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Aerial Wildlife Count

March 2, 2017

Aerial Wildlife Count reveals on-going recovery of Gorongosa National Park as a premier conservation and wildlife-viewing destination

Grey Crowned-Cranes and waterbucks at Gorongosa’s floodplain

In 2014, a comprehensive aerial survey of Gorongosa revealed the extraordinary recovery of the wildlife since the animals were decimated during Mozambique’s 16 years of war from 1977 to 1992. A total of 71,086 herbivores of 19 species were counted. In 2016, a new survey was conducted and a total of 78,627 animals were counted. This represents an increase of some 7,500 animals or 10% since 2014.

Last November, Gorongosa’s Director of Scientific Services, Marc Stalmans, led an extensive aerial wildlife count of the southern and central parts of Gorongosa National Park. These areas represent about 50% of the park but are considered to be the best habitat with the highest animal density of wildlife. Dr. Stalmans is thrilled with the results: 
“Overall, the Park has weathered well the preceding drought years and the increased pressures of illegal hunting in a time of relative instability in the region. The recovery of the wildlife is progressing well.”
According to Dr. Stalmans: “The two seasons leading up to the 2014 aerial wildlife count were characterized by abundant rains and good grazing conditions. However, most of southern Africa has since been in the grip of an extreme drought.  Gorongosa has not escaped these drought conditions. The rainfall recorded in 2014-2015 from October till February, which represents the critical period for calf survival, was only half that of the corresponding period in 2013-2014. During this previous rainy season of 2015-2016, the rainfall was halved again and amounted to only a quarter of that received during the 2013-2014 period from October till February. Widespread mortalities of hippo have been documented in the Kruger National Park in South Africa as a consequence of this drought.”
The impact of the drought has been felt mostly by the smaller species such as oribi, reedbuck, bushbuck and warthog. These are mostly selective feeders requiring higher quality feed, which may be reduced due to drought. Warthog in particular have declined in numbers. The latter species is typically the first to suffer from drought, but can also recover very quickly when conditions become favorable again.
However, most of the larger species have weathered the drought very well and have even increased in numbers. Elephant, buffalo, hippo, sable antelope, kudu, nyala and impala numbers have all further grown. Impala nearly doubled their numbers to 4,700 animals. Waterbuck have also further increased, albeit at a slower rate, to an astounding 45,000 individuals.
The recent survey, confirms the on-going recovery of Gorongosa as a premier conservation and wildlife-viewing destination. The numbers of several species have now recovered to such an extent that Gorongosa has started contributing to the restocking of other Protected Areas in Mozambique. During last October more than 550 animals, mostly waterbuck, were successfully captured in Gorongosa and relocated by trucks to Zinave National Park and Maputo Special Reserve in order to bolster the restoration of these two Protected Areas. 
The survey was also an opportunity to provide a hands-on experience to three graduates of the Veterinary School of Eduardo Mondlane University and, being scientific research an integral part of the long-term Gorongosa restoration effort, one of its most critical roles is to provide training to the next generation of Mozambican scientists in the Park. Several students, receiving tutorial and full or partial financial assistance from the Gorongosa’s E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory, have already begun studying for future careers as veterinarians, ecologists and lab technicians at universities.