Individual grasses may look underwhelming, but they are in fact the energetic engine of Gorongosa. Grasses have the important task of converting the energy of the sun into food for Gorongosa’s grazers. These include not only the large mammals, like antelopes and buffalos, but also smaller, but no less important organisms: like grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars. These, in turn, feed predators that range from lions and wild dogs, to mongooses and genets, to egrets and hornbills, to lizards and frogs.
The amount of grass consumed by Gorongosa’s grazers is staggering: waterbucks, a common antelope on the plains around Lake Urema, consume about 8,760 metric tones (nearly 20 million pounds) of grass each year! But the amount of grass consumed by grasshoppers and termites is much higher. These small but important animals feed not only on fresh, green blades of grass, but also chew dead, dry stalks, breaking them down and helping recycle the plants and adding minerals to the soil.
Grass is used by animals not only as food but also as material for the construction of shelters and nests. Gorongosa has eight species of weavers that build intricate nests made of grass. Many rodents and other small mammals feed on grass seeds and stems and use blades of grass to line their underground burrows.