Tonga Torcida grew up on a small farm near Mount Gorongosa. When he was 15 years old, he was playing ball with his friends on the mountain when a helicopter landed. Since he knew some English, he greeted the visitors, one of which was Greg Carr. Since that day, he became a guide in Gorongosa and assisted E.O. Wilson during the BioBlitz and biodiversity survey on Mount Gorongosa. Tonga is now studying at the African Wildlife Management School in Mweka, Tanzania and hopes to return to Gorongosa to work in biology and conservation.
Photo: Tonga Torcida with E.O.Wilson (by Howard French)
We spoke with Tonga about his experience working with E.O. Wilson:
Q: What was it like working with E.O. Wilson?
Working with E.O. Wilson, I learned that Mount Gorongosa is a cultural and biological landmark, from its molecules to its ecosystems.
Q: What was it like getting the children on the mountain involved in the BioBlitz? Were they excited?
Yes, for sure they were excited. Getting the children involved in the BioBlitz on the mountain inspired them and educated them through their participation in conservation. Getting young people involved ensures that they will understand the importance of the protection of their natural resources. When new generations reach adulthood in many rural areas, they are left to fend for themselves and are forced to exploit the resources around them for their livelihood, this includes cutting down trees, hunting and selling bush meat. So by involving them in this kind of conservation work, it provides education that may help their lives, their communities, and their natural environment.
Q: Why was it important to show the kids how many animals there are on the mountain?
It is important to show the kids how many animals are on the mountain because it shows them the importance of protecting the different wildlife communities in their villages, and helps them to understand the various ways in which the lives of animals intersect with ours.
Q: What positive impact has the tree planting had on the mountain and the people that live there?
Tree planting has had a variety of positive impacts on the mountain and the people that live there. Firstly, the trees are sources of our lives; every creature depends on trees to get food, cover, shelter, habitat etc. The tree reforestation program on the mountain has created employment for many people from the local communities, directly or indirectly, for example, from tourists hiking on the mountain. I hope that every week the tourism industry employs 4 to 5 local people as porters or guides to the waterfalls and rainforest. Tree planting also attracts different types of animals that inhabit the newly forested areas, and the trees preserve some of the water sources that were at risk of drought.
Q: What do you think the future of Mount Gorongosa will be?
Mount Gorongosa will only have a better future if the restoration project keeps providing education to communities, involving the local communities in conservation and protection of biodiversity, and providing work opportunities to the people who live there. Eco-tourism activities allow them to gain from the mountain’s natural resources sustainably. Human settlements are growing quickly on the mountain, which will lead to the clearance of vegetation and drought of the water sources. This is an issue that will affect all of central Mozambique and needs to be solved urgently.