Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

'Chewbacca bat,' stinky beetles and other bizarre species found in national park

By Teo Kermeliotis, for CNN
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Mon August 5, 2013
In April a team of scientists embarked on the first comprehensive biodiversity study in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Pictured is the "Chewbacca bat" (Triaenops persicus) -- which was given its nickname because of its resemblance to the Star Wars character. In April a team of scientists embarked on the first comprehensive biodiversity study in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Pictured is the "Chewbacca bat" (Triaenops persicus) -- which was given its nickname because of its resemblance to the Star Wars character.
HIDE CAPTION
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
Gorongosa's wildlife
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New species discovered by researchers in Mozambique
  • Scientists carried out first major biodiversity study in Gorongosa National Park
  • Frog that can't hop and "Chewbacca bat" found in the park
  • The forest was ravaged by years of conflict and poaching

(CNN) -- A furry bat named after a notorious Star Wars character, bombardier beetles that unleash explosive, foul-smelling gas to defend themselves, ants that can't walk or stand on flat surfaces and a mysterious cave-dwelling frog that runs instead of hopping.

These bizarre and wildly interesting creatures are just some of the 1,200 species of animals and plants that have been documented for the first time by scientists in the Gorongosa National Park, a stunning biodiversity haven in central Mozambique.

In mid-April, a team of 15 local and international scientists ventured into the park's spectacular rolling woodlands, deep gorges and riverine forests to conduct the first comprehensive biodiversity survey in a remote and largely unexplored area that was ravaged by years of war and poaching.

Read this: 7 amazing mountain climbs in Africa

For about four weeks, the biologists were transformed into nature detectives surveying the Cheringoma Plateau, the part of the park that was least known biologically. Armed with rubber boots, headlamps and a huge variety of sophisticated equipment, they embarked on a painstaking mission to document life in the area and discover the rare, threatened and new-to-science species that live in it.

African rainforest fights for survival
Protecting Cameroon's virgin forest

They climbed giant trees and rapelled from limestone cliffs to get samples of organisms from almost inaccessible canyons; they used ultraviolet lights and pheromone traps to attract insects; remote cameras and traditional tracking techniques to document large mammals; ultrasonic sound detectors to record hard-to-get wildlife, mist nets to capture wild birds and pitfall traps for reptiles and amphibians.

"We found all kinds of really exciting things," says expedition leader Piotr Naskrecki, associate director of the soon-to-open Biodiversity Laboratory in Gorongosa.

"We've at least doubled the number of species that is known from the national park, probably closer to tripling it," he adds. "Some of them are new to Mozambique and some are new to science."

Discoveries

Major findings consisted of 182 species of birds, including four rare forest dwellers recorded for the first time in Gorongosa. They also found several species of cricket-like katydids that are new to science, as well as a leaf katydid that had not been seen alive since the 1800s, and 54 species of mammals, including diminutive elephant shrews.

Other highlights included more than 100 species of ants, 47 species of reptiles, 33 species of frogs, hundreds of species of beetles and more than 320 species of plants that are new to Mozambique.

And, of course, the "Chewbacca bat," (real name Triaenops persicus) named after Han Solo's hairy sidekick in the Star Wars movies, and a strange silver and black Kassina frog that is probably new to science.

"It was an extremely rich experience in terms of adding data to what we've known about the park," says Naskrecki, who is also an entomologist at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.

'Doomed place'

Gorongosa National Map. Click to expand  Gorongosa National Map. Click to expand
Gorongosa National Map. Click to expandGorongosa National Map. Click to expand

Sitting at the southernmost tip of the Great Rift Valley, Gorongosa used to be one of Africa's richest wildlife refuges, a natural wonderland teeming with large populations of buffalo, lions, elephants and hippos.

But it all changed in the mid-1970s when Mozambique descended into a bloody civil war. The conflict lasted until 1992 and had a devastating impact on Gorongosa.

The park was turned from a wildlife treasure into a battlefield. Thousands of animals roaming its open grasslands were killed by warring groups and entire populations of wildlife came close to extinction.

Read this: Saving the African forest elephant

"After the war, there was very little left," says Naskrecki. "The place seemed to be doomed."

He explains that before the war the park sheltered some 14,000 African buffalo; after the conflict, there were about 100 of them. "The same thing with lions," adds Naskrecki. "There used to be about 2,000 lions in the park and after the war there were maybe 30 left," he continues. "It also had about 2,500 elephants and after the war it had only 200."

The decimation continued after the war with extensive poaching and illegal logging.

Restoration efforts

But hopes for the park's revival have returned in recent years, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Gorongosa Restoration Project, an initiative led by retired American IT entrepreneur Greg Carr, aiming to bring the fragile ecosystem back to its former glory.

Gorongosa National Park is successfully recovering from the damage caused by the 17 years of the civil war.
Piotr Naskrecki, entomologist

In 2008, Carr's foundation signed a 20-year contract with the Mozambican government to rejuvenate and protect the park's diverse ecosystem, as well as create a thriving ecotourism industry that would benefit communities in the area.

Key to the restoration efforts is the documentation and studying of life in Gorongosa -- a process that started with the scientific expedition in mid-April.

Read this: Could horn sale end rhino slaughter?

Naskrecki says the information recorded and collected, which will be presented in its entirety in a report later this year, will help guide restoration efforts in the park. It will also provide proof that Gorongosa is still a biodiversity hotspot that needs to be protected from industrial development, such as mining.

"Every single species we found, every orchid, every katydid, every frog is a powerful argument for maintaining the protective status of this area," says Naskrecki

"The main point, however, is not that we found unusual, rare, or new species, but that we found so many of them and in thriving populations. All this indicates that Gorongosa National Park is successfully recovering from the damage caused by the 17 years of civil war, which left many of its species decimated.

"The small animals ... may seem insignificant compared to lions and elephants, which are also recovering nicely, but they are very good indicators of the health and richness of the Gorongosa ecosystem."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:57 AM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
Vintage helicopters, ziplines, private flying safaris offer new, spectacular views of wildlife and rugged terrain.
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Photojournalist Daniella Zalcman asked Uganda's religious leaders their views on homosexuality. Their answers might surprise you.
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
In Africa, royalty is an endangered species. Meet the man on a mission to photograph the last remaining kings and queens.
updated 6:35 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Getty photographer John Moore captured the spirit of those who survived the epidemic
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Nazis, bomb raids, and a mysterious man with a mustache. The search for the spinosaurus reads like a spy novel.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Can a rat be a hero? It can if it saves lives. Meet the giant rats that sniff out landmines and TB
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
In Africa, royalty is an endangered species. Meet the man on a mission to photograph the last remaining kings and queens.
updated 7:10 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Can state-of-the art schools in rural Africa rescue the environment? One charity is betting on it.
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
To save the rhinos, one charity is moving them out of South Africa, where poaching is at an all time high.
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
mediterranean monk seal
Many of Africa's animals are facing extinction. Is it too late for them? Our interactive looks at the many challenges to survival.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
No one knows what causes "fairy circles" in Namibia's desert. A new study, however, may have solved the mystery.
updated 6:54 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
A picture shows the Rwenzori mountain range on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 8, 2014. At 5,109 metres (16,763 feet), Mount Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.
The 'African Alps' are melting, and it may be too late. Now may be your last chance to see the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains.
updated 10:38 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
One company thinks so. They're investing in insect farms in Ghana and Kenya. Could bugs build an industry and curb malnutrition?
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
updated 5:27 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
updated 6:16 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Makoko Floating School
A new wave of African architects are creating remarkable buildings in the continent, and beyond.
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT