Gorongosa National Park is at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley in the heart of central Mozambique. The 3,770 square kilometer park includes the valley floor and parts of surrounding plateaus. Rivers originating on nearby 1863-meter Mount Gorongosa water the plain.
Gorongosa National Park protects a vast ecosystem defined, shaped, and given life by all the rivers that flow into Lake Urema. The Nhandungue crosses the Barue Plateau on its way down to the valley. The Nhandue and Mucombeze come from the north. Mount Gorongosa contributes the Vunduzi. Several smaller rivers pour down off the Cheringoma Plateau. Together they comprise the Urema Catchment, an area of about 7,850 square kilometers.
Most of the rivers are seasonal, reaching the valley floor only during the rainy season, between November and April. The rest of the year they are intermittent rivers that appear and disappear into the earth. Only the Vunduzi and the Nhandungue feed Lake Urema the entire year. The Nhandungue receives help from the Muera, a smaller stream that feeds it even at the height of the dry season. Like the Vunduzi, the Muera comes from Mount Gorongosa. Thus water born on the mountain is the key to life in the valley below.
On calm, clear days, the lake’s surface reflects Mount Gorongosa’s huge green bulk, as if in gratitude, and rightly so: it’s a commanding presence the indigenous people hold sacred. An isolated, 600-square-kilometer massif, 1,863 high, it’s large enough to create its own weather system. Two meters of precipitation fall annually on the mountain. Lush forests and grasslands on its upper reaches soak up much of that water and dispense it down slope all year long.
The Park is nestled in a 4,000-square-kilometer section of the Great African Rift system, Africa’s most dramatic geological feature. The Rift extends from Ethiopia to central Mozambique. Massive tectonic shifts began forming the Rift about 30 million years ago. Other warpings, uplifts, and sinkings of the earth’s crust over millennia shaped the plateaus on both sides and the mountain to the west. All that commotion, together with sun, wind, and rain at the surface, created a rich collection of soils–even distinct types and many other varieties. Mozambique’s tropical savanna climate, with an annual cycle of wet and dry seasons, has added yet another factor to the complex equation: constant change in soil moisture that varies with elevation. The valley is located 21 kilometers west of Mount Gorongosa at 14 meters above sea level.
The result is an astounding number of plant species in complex associations that in turn support many different reptiles, frogs, and fish; more than 400 bird species; about two dozen wild ungulates, including elephants, buffalos, zebras, wildebeest, elands, sables, hartebeest, oribis, nyalas, and kudus; six primates (including 2 bushbaby species); and more than a dozen large predators, including lions, leopards, wild dogs, and crocodiles.
Urema Rift Valley
Lake Urema is located in the middle of the valley, about three-quarters of the way down from the Park’s northern boundary. The Muaredzi River, flowing from the Cheringoma plateau, deposits sediments near the outlet of the lake slowing its drainage. This “plug” causes the Urema to greatly expand in the rainy season. Water that makes its way past this alluvial fan flows down the Urema River to the Pungue and into the Indian Ocean. In the flooded rainy season, water backs up into the valley and out onto the plains, covering as much as 200 square kilometers in many years. During some dry seasons, the lake’s waters shrink to as little as 10 square kilometers. This constant expansion and retraction of the floodplains, amidst a patchwork of savanna, woodland, and thickets, creates a complex mosaic of smaller ecosystems that support a greater abundance and diversity of wildlife than anywhere else in the Park.
The humans who live within the greater Gorongosa ecosystem are the area’s greatest threat. However, they can choose to be the ecosystem’s best friend and protector. The people of Gorongosa are a component of the ecosystem, they depend upon the region’s natural resources, the Park’s fate is in their hands.
In 2004 the Mozambique government and The Carr Foundation launched a long-term campaign to engage local communities in protecting Mount Gorongosa and the entire Park ecosystem by giving the local people an economic stake in the health and future of the Park. Twenty percent of revenue from ecotourism at Gorongosa — safari game drives, bird watching, and guided hikes up the mountain–is given to community councils who spend the money to benefit social projects in their villages. The parties do not consider this revenue sharing a gift, communities earn it by assisting Park management in shared conservation objectives.
Location (15° 36′ 54.4″ S, 30° 26′ 21.6″ E to 15° 35′ 8.71″ S, 32° 42′ 16.2″ E)
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The first private ecotourism initiative in this national park, Explore Gorongosa offers luxury walking safaris led by expert guides, based from an exclusive semi-permanent tented camp and a series of light wilderness fly-camps.
Gorongosa National Park’s public Chitengo Safari Camp has a legendary history for offering both great hospitality and incredible game-viewing. During the 1960’s and early 1970’s the Park was highly regarded for its large animal herds, its comfortable, family-friendly camp, and the highest density of lions in Africa! However, during the various political and social upheavals of the past three decades, the public hospitality facilities at Gorongosa were almost completely destroyed. Now, under the strategic alliance between The Carr Foundation and the Government of Mozambique, the Park can once more boast a comfortable and well-serviced public camp at Chitengo, as well as providing a range of tourism activities from guided game drives to informative talks and displays on the impressive restoration project underway at Gorongosa. There is also a large shaded swimming pool, a top quality restaurant and even internet connectivity at Chitengo Camp.