Millie Kerr is a multimedia journalist and wildlife conservationist based in London. Her written work appears in a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, and she publishes most of her wildlife photographs on Instagram (@millieckerr).
Tents were laid out to dry, clothes were shoved into backpacks, and coffee mugs were packed away for the journey to the base for the second biodiversity survey site: Ndzou Camp in Mozambique’s Moribane Forest Reserve, in the buffer zone of Chimanimani National Reserve.
It didn’t take long for Fauna & Flora International’s Mozambique Country Manager, Rob Harris, and I to settle into the lush forest site that includes a dining room and several round huts called rondavels.
By now, the survey leaders and the Gorongosa conservation students shadowing them had established survey schedules, though our new location required longer treks to survey plants and animals.
Juvenile tree frog. Credit: Millie Kerr/FFI
We could only reach one spot— a swamp favoured by the herpetology and mammal groups— by hiking through a dense patch of forest frequented by elephants. It was an hour each way, and I frequently found myself climbing over trees felled by elephants when following scientists up the trail. For better or worse (probably both), we never encountered elephants during our time at Ndzou, though several scientists heard them rifling through the forest while working late one night.
Once at the swamp, the herpetologists began searching for frogs in shallow puddles left behind by elephants. Within minutes, they’d spotted an adorable juvenile tree frog and a reed frog seen clinging to a bobbing leaf.
The mammal group, meanwhile, trudged into the swampy terrain to set up a large net designed to catch bats, their rubber boots occasionally filling with unexpectedly deep water. Bats are most active during the hour following sunset, so it didn’t take long for the group to catch one. They carefully extracted it from the net before examining it under a torch to establish its taxonomy. Mammalogist Ara Monadjem immediately recognised it as a horseshoe bat. “These bats echolocate at the equivalent of 78 kilohertz whereas humans can, at best, hear at 18,” explained Monadjem. “It’s so loud, they risk deafening themselves, but they avoid doing so by calling out at one frequency and hearing at another.”
Reed frog on leaf. Credit: Millie Kerr/FFI
At camp the following morning, I spent time with entomologist and survey leader Piotr Naskrecki, who focused his survey efforts on crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, and praying mantises. By the end of the survey, he’d collected a few narrow endemics, as well as several species that have only been described once before – and long ago. Although he can’t be sure yet, he may have discovered several new species.
We also noticed beautiful butterflies flitting around the forest. Credit: Millie Kerr/FFI
On the morning of the last full day, Rob and I walked the trails around camp with the mammal group as its members checked traps for rodents. More often than not, they sighed in frustration when closed traps encased millipedes, but every once in a while, they found a rodent inside. One—a mouse which may never have been recorded south of the Zambezi River— suggests that the Moribane Forest Reserve is important for small forest mammals.
That night, over celebratory Savannah ciders, the scientists shared their preliminary findings with the wider group. In all, over the course of 12 days, they observed around 1,100 species, some of which are new to Mozambique (and possibly science).
The mammal group also found this shrew. Credit: Millie Kerr/FFI
The avian biologists recorded more than 230 individual bird species. Herpetologist Mark-Oliver Rodel spotted more than 65 amphibian and reptile species, including a type of frog that has never been recorded this far south. At least ten types of rodent were seen, as well as more than 15 species of bat, and the mammal group may have found a forest bat at a higher altitude than ever before. Regarding insects, there’s a strong chance that several of the crickets discovered will be considered new species, and the same goes for a type of moth.
Although this rapid biodiversity survey has come to an end, there could be another on the horizon that focuses on the highlands, for as survey leader Piotr Naskrecki said, “The higher you go, the greater likelihood that you’ll find new species.”
Read part 1 ‘Exploring the Mozambican Miombo’ here.