The Hidden World of Mozambique’s Sky Island Forests

Mount Namuli rises out of African savanna
Mount Namuli rises out of African savanna. Photo by Krystal Tolley

Krystal Tolley is a National Geographic grantee discovering the diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the montane forests of Mozambique.


The Afromontane archipelago of Mozambique is an unexplored, but potentially biologically important area which has rarely been surveyed. These montane isolates form an important, unexplored linkage between the better studied Eastern Arc Mountains and the Cape components of the entire Afromontane archipelago.

Impromptu surveys suggest the Mozambican montane sky island forests contain high levels of biodiversity because these forests are isolated which means that new species could have arisen in isolation. So, these rarely-sampled montane forests are probably under-estimated in terms of their biological diversity.

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Through targeted fieldwork supported by National Geographic Society, a team of biologists from South Africa, Mozambique and Europe will be exploring the isolated Afromontane forests and the surrounding savanna for reptiles and amphibians, to discover and document biological diversity. The team will make field identifications, take GPS point localities for databasing, plus DNA samples for barcoding.

The field work will start in November 2013 and the team will be in the field for 5 weeks during the start of the rainy season. Why rainy season? For frogs, as you can imagine.. that’s the perfect time for locating them because they will be very active. For reptiles… we have to catch it at the right time. At the end of the dry season, its not very good. Reptiles are hiding out. At the start of the rainy season, when rains are sporadic.. it’s the perfect time. Insects start to emerge, and reptiles begin to forage. So yes… we will get wet, but who cares when there are frogs and lizards about!


UPDATE 28 October 2013

Things change… and Africa can be unpredictable. Civil unrest in Mozambique for the first time in 21 years has brought threat of civil war. Recent skirmishes and the unfortunate death and wounding of civilians this week has dampened things. We were advised that the roads in the south are not safe. Elections are set for November, and hopefully the situation will resolve itself after these elections. We are therefore postponing the field work until February in the hopes that things will be settled and the roads passable by then. This was a carefully considered decision, and we are disappointed, but it seems like the right thing to do. So the Sky Islands will have to wait a bit longer but they’ve been there for millions of years already, so what’s a few more months….

Cascading stream in the forest on Mt. Namuli, could hold promise of unknown amphibians (Photo: Simon van Noort, Iziko Museums of South Africa)
Cascading stream in the forest on Mt. Namuli, could hold promise of unknown amphibians (Photo: Simon van Noort, Iziko Museums of South Africa)

Africa is the second largest continent, after Asia, and is three times larger than the USA. The planned route (below) for the February expedition will start in Cape Town and end in northern Mozambique, which is nearly 4,000 km (2,500 miles) and covers more than 1/3 of the length of the continent. In comparison, the distance from New York to San Fransicso is about 2,900 miles! The trip will take a minimum of 4 long days to complete.

The main driving route from Cape Town to northern Mozambique
The main driving route from Cape Town to northern Mozambique


  1. Yasser
    October 31, 2013, 7:28 am

    The timing is wrong rather delay a bit for clearer picture.
    Things are getting bad by the day. As am writing a big demonstration going on in the Capital Maputo and Beira Against the wave of crime and war.

  2. Gilbert Bouic
    October 30, 2013, 5:01 am

    I am amazed that National Geographic believes the stories about political unrest. I have just returned from Gurue via Beira, Marangue and Caia 3 days ago. No military check points, no extar police or army deployed. Johannesburg or Cape Town are more dangerous on an avergae Sunday.
    The media has blown this completely out of proportion.
    If you need a guide then let me know..

    • Krystal Tolley
      October 30, 2013, 10:59 am

      To follow up, the blog post is not the opinion of Nat Geo. It is my personal decision not to take added risks with the safety of the team, people for which I am responsible. Perhaps much of the media attention is out of proportion to the problem, but it seems most the prudent to delay until we are sure of the situation.

  3. sukumaran
    Manama- Bahrain
    October 30, 2013, 3:47 am