The Gorongosa National Park closes down for the main part of the wet season, this gives the park a chance to rest” and allow for new growth to take place. It is also a time when, if the rains have been good, for all the waterholes and rivers to fill up, as well as for Lake Urema.
The lake receives water from numerous rivers and as they rise so too does the level of the lake. The valley is very flat and the lake itself is never really very deep, but during the wet season it expands and can cover as much as 50 000 acres (just over 20 000 hectares.) In the dry season, which we have just come out of, it can drop to as little as 2 500 acres (just over 1 000 hectares.)
White-faced Whistling Duck on Lake Urema
Lake Urema teems with life, fish, water birds, crocodile and hippo make it a home. All of these animals will move with the ebb and flow of the lake, but so too will the “land based” animals and birds, for them the water of the lake is a life force and there is so much that happens here over the course of a year. As the levels drop hippo move to where they can still seek shelter during the day. Antelope like waterbuck and reedbuck move out onto the plains, plains that were once covered with water, these plains are covered in grass and each year the grass is replenished as the water recedes. When the levels start to rise again the animals all slowly make their way ahead of the water.
Birds use the lake as a safe haven as well, there are huge nesting colonies at various points on the lake, Yellow-billed Stork, Open-billed Stork, White-breasted Cormorants and Pelicans all breed here, there are other water-birds that breed here in large quantities as well. The nesting colonies are very easy to get to in the dry period, but there are no birds there then, in the wet season the trees they nest in are surrounded by water and this gives them protection.
Waterbuck on the floodplains, when Lake Urema rises this will be under water
Lion are also making a comeback in the Park and their numbers are increasing. Initially this was a very slow growth, and it still is, but it faster and better than it ever was and, as their numbers increase, the growth will speed up.
All of the animals in the park run the gauntlet of snares, not in the central areas but in the buffer zones, there is still poaching happening in those areas. The bulk of the poaching is for subsistence but there is some that is aimed at the high profile species because of the “rewards” that are garnered. Lion are susceptible to snares mainly for two reasons, they will “investigate” any sounds of distress and an animal caught in a snare is always vocal, the other reason is that they often “patrol” their territories, and these patrols will sometimes take them into areas that are high risk.
Two young lionesses at play
A dominant male lion in the long grass on the plains
Some of the lion are very habituated to vehicles, and the people in the vehicles, as such it affords the opportunity to be able to observe them in their natural habitat. We can watch as new cubs develop and grow within a pride, changing from being totally dependent on the other pride members to becoming contributing members as they help in hunts and in propagating their genes and therefore the species.
The role lion play in the ecosystem should never be under estimated, they help keep other species in check and are also very responsible for getting rid of carrion, they are scavengers as well as hunters, this helps break down the larger bones and also gives access to carcasses for vultures and jackal.
The elephant at Gorongosa National Park is another one of the success stories of the park, their numbers are increasing and as they do they will help bring balance back to the reserve.
Elephant are a “keystone” species and wherever they live they play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of that ecosystem, without them many species of plants would not be dispersed, in dry periods elephant will dig for water, which then provides water for other animals. In thick areas, they create tunnels and walkways that other animals can use and help maintain open areas.
Young elephant bull at dusk
A small herd of elephant just emerging from the fever tree forest
Elephant spend much of the dry period close to the rivers, at any time over this period you can find them either in the water, or feeding in the lush green riverine growth. An adult bull elephant can eat up to 200 kilograms a day and drink as much as 190 liters, as such they will stay as close as possible to available food and water, too much moving to and fro burns energy and so it is far more efficient and cost effective for them to be as close as possible to available resources. Of course, there are times when they will move, especially if they sense they are not safe or if they want a change in diet, or when the food is running low.
Baobab Tree at sunset
Another year has ended and Gorongosa National Park and a new year is about to start, we look forward to seeing you here in 2018!