived. I was able to see the fish when they were brought back into camp to dry. This confiscated meat was not to be discarded but actually kept to feed the local community.
During our helicopter survey the other day we actually passed over an illegal fish trap set up along a stream coming in to Lake Urema. The traps were made of woven reeds and looked fairly elaborate. I had a thought that such traps could actually be sold in the Chitengo gift shop for tourists. I found out that Greg had tried this but no interest showed up. Sure would be a nice turn to take these traps off the river and sell them as art for more money than could be brought in from the fish.
|Illegal fish traps leading to Lake Urema.|
An important idea we are working on related to poaching in the region is to reinforce the value of a live animal over a dead animal. This is something that we hope to build on with the local Community Education Center (CEC). I am trying to develop some lessons around the concept with Adrienne McGill of the CEC during this expedition. We hope to have local school children take this important lesson back into their own communities. The value of the animal for ecotourism is a hard thing to measure but we think the idea can be of huge value in helping curb poaching. Post a comment if you have an idea on reinforcing this idea.
We would like to announce the release of the latest chapters of the biology textbook E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth. This release includes four physiology chapters:
Skeleton and Muscle
Circulation and Respiration
This rich physiology content, brought to life with stunning visuals and interactive animations can be downloaded from iTunes with the original Introduction and Ecology chapters for $1.99. Once downloaded, the book can be viewed on an iPad 2 or iPad 3.
|Screenshot of iTunes release of the latest chapters.|
Friday, May 25, 2012
There is probably no better place to contemplate evolution, animal behavior, and conservation than Gorongosa National Park. This is why we are developing these chapters for E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth during this expedition. The past few days we have been developing stories for each of these sections. Yesterday we filmed Ed for a section on human evolution. It was incredible to set this up on the edge of the floodplain surrounded by fever trees at sunset.
|A local butterfly visits Ed for a display of behavior.|
|Morgan chats with Ed about the next phase of the book.|
Today we focused on animal behavior. Once again the biodiversity of the region lends itself to this topic. Actually, everyday has been filled with stories of animal behavior. Whether it is the conquest of an ant colony over a termite colony on the move, or a monitor lizard seeking out crocodile eggs along the river, this place is full of interesting animal interaction. Great inspiration.
|Sunset after shoot; (l-r) Ed Wilson, Morgan Ryan, Bob Poole and Jay Vavra |
(photo by Kathy Horton).
It has also been great to work with Bob Poole again. Many around this project know his filming of Africa’s Lost Eden and the recent National Geographic release War Elephants. Every trip is an adventure with Bob and his wife Gina riding in the elephant-proofed Land Rover with no doors or windows. In terms of filming, he always knows when to shoot, where to shoot and how to shoot it anywhere in the Park. He also makes every trip a good time. Bob is a man of the bush. Ed commented that Bob’s hell would be being forced to live in a high-rise in a major city being unable to leave that city block.
|Bob Poole wraps up the set on location near the Lion House.|
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Gorongosa National Park was a key component of the initial chapter released for E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth. Many more people have now toured the Park through this platform as over 700,000 have downloaded our book as of 5 weeks ago. Besides being a case study for rebooting an ecosystem, our project is about showing how complex and diverse geographic features shape a multitude of eco-regions throughout the Park and the surrounding area. This geographic diversity supports the incredible biodiversity in Gorongosa.
|The bands of slacks and levees along the Pungue River tell the story of past|
flooding and changing courses of this river on the southern boundary of the Park.
Yesterday we had an opportunity to analyze and document these features with an aerial survey over a large section of the park on a approximately 450 kilometer circuit that we took with the helicopter. Project director Morgan Ryan and I were led by science director Marc Stalmans and pilot Mike Pingo. We recorded the route with GPS (point/ 3 seconds). Morgan and I shot photos of unique geographic features, prominent vegetation, human occupation, and wildlife. I shot over 1,500 photos along the way. It was incredible to view the scene with the doors off the helicopter. I was even able to lean out and step on the strut for particular shots. Fortunately Bell helicopters have secure seatbelts that prevented us from being a lion’s or crocodile’s next meal.
|Crocodiles along Lake Urema as seen from the open door.|
|We spotted 3 lionesses and two cubs in the center of the Park, about 30 kilometers|
from Chitengo. This was a region where lions hadn't been sighted before.
This work is part of the E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth project and will also provide material for digital media that can be used for future visitors of the region that will bring maps to life with photos and video. Much of this is supported by the Moore Foundation. In particular we hope to show areas of Park that cannot be accessed by most.
|Not far from Chitengo we saw nearly 30 blue wildebeest which was a great sign|
of recovery. It was also a scene right out of a Lascaux Cave painting.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Chitengo Camp, Gorongosa National Park
My first thought was “hammerhead ant.” Small black hammerheads appeared to be moving quickly over the soil. The nest within the rotting wood had been overturned and the workers were out on defense with mandibles spread. This was not a harmless carpenter inhabiting an old log. The first bite on my hand spoke its name: the trap-jaw ant. The pain was sharp and unlike any ant I had yet felt. It made me rethink the bare-handed scooping of dirt that I had been doing.
|This "hammerhead ant" has extended its mandibles in preparation|
of grasping this little termite.
These trap-jaw ants (genus Odontomachus) happen to have the fastest moving feeding apparatus of any animal. Actually, they have the fastest recorded movements of any animal. Not only do they use these lightning speed mandibles to feed, but the force released can also propel them backward and so they appear to jump.
I also happened to observe them getting their favorite prey, the termite. The slow moving soft-bodied termites had little chance with these hammerheads. This was really more like watching great white sharks taking in plump elephant seals resting on the surface of the ocean. The trap-jaw ants feasted and returned to their nest with many a termite.
|Odantomachus seizes dinner.|
The first bushbaby has called out and it is only 9:15 in the evening. Why, oh why does the bushbaby cry into the night? Some believe it is to gather in group members to sleep for the night in the hollow of a tree or in a protected nest of leaves. Those on this expedition miss curling up with group members in a nest. We’ll be home soon, but there will be a few more adventures first.
Tomorrow will be an ecosytem survey by helicopter to assist in telling the rich story of biogeography in this Park.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Chitengo Camp, Gorongosa National Park
A secretary bird was sighted by safari guide Jeff Trollip from Explore Gorongosa. Birders and safari enthusiasts of East Africa have seen many of these birds throughout excursions to Kenya and Tanzania. Not so for Gorongosa. These birds were relatively easy prey for the hungry soldiers inhabiting the region during the 12-year civil war. We have seen plenty of snakes, lizards and grasshoppers that should be supplying food this specimen and relatives who may be on the way. This is an excellent sign that life is returning to Gorongosa.
|Secretary bird foraging in Gorongosa National Park (photo by Jeff Trollip)|
The cheetahs we observed last year in the quarantine boma were released into the park several months ago. Yesterday one of the males and was spotted this morning taking down a reedbuck. He is clearly healthy and presently well fed. Additionally there is plenty of food available for his stay in this park. Hopefully he will be hanging around the place.
A major component to the re-wilding of Gorongosa National Park is the Sanctuary. This is a large fenced-in refuge for animals that are being introduced to the region, mostly from South Africa. The Sanctuary provides a region free of predators, well-protected from illegal hunting, and with adequate food for the rapid population growth of these key animals that were eradicated in the war here.
|Giant kudu (above) and waterbuck (below) in the Park.|
Today was the Sanctuary census day. The count was done in order to understand the productivity within the Sanctuary and to plan the introduction of the animals into the Park. The chief scientist of the Park, Marc Stalmans, along with pilot Mike Pingo led the count.
372 Blue wildebeest
193 Cape buffalo
68 Sable antelope
364 Common reedbuck
9 Lichtenstein’s hartebeest
11 Grey duiker
4 Red duiker
There was general excitement around these numbers. There are likely more individuals than the above numbers because of the large size of the Sanctuary and trees within which provide cover for the animals. The plan is to start releasing some of these animals into the larger Park to boost the restoration process.
Friday, May 18, 2012
While descending to the forest floor of the limestone gorges of Gorongosa, the opening scene from the film Arachnophobia in the jungle of Venezuela, or the arrival to the lush rainforest of Jurassic Park came to mind. Our South African pilot, Mike Pingo steered us in like a dragonfly coming to land on a favorite blade of grass. The scene was even more cinematic as the doors had been removed to lessen the load on the helicopter for later ascending out of the narrow gorge. This allowed me to lean out over the landing struts and take in more of the scene as we lowered in next to the towering trees of this lush forest.
This region is one of the more unique and remote habitats of Gorongosa National Park. In planning out the expedition to this site we expected to find species that had been isolated from the surrounding region and yielding some new finds for Gorongosa and Mozambique. The focus was on ants and collecting with Gary Alpert and bringing in samples to Ed for a rapid field ID. Additionally we planned to collect many bags of leaf litter to locate the small cryptic species of ants living on the forest floor and below the surface. It has been shown this is the habitat to locate undescribed species. The vast majority of large species scurrying across the surface have all been collected and well documented. However, there are still large animals such as mammals that are being found. Last summer a team from the Field Museum in Chicago located a previously undescribed species of shrew up on Mt. Gorongosa.
Another aspect of this remote site in the limestone gorges is that it is prime leopard habitat. To find out if this is really the case, a remote camera was placed deep in the gorge on a game trail to survey large animals moving about in the region. As I explored low on the ground for insects, I wondered if I was moving bait for a leopard. Fortunately, the tropical flora and great diversity of insects made these thoughts disappear.
I observed my first weaver ant (genus Oecophylla) nest in the gorge. These industrious ants weave leaves together with larval silk to make an enclosed nest. The workers initially form chains together to draw in leaves to initiate the nest building. Then workers hold larval ants in their mandibles in such a way to make them release their silk. Sounds like exploitation of youth, no?
|Weaver nest perched above the forest floor.|
The diversity of butterflies, spiders, damselflies, and dragonflies was amazing. After collecting leaf litter and isolated ants with Gary, I began roaming the basin of the gorge to locate unique insects in the dense undergrowth and along the streambed. The only disappoint came when it was time to pack up our gear and head back to the helicopter. Hope we can return to this wild site.
|The lowland rainforest of the gorge made a wonderful outdoor lab (photo by James Byrne).|
The first bush baby has cried out into the night. This means it is getting late. The other evening a loud bush baby cry sounded off very close to where I write this blog. The primal sound was followed by an owl swooping low across the grass and then landing 40 feet from me. It appeared to be ripping apart something on the ground, but it was hard to see in the dark of the night. I guess one doesn’t need to take a helicopter ride across the Park to observe wildlife in action.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The restoration of Gorongosa National Park is a community-based effort. Besides wildlife management the scope of the project includes improving local financial opportunities, health and welfare, and education. Some of the local students and teachers have the good fortune to attend the Gorongosa Community Education Center (CEC). We returned to this scenic environmental education camp in the bush to learn more about their activities and how we can connect students and teachers around the world with those in Mozambique.
The coordinators of the CEC include Herculano Ernesto and former Peace Corps worker Adrienne McGill. It was great to reconnect with both of them. Adrienne had visited my class in San Diego this last Fall. We have been working on developing lessons around restoration biology that can connect our different populations of students. The divide between these groups of students is quite large. In Southern California we have urban youth with nearly unlimited technology available for their school work. In Mozambique, the 5th poorest nation in the world, the resources available for students are quite limited. In the Gorongosa region the students are mostly living on small subsistence farms and they spend 1 hour on average walking to school everyday. Additionally, the average class has around 60 students.
The CEC is a model of green design. At the same time it has the appearance of an exclusive summer camp set in the Malibu Hills. It blends with the local habitat in a very natural way. The students or groups of teachers getting training in environmental education typically stay for 2 to 3 days. They work on a variety of projects with local flora and fauna. There are also focused projects on fire control as fires have been frequent and quite destructive during the dry season (June – October).
|With the CEC set in the miombo forest there is a wide variety of life available for students to study. This relatively harmless whip scorpion was bare-handed by the intrepid Piotr Naskrecki.|
Soon we will visit with students attending the CEC and coordinating some current and future activities. Anyone have ideas for partnering with students in Mozambique? Please submit a comment! Obrigado. One current project is supporting students in their regional science fair with lessons focused various aspects of the Gorongosa Restoration Project. Science fair goes global!
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Quite a day for celebrating life and biodiversity. It started out with sampling of ants then photographing caterpillars doing the conga, observing lounging lions, and then watching the nightlife of the Park. Just another day in Gorongosa.
In the morning Gary Alpert and I finished hanging up the leaf litter samples from yesterday in the Winkler funnels. This method basically dries out the leaf litter and the ants move to the bottom in a small pouch of alcohol where they are trapped. As we were finishing Greg Carr and Bob Poole arrived out of breath telling of us something amazing that was going with insects outside the fences. We quickly gathered our camera gear and rushed out to the dirt road to Vinho.
Upon reaching the forest road to Vinho we saw what the excitement was about. They had observed a procession of caterpillars moving in a chain. We stayed with them for a while photographing with with different cameras and accessories. It was beautiful sight. It was nearly destroyed by a passing truck. However, Greg helped direct the massive truck over it so the ants could move undistrurbed. The caterpillars would possibly keep moving and eventually stop in an ideal location and then metamorphosis in mass.
As darkness descended some fireflies buzzed near our truck. Upon looking further out to the flood plain we could pick up more and more of them. As our eyes adjusted from the spotlight we had been using to see nightlife, we viewed an incredible spectacle out across the marsh. The bioluminescence of the flies appeared to be pulsing across the plain in waves.
|Ranger Lucas stands watch as James Byrne, producer of Lost Eden lights up the night.|
The mesmerizing dancing lights kept us entertained as Piotr went out to collect more katydids. His technique is to use a high frequency amplifier to detect specific calls from the katydids. The instrument is similar to what bat biologists use to detect bat echolocation. Piotr was able to pick up the unique song of each species and also determine the relative distance of each animal.
Late in day we spotted a mother hippo and its baby heading out into the flood plain. The young hippo was nudged along into the deeper grass until we could just see its ears popping up over the tips of the grass. It was now safe in the refuge of the marsh. We thought of our mothers and gave thanks to their love and the freedom they gave us to do things like letting us go out in the night and collect insects in the bush.
There is something about extremes in nature: the largest, the fastest, the most poisonous, and the most ferocious. Gorongosa has them in spades.
The giant kudu of Gorongosa are massive and there horns are extremely elegant. This was Hemingway's species of choice in the Green Hills of Africa. They are safe here in the miombo and yellow fever tree forest of the Park. Some of the bull kudu of the region have enormous spiraling horns. Fortunately these horns will not be decorating someone’s den or parlor.
|Giant kudu of Gorongosa National Park|
Gorongosa has an extremely large number of insects. With such an abundance come large voracious predators such as praying mantids and spiders. Yesterday we came upon one of the more extreme webs I have ever seen. The spider was a species of Nephila and its web was over 8 feet tall. Supposedly they are not so venomous and people actually eat them. That is an extreme meal. We also had the good fortune to observe some courtship between these two. We watched the small male approach his extreme partner and do a ritualistic tap, tap, tap near her on the web to signal his presence so he wouldn’t be eaten. This was equivalent to knock, knock, knock, “Honey I am home.” He gave the right knock, she accepted, and they mated briefly.
|Extreme sexual dimorphism is shown in this our weaver. The small male Nephila spider on the left has tapped a signal now he waits a sign to mate with this extreme female Nephila|
This Park also has extremely large elephants. Many of the adults are survivors of the civil war that was fought here. They didn’t choose sides and somehow survived. To find out the work being done to control some of these elephants see Bob Poole’s film Elephant Wars. These extreme survivors are incredible animals. We happened to have spotted two of them yesterday during our insect survey in the Park.
|These two extremely large bull elephants could be brothers.|
|A Matable ant (Pachycondyla)|
Looking forward to more extreme discoveries in Gorongosa National Park. What kind of extreme nature is around you?
Friday, May 11, 2012
Camp Chitengo, Gorongosa National Park
Today we saw some big game in the Park, but our focus was on the smaller game. Gary Alpert, Piotr Naskrecki, Fernandino (a young Gorongosi biologist), and I joined Bob Poole and his wife Gina who took us out in their heavily modified Land Rover – set up for filming elephants. Bob used this vehicle to film “War Elephants” which is out on National Geographic. His vehicle has survived intense attacks by charging elephants. It is believed the elephants remember the intense shooting and hunting that occurred during the Civil War and see vehicles in the park as threats. The film is actually about recent efforts to calm these elephants – this work is led by Bob’s sister who studies the behavior of elephants.
Today we began our survey work to determine the species richness of ants and orthoptera in the Park. Piotr sampled with his sweep net through the tall grass. The technique uses a net resembling a butterfly net but the handle and frame are stronger than a tennis racket. The netting material is similar to strong cloth canvas. The net is quickly passed back and forth through the grass to collect small insects living in this habitat. He was able to collect many specimens at each locale we surveyed. The most dramatic aspect of the survey were the incredible number of praying mantids in the yellow fever tree forest. He commented that with this top predator (of insects) in such numbers means the insect prey items for these abundant mantids must be very high in abundance. This is what we came for -- wetter spring that would have a greater diversity and overall number of insects.
|Piotr sorting through sweep net sample.|
I assisted Gary in his collection of ants. He sampled directly off mounds and trees with Fernandino. I also filmed ants and their behavior and habitat. While trying to take out some carpenter ants (Camponotus sp.) out of nest on a fallen branch I came upon an ant I hadn’t seen here before. I informed Gary and discovered this is likely a species of subterranean driver ant (Dorylus sp.) that has not been described in Mozambique. They are blind and are known to create an ant mill when disturbed or their path gets redirected. Interestingly they began this behavior when placed in a collecting and sorting tray. Supposedly if caught in such an ant mill, blind ants will follow each around and around until they die.
Ed Wilson arrived this afternoon and we reviewed our plans for the next 3 weeks working on E.O. Wilson‘s Life on Earth and the Digital Gorongosa Project. He was very happy to be back and we are all excited to have him join our group.
What a day. Jet lag is slowly leaving us and we are slipping into the routine of Chitengo. Lots to see, discover, photograph and write about. A bush baby is calling out into the night. This signals the day’s end.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Chitengo Camp, Gorongosa
There is no place like home. Coming back to Gorongosa with good friends waiting on the runway felt like coming home. Good people, rich biodiversity, and beautiful scenery. This is a biologist's dream.
In the morning we met up with Greg Carr in Johannesburg and headed to the airport to take his private plane north to Beira, Mozambique. It was great to reconnect with Senhor Greg. He is the vision and driving force behind the Gorongosa Restoration Project. Along the way north over Kruger National Park and southern Mozambique we discussed the latest trials of massive ecosystem rebooting. One ongoing issue is what to do with the zebras. It is believed that the zebras of Gorongosa are genetically unique compared to other plains zebras. They are thought to be a subspecies. The numbers of the Gorongosa zebra may be 25 to 30 -- in the entire park. They are just one of the many large mammals that was cut down to 1 to 5% of its pre-war population.
The zebra dilemma is quite challenging. It is possible that if they are left alone they will inbreed to their local extinction. The alternative is to bring in some new genes from the outside. This could be done with an arranged sexual pairing with individuals from outside the region (possibly Niassa). However, such an arrangement could lead to the unique genetic make up of the Gorongosa zebras being lost. We wait Ed Wilson’s word on this challenging conservation issue. This is just one of the many challenging biology scenarios in this Park. Every one is a teachable moment and something other biologists and biology students can learn from.
Piotr Naskrecki inspects a newly collected grasshopper at the Beira Airport.
It was a tie: 7 orthoptera species to 7 ant species.
Landing in Beira, Mozambique gave me an idea of the good collecting expeditions ahead. In our party are Gary Alpert and Piotr Naskrecki of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Both are insect specialists. Gary is a former grad student of EO Wilson and has collected ants around the globe. This extreme myrmecologist collected ants in Mozambique during the civil war in 1992. He has literally risked his life to collect new species of ants.
Piotr is an expert in anything Ornithoptera – which include the katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers. He is especially looking for new species of katydids in Gorongosa. The best sampling is after sunset until late into the night. It will be interesting sharing evening forays with the other nocturnal predators in the region.
Gary Alpert scanning the Park for good collecting locations and glad the war is over.
After getting our passports stamped and our Mozambique visas processed we surveyed for ants and ornithoptera around the deserted Beira Airport. There were at least six or more genera of ants we located just in a short time along the tarmac:
Ocymyrmex - speedsters of the ant world. Probably the hardest ant to catch on the ground.
Odontomachus – this predatory ant has clasping mouth parts that clamp onto prey like a bear trap.
Pheidole – the genus of Ed Wilson, a favorite of sorts.
Tetramorium – a widely dispersed group, some of which have adapted to living out of pavement.
Campanotus – The genus in which we found a new species last year. Gary’s photo of this specimen is shown below.
New species of Camponotus ant found at Gorongosa during last year's expedition.
We found these in 10-15 minutes. If one looked around the entire city of San Diego for days, they would most likely find 1 or 2 species of native ants along with the highly invasive Argentine ant.
The warthogs are off the runway and we are all clear to land at Chitengo.
Now I only hear crickets. Gone are the sounds of the urban jungle. We will begin our first formal collecting in Gorongosa tomorrow. Bon nuit.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Johannesburg, South Africa
Flying into London on our way to Mozambique brought to mind some of the great British explorers. They were true explorers of life on Earth. These adventurous geographers, geologists, and biologists covered the globe, charted new territories, and returned with unique specimens both mineral and biological. Sir Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Wilfred Thesiger are two such heroic explorers.
Scott’s incredible journey to discover the South Pole was both heroic and tragic. The British expedition reached the Pole just days after the successful Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen. On the return trip to rejoin the remaining crew and provisions at their base camp, Scott and his men faced blizzards, the most challenging terrain on the planet, and inadequate rations, yet they resolutely hauled the geologic specimens they had collected along the way. The cumbersome collection of rocks was found with their frozen bodies the following year. The pursuit of science didn’t die with them.
I had the good fortune to visit Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans on Ross Island while working in the Antarctic. These men conducted scientific research in some of the most challenging conditions in he world. They lived on seal meat, canned goods, and penguin eggs when they could get them. The hut is now a museum of sorts preserved by the frozen surroundings. Their expedition was comparable to a moon landing. The planning was extensive and the courage to explore the unknown was more than admirable.
The early explorers typically focused on a particular region of the planet.
The modern explorer has many options with our network of transportation to every continent.
Sir Wilfred Thesiger explored warmer climes and was infatuated with deserts and their inhabitants in North and East Africa. He also conducted cultural studies of the marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq. Besides achieving feats such as crossing the Empty Quarter (Rub' al Khali) in Arabia, he also took stunning photos and wrote rich stories of his expeditions. I met Sir Wilfred Thesiger 25 years ago in his flat in London far from the deserts he explored. The walls were decorated with his own dramatic photos of Morocco, Ethiopia, and Arabia. There were also daggers and other relics he picked up along the way. He asked me if I could identify the skull on his desk. “A large reptile,” I safely said. “Yes, a desert tortoise,” he explained with a story of its way of life in the desert—"better adapted than the Bedouin." He too was fascinated with the wildlife that lived in the arid regions he explored. Thesiger was nearly as well adapted to these conditions as the people and wildlife he studied along the way. National Geographic named him the greatest explorer of the 20th century.
With this expedition to Mozambique we will also share photos and rich stories of our discoveries in Gorongosa National Park. These endeavors are focused on sustaining life on Earth. Our team represents E.O. Wilson's Life on Earth, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, High Tech High, and the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. We will be conducting biodiversity surveys, collaborating in efforts to restore Gorongosa National Park, partnering with local environmental education efforts, studying human evolution and our origins, and discovering new stories within this beautiful and dynamic place. Welcome to our journey to Gorongosa.