-By Todd Amacker, Tennessee, USA: I recently returned from a trip to rural Gaza Province, Mozambique, near Banhine National Park. Banhine is what people refer to as a ‘paper park’. Very little infrastructure, relatively few park rangers, and only small, skittish populations of megafauna. They certainly have reason to be skittish, after their animal kin were decimated during a brutal civil war that lasted for decades. The majority of locals living in the region rely on subsistence agriculture, which means that if their humble crops (mostly maize) fail, they go hungry. That’s why, in 2011, after moving back to the States from Africa, I founded MozCause. We’re revitalizing a small primary school in the village of Mafacitela, just outside of Banhine National Park. Such projects in this area are easier said than done. As an example, the cost and risk of transporting cinder blocks for a ten hour journey down a less-than-perfect dirt road was not on option, so we were left with one choice: to make our own cinder blocks on-site using river sand from the Changane River. But, by using local labor and limited building materials, we, along with the help of Búfalo Moçambique, a privately owned and operated wildlife reserve, replaced the school’s long-missing roof that until now has rendered the original school building useless. Small things like this make a world of difference to these undeniably resilient children of Mafacitela.
In between my visits to the school, where I was documenting our progress and chatting with the school’s headmaster, Gervásio Inácio Bambo, I spent my time at a bush camp at Búfalo Moçambique. Despite being the middle of the dry season, I was astonished by the amount of biodiversity found at the reserve, and elsewhere. Famed biologist E.O. Wilson describes insects and other invertebrates as being “the small things that run the world”. After a few hours spent looking for critters in this corner of Gaza Province, it’s no surprise that the world is still running relatively smoothly. There was no shortage of grasshoppers, katydids, praying mantids, spiders, frogs, and other small, fascinating creatures. In fact, my enthusiasm for these little things became contagious. Soon, every other person in camp was searching for photography subjects. The camp assistants, mostly local Mozambicans, proved to be the most effective critter getters.
I frequently scoured Ilala palms (Hyphaene coriacea) for frogs, as it seemed to be their favorite hiding place. But James, who I referred to as a ‘closet naturalist’, quickly showed me a short cut for attracting them using the same type of palm (above). Other camp workers brought me myriad grasshoppers of all shapes, sizes, and colors (below), and they even brought me a thick-tailed scorpion! This species is capable of spraying venom from its tail, so one must be careful when handling. Praying mantids from the genus Hoplocorypha also made for interesting finds. I can’t wait to return during the wet season (that is, if the maze of dirt roads leading to Búfalo Moçambique allows it.)
More of Todd’s images are at www.toddamacker.com.