Gorongosa National Park in Central Mozambique stands as a representative for environmental change and a commitment to conservation by both government and local communities.
As far back as 1920 this park has been a protected wildlife area, and was the scene of the first-ever wildlife survey, providing a perspective on animal activity never seen before. A wildlife haven, it was also dedicated to the protection of the black rhino and the nyala antelope. Naturally, publicity encouraged development – the notion of the safari was born and camps and lodges encouraged visitors. The first-built lodge, however, houses unusual guests.
In the 1940s construction began on a safari lodge along the floodplain of the Mussicadzi River, in anticipation of it providing a unique visual of a more remote area of the park. Today, it is widely known that lodge accommodation on a riverbank provides enrichment to anyone’s visit to Africa, creating shaded, green retreats from the heat and offering effortless wildlife viewing, as both predator and prey are drawn to the water. Mussicadzi River, however, was prone to breaking its banks once a year when Mozambique’s heavy summer rains brought raging floods. Before completion, the venture had to be abandoned as power was signed over to the elements. Unbeknown to anyone at the time, the unfinished structure was to become a popular attraction in the Gorongosa National Park; the scene of a curious spectacle…
The camp may have been declared unfit for human shelter, but to Gorongosa’s greatest feline inhabitants it offered convenience at its finest – a hideout during the rains, an elevated vantage point from which to eye the herds, a safe haven for young cubs – the king had found his castle. Once word had spread that this dilapidated building had been occupied by Africa’s biggest cat, locals donned it Casa dos Leõe, the Lion House.
From that time onwards, lions inhabited the house, guarding it as their territory and causing a scene among tourists and behavioural scientists alike. It seemed unusual for animals in the wild to occupy something as unfamiliar as a man-made structure. Courteney Blunden, owner of Africa on Foot and nThambo Tree Camp, has monitored closely the behaviour of the lions in the Ross pride in the Klaserie Game Reserve. He provides insight into why the Gorongosa lions may continue to call this historical house home. At Klaserie, the Ross pride lionesses rely on several specific den sites in which to hide their newborn cubs; always returning to the same well-protected hide-outs. It is no wonder then that over the decades, even through a civil war that tore Gorongosa to shreds, new generations of lions seek residence at The Lion House. Courteney also suggested that the cats may find this a dry platform on which to sleep in wet weather, as African cats are generally not partial to puddles!
Since Gorongosa’s restoration after the 1980′s civil war that saw the utter destruction of this vibrant wildlife sanctuary, it has become an icon of optimism and conservational triumph. The population of lions was almost entirely wiped out, as were the elephants, and it was through the determination and dedication that these Big Five greats once again inhabit Mozambique’s remarkable landscape. The Lion House is a symbol of history and embodies an essence of eeriness, as one entertains the thought of Africa’s most highly regarded predators living within the walls of a house that was built to safeguard humans touring this wild land.
In recent years, rangers and trackers at Gorongosa have identified some of the lions that use the house. They seem to treat the building as more of a hide-out than as the territory so fiercely defended by the lions of the ’60s. There’s Tripod, a lone, three-legged matriarch, well known amongst the rangers; the dark-maned Brando Brothers, fiercely territorial and occasionally spotted out-of-bounds at the Lion House; and the Baobab pride, mysteriously absent during daylight hours, but chillingly vocal at night, as they can be heard claiming their territory at The Lion House and on Baobab Hill. (Watch the remarkable 1960′s footage of the 30-strong pride of lions that initially took up residence at The Lion House www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150747983218729)
A heart-warming history of the park as a whole, the addition of The Lion House to Gorongosa’s undeniable attractions makes it a destination not to be missed.
More at www.sunsafaris.com