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Niassa & Gorongosa

Niassa Game Reserve and Gorongosa National Park with their extreme habitat diversity allowed some of Africa’s largest concentrations of wildlife to flourish until Civil War in the mid 70’s. Today’s conservation efforts need well-funded support and balanced management before these wilderness frontiers are restored. For now both are specialist spots suitable only for expeditions.

Niassa Game Reserve

The Niassa Reserve in northern Mozambique, is the largest reserve in Mozambique, with the greatest concentration of wildlife in the country.

The reserve covers parts of the Cabo Delgado Province and nearly one third of Niassa province. Niassa Reserve is bordered by Rovuma River in the north (Tanzania border), and incorporates the magical Lugenda River (flowing some 200kms through the reserve). The Luatize River lies in the southwest and the Lussanhando River in the west. Including buffer zones this wilderness encompasses a huge 42000km² of woodland, open savannahs, seasonal wetlands and riverine forest along the Rovuma and Lugenda Rivers. Niassa together with a coastal marine reserve and Tanzania’s slightly larger Selous with which it shares a common eco-system are proposed by the World Bank to form a massive Trans-Frontier Conservation Area.

Niassa courtesy of Colleen Begg

The Niassa Reserve is one of the largest protected miombo forest ecosystems in the world, and it has an incredible biodiversity. Half of its area is covered in low productivity woodland known as Brachystegia/miombo woodland, which occurs in poor soils. Amazingly, 95% of the biomass in these areas is herbaceous vegetation. The rest of the area is covered in 40% open savannah, 5% wetlands, 3% isolated forest communities in the mountains and the balance is forest along the rivers that run through the reserve. There are 21 different vegetation types, and an estimated 191 species of trees and shrubs.

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In terms of wildlife, the reserve has plenty of mammals, and these are truly wild. The most impressive thing about the wildlife is the population of Wild Dog, an extremely endangered African predator – this exceeds 200, making it one of the best reserves for the mammals in Africa although it is not always very easy to find them!

Other animals that are specialised to this area are the three endemic species, the Niassa wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus johnstoni), Boehms zebra (Equus burchelli boehmi) and Johnstons impala (Aepyceros melampus johnstoni). Better known animals, however, include sable antelope (9000), several thousand Cape buffalo, impala, wildebeest, zebra, elephant (12,000) and leopard. For bird enthusiasts, it has over 400 species of birds which include the rare Angola pitta (Pitta angolensis), Pel’s fishing owl (Scotopelia peli) and abundant raptors.

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This last frontier of wilderness is under significant threat, as a result of the over exploitation of the natural resources. Commercial poaching of elephant and other wildlife for international trade, as well as illegal subsistence hunting, over-fishing and the use of poisons, indiscriminate setting of fires, inappropriate agriculture, unplanned and uncontrolled settlements, if not urgently addressed will contribute significantly to the reduction of the natural heritage and destruction of one of the largest miombo forest ecosystem in the world.

The best way to help protect the area, is to open it up to tourism and allow the income from the tourism industry to filter through and change the destruction of the natural resources.

A trip to the Niassa should be combined with visiting the Mozambique beaches in this area for normal beach activities but als its marine life.

Quirimba Archipelago is the nesting site for four species of rare turtle and it’s possible to see dugongs off the coast – if you’re travelling in the country you might want to read up on the fantastic beach destination. Otherwise, Pemba town provides access to some great beaches and diving locations – a major attraction of Mozambique.

The birding checklist includes 370 species and the reserve is home to 3 endemic mammal species – Boehm’s Zebra, the Niassa Wildebeest and Johnston’s Impala.

Gorongosa National Park

In the central hinterland of Mozambique and at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley Gorongosa National Park includes just over 4000 km² of savannah, woodlands and rainforest.

Big trees, wide open grass plains, beautiful sunsets and 1000’s of warthog aptly describe first impressions of Gorongosa National Park in the midst of a massive restoration project.

Parque Nacional da Gorongosa has a wide diversity of species and ecological features found nowhere else. Situated at the southern end of the Great East African Rift Valley the park is 4000 square kilometres with the 1862m Mount Gorongosa as the dominant feature.

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This ecologically unique park’s wetlands served as a refuge for early humans whose records go back over 300000 years. Bantu migrations, early colonisers and European explorers discovered rich hunting grounds until the National Park status was declared in 1960.  For nearly 2 decades Gorongosa was one of Africa’s premier destinations for international celebrities until post-independence conflict decimated the wildlife.

By 1994 over 90% of the large game in Gorongosa had been destroyed.  It took another 10 years before the Gorongosa Restoration Project was initiated. This effort is set to continue until 2028 during which time the balance between itinerant villagers and freshly introduced game will remain delicate.

A range of distinct ecosystems including grasslands dotted with acacia trees, savannah, dry forest on sands, water pans and termite hill thickets. Miombo and montane forests spread across the plateaus and a magnificent rain forest is found in the limestone gorges.

Over 500 bird species and one of the densest populations of wildlife used to inhabit this wonderful area but large mammal numbers were reduced by up to 95% during Mozambique’s Civil War.

WWF cleared the park of mines in the 1990’s and set-up successful anti-poaching units. In January 2008 the Carr Foundation signed a 20 yr lease with the Mozambique government and today the park enjoys the protection and funding of the Gorongosa National Park Trust. Since 2006 large numbers of zebra/wildebeest/buffalo have been introduced to the park. A permanent biological research centre is well underway and several tourist lodge/camp licenses have been issued.

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Gorongosa is good for walks across the plains and through the woodlands, game drives, fly camping, summits of Mount Gorongosa and trips to the lake. You’re likely to see high numbers of warthog and waterbuck, buffalo, impala, lion, elephant just to name a few.

One of Africa's last wilderness frontiers
One of Africa's last wilderness frontiers

This last frontier of wilderness is under significant threat, as a result of the overexploitation of the natural resources.

Commercial poaching of elephant and other wildlife for international trade, as well as illegal subsistence hunting, over-fishing and the use of poisons, indiscriminate setting of fires, inappropriate agriculture, unplanned and uncontrolled settlements, if not urgently addressed will contribute significantly to the reduction of the natural heritage and destruction of one of the largest miombo forest ecosystem in the world.

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