Travel writer, photographer and avid tree hugger, Anton Crone, visited Kubatana and learned about the impact of Gorongosa’s community education program.
What can I say about trees? Well, I’ve climbed them. At the age of 8 I thought myself so good at it that the next step was going pro. Then I fell out of one – or rather I ran out of tree while racing for the stars.
But I dusted myself off and swung Tarzan style on ropes that bit into their bark. I stole unripe mangos; carved my name in their bleeding trunks and shot monkeys and birds out of their skinny branches. At one point I chopped a tree down with a blunt machete, just for the hell of it. When I grew up I treated trees even worse. I wasted paper in copiers because that’s where you met the office talent. I doodled aimlessly on Hahnemuele and scribbled away many Moleskines. I decimated whole trees decorating drunken float parades and fingered thousands of Playboys and FHMs. At worst I burned trees, hundreds of them, now brief memories of seared lamb chop and sirloin. At best I lay with my head in a young woman’s lap to watch the breeze tug at the leaves. So, aside from gazing at trees, I’ve done nothing but abuse them. When I went to Gorongosa in Mozambique I realised what my problem was: I had a poor education.
In Mozambique trees are going through a tough time. Around 80% of Mozambique homes burn charcoal for fuel. Treeless lands such as Saudi Arabia have created a market for charcoal that is decimating Mozambique as people char wood at a rate that is astounding. Mount Gorongosa is severely affected by deforestation but the community and Gorongosa National Park are dependent on the mountain for their water and ecology. Thanks to the Gorongosa Restoration Project the mountain was recently incorporated into the National Park and work has begun restoring it to its natural state.
While staying here it became clear that my education wasn’t poor on theory, it was poor on practicality – I just didn’t get dirty enough. Like most kids at school I learned the importance of trees and the part they play in the environment. But there is a terrible irony in learning that on paper. And I don’t think for a second that the computer screen is going to make it any better. All those emails we send with “don’t print” disclaimers don’t make us saints. We’ve got to get our hands dirty and, most importantly, we’ve got to send the kids outside to play. Hide the iPad, turn off the TV and don’t let them back in until they’re filthy – I mean ready to star in a washing powder commercial for serious stains filthy. Its a connection with Earth they need, not a Facebook friend.
In Gorongosa the kids have a connection with Earth. Through the park’s community education program they are learning what this connection means and how to maintain it. Best of all, they are replanting the mountain. I joined educator, Adrienne Mcgill, for a tree planting ceremony at a Gorongosa school, part of a regular program for schools in the area. Each kid is allocated a shrub that they must plant and nurture. They dig a hole in the earth, they feel the fragility of the roots and the moisture of the soil as they settle it carefully into the ground, then they feed it and protect it, until it outgrows them.
After being hailed as the Eden of Africa, Gorongosa’s mammals were decimated during Mozambique’s civil war, but the foundation remained, the roots were strong and it is here amid the trees that you can see the restoration work taking hold. The mammals are returning; Sable, Kudu and Nyala weave through the forests, branches explode with monkeys and birds and incredible insects mimic the sheltering pattern of the bark. The diversity of Gorongosa is remarkable. Mountain forest gives way to sand forest then riverine forest then great swathes of fever trees and savannah. Palm and Baobab are sentinels in every distinct ecosystem.
Asilia Africa has a concession in the park and they took me to see the site of their new Kubatana Camp. A satellite to the camp is their ‘Star Bed’, an ancient Baobab growing on a hillock overlooking the Savannah. You can climb up to spend the night gazing at the stars, safe in arms of that great tree. What better connection is there with the Earth than planting one of these? Clearly, we’ve got to get dirty to clean up our act.
Or you can donate some of your filthy lucre! Start here: Help save Mount Gorongosa