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Mozambique conservation effort uncertainty after flooding


By Mike Scialom


The appalling impact of Cyclone Idai on Mozambique on March 14 has rightly become the focus of worldwide concern and aid: the flooding, which can be seen from space, claimed still untold hundreds of lives and stranded 15,000 in the worst-hit area around the coastal town of Beira.

One of the people in the capital, Maputo, at the time was Rob Harris, country manager, Mozambique at Fauna and Flora International. It just happened that when he was at FFI's base at the David Attenborough Building at the start of the month to discuss the new species being discovered at the FFI-backed conservation project at Chimanimani National Reserve, which straddles Mozambique and Zimbabwe. But Cyclone Idai has affected the Chimanimani region, although it's too early to give exact details of the damage.

“The recent devastating cyclone has affected central Mozambique badly,” said Rob, speaking from Maputo this week (March 18). “Doing conservation work in remote locations is challenging at any time, but the humanitarian crisis and rebuilding of roads must be prioritised. News is slow to emerge and we are all hoping that the impact is less than expected.”

FFI's involvement with the country, which has borders with South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania and faces the Indian Ocean to the east, began in 2002. Rob, speaking of the organisation's work ethic, said: “Fauna & Flora International is an implementer,” he said. “We focus much more on the practical conservation side, and work with partners. FFI partnerships sometimes happen organically when we receive invitations. Then we strategise with partners and strive for conservation success.”

The resulting projects are then approved and FFI helps deliver conservation goals and economic outcomes with local and governmental agencies. The green light in Mozambique has resulted in two sites of particular interest to the conservation organisation based at the David Attenborough Building.

Rob Harris, Flora and Fauna International's country manger, Mozambique in the David Attenborough Building off Pembroke Street. Picture: Keith Heppell
Rob Harris, Flora and Fauna International's country manger, Mozambique in the David Attenborough Building off Pembroke Street. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The Chimanimani National Reserve is in western Mozambique on the border with Zimbabwe,” says Rob. “It includes Mount Binga, the country’s highest peak. It’s very important in terms of water catchments, and has some hotspots of botanical diversity. There are some elephants and other mammals. We’ve been to Chimanimani, talked to partners, there’s planning work the government wants us to do to protect biodiversity, attract tourists, stop poaching and we can add technical expertise.”

The most recent survey of the reserve revealed 45 species of mammals, 231 species of birds, 21 species of frog, 44 species of reptiles, more than 580 insects and 200 plant species. One bat species is believed to be new to Mozambique and one frog, one lizard, and a bush-cricket are believed to be new to science. Originally there were “contiguous forests all the way from central to southern Africa – now it’s isolated forest patches but they are critical to protect in terms of biodiversity”.

The second site is east of Lake Niassa in northern Mozambique. “The reserve occupies a large area of the Niassa province,” says Rob. “Niassa is the size of Denmark, It’s the country’s largest protected area at 42,000 square kilometres, and we’re working in an area that 15 per cent of that.”

There’s lions, African wild dog, elephants – “those species that need large areas to roam”.

“There’s thousands of elephants,” says Rob. “There’s also a lot of threats to them, so we do aerial surveillance, monitoring activities, surveys... the project has a disproportionate effect because a third of the Reserve’s elephants are located in 15 per cent of the reserve.

“It’s well protected land. We’re training local community members to be scouts, and engaging communities who live inside the reserve.”

FFI’s activities in Mozambique began in 2002. “As the world’s oldest international wildlife conservation organisation,” says the website, “Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has built a reputation for its pioneering work and science-based approach to conservation. The long-term success of the conservation movement hinges on equipping a critical mass of future conservation leaders with the strategic skills needed to ensure effective action in our continuing efforts to halt and reverse global biodiversity loss.”

The flat lizard or 'platyvarus intermedius', also at Chimanimani National Reserve. Picture: Millie Kerr for FFI-1
The flat lizard or 'platyvarus intermedius', also at Chimanimani National Reserve. Picture: Millie Kerr for FFI-1

Rob became country manager, Mozambique, last October. He has previously worked in Cambodia, South Sudan, Liberia and Indonesia.

“Conservationists do a big mixed bag of everything. People might think we’re out tracking elephants but we could just as easily be with a partner in a government meeting. Mozambique has huge potential but because of its size and the costs, it needs more investment in infrastructure.”

Rob’s in town to sort out his visa arrangements, then he’s off to his current home in the capital Maputo, which is way in the south of the country.

One of his partner colleagues is Madyo Couto, an MPhil student who completed that course and did a three-month placement with FFI and is now one of the local leaders on the ground in Mozambique. After gaining his MPhil in Conservation Leadership in 2013, Madyo returned to Mozambique to address the country’s human-wildlife conflict, tackling poaching and illegal wildlife trade for elephants and rhinos and helping establish a foundation for wildlife conservation in various protected areas.

Elephants like big open spaces to roam in - like these in Chuilexi Conservancy at the Niassa National Reserve, where FFI has an ongoing project. Picture: Wim Ebersohn/FFI
Elephants like big open spaces to roam in - like these in Chuilexi Conservancy at the Niassa National Reserve, where FFI has an ongoing project. Picture: Wim Ebersohn/FFI

FFI has recently been awarded a £250,000 special award grant by People’s Postcode Lottery through its Postcode Planet Trust which will in part support FFI’s work in Mozambique, including Chimanimani National Reserve and Niassa National Reserve.

With “a bit of a push” Rob says the scope for eco-tourism and “off the beaten track” expeditions can be realised. First, of course, there is lots of work to be done as the country recovers from the flooding.

Donate to Cyclone Adai humanitarian efforts here.



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