By Paola Bouley, Senior Researcher
Projecto Leões da Gorongosa – the Gorongosa Lion Project.
Alluring, potent, irrevocable – this is Gorongosa – a resilient, wild landscape that is home to Central Mozambique’s core population of African lion, and the focus of one of Africa’s most ambitious large-scale wildlife restoration efforts.
That’s why just 8 months after first hearing about Gorongosa Restoration Project in a small bush airport in Zambia, I found myself under the hot mid-day sun documenting the Sungue Pride, a trio of young lionesses in Gorongosa National Park (GNP). Alongside me sat Professor E.O. Wilson, here for his second biodiversity expedition, and experiencing the first lions he had ever seen in the wild. I arrived a few days prior to launch Projecto Leões da Gorongosa – the first formal large carnivore research and conservation effort in GNP in over 40 years.
Gorongosa’s biological wealth, its endurance through a 17-year civil war and subsequent modern day revival, makes it a place like no other. The highest points on Mt Gorongosa are crowned with tropical rainforest; below are miles of open floodplain buffer that cradle Lake Urema with its surrounding grasslands and forests. The camp bustles with scientists, explorers, film-makers, and the many local staff charged with restoring the Park.
Wildlife is recovering in Gorongosa and it’s not unusual to see and hear lions daily. Once 200+ strong but much-reduced in numbers during the 1997-92 war, lions have fought back to around 40 individuals – and if restoration efforts underway succeed, we can expect a stronger comeback.
Projecto Leões da Gorongosa is charged with understanding which factors most limit the full recovery of lions in GNP and, most importantly, how these impacts can be effectively alleviated to spur lion recovery while building support for their long-term survival within local communities.
In addition to on-the-ground ecological investigations, satellite telemetry, and collaborations with GNP’s anti-poaching/snaring operations, we also operate a strategic array of remote field cameras. These document the high diversity of smaller carnivores and their interactions with large carnivores, and will certainly help us re-discover rarer species, such as leopard and hyena, in the Park.
Predictably, the field cameras are objects of of endless curiosity… we’ve had lionesses chew on, ellies tromp on, and unsuspecting poachers parade in front of, cams. And, as the inset photo highlights, we’ve also seen the secret world of porcupine mating. There is much speculation about porcupine mating behavior, a lot of pretty bizarre stories, too. But as the photographic evidence emphasizes, it’s definitely a process of cooperation – albeit tenuous and spiny!