News from the field, this year Zambia. Here we hear from Scientific Associate Hitoshi Takano on his latest collecting adventures...
'November 1855. The Zambezi River. What must Dr David Livingstone have felt when he happened upon Victoria Falls?
“…scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight” is what Dr Livingstone is said to have commented as he looked out over the falls. It truly is a beautiful sight.
He had heard many years before about a “Great Waterfall” on the Zambezi River but it was not until 16 November, 1855 that he paddled across to one of the giant landmasses in the middle of the river overlooking the falls. He named this great discovery in honour of the Queen of England.
Last week I flew into the quaint town of Livingstone, the capital of Zambia’s Southern Province, some 10km from Victoria Falls and the Zimbabwe border. The landscape is dry woodland for as far as the eye can see, except for a big winding river and what looks like a huge cloud hovering above the falls; there is no hint of the 100m drop in the Zambezi.
The Livingstone Museum in the town of Livingstone, has on display many items of Livingstone memorabilia including his coat and weapons, as well as some of his original letters.
The local name for the falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya which translates rather poetically as ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. It is the perfect description. It is now approaching the end of the rainy season and the amount of water flowing over the falls is enormous. A short walk over the aptly named Knife-Edge Bridge brings you face-to-face with the wall of water. And a wall of noise. It is an exhilarating experience; the spray from the waterfall is so great that most of the time nothing is visible, a huge rainstorm swirling around you. Rain coming at you from every direction. And then the wind blows in a different direction bringing sunlight and a clear view of the face of the falls. It was a most beautiful and breathless sight; one feels very small and insignificant in the presence of the immense power of nature.
Face-to-face with Victoria Falls. I was completely drenched by this point and my camera nearly died from all the water everywhere!
Today, the 19 March, is David Livingstone’s 200th birthday (1813-1873). His exploits from his upbringings in Scotland, his exploration of Central Africa and the search for the source of the Nile are well documented. But perhaps the natural history discoveries made on these expeditions are not quite as well known. Today is as good a day as any to showcase some of the beetle specimens from the Natural History Museum collections associated with Livingstone and his Zambezi Expedition (1858-1864).
The first specimen is of a Cetoniine fruit chafer Marmylida impressa (Goldfuss, 1805), caught in Tete by Dr. Livingstone himself. Tete was an important mission town in Mozambique on the Zambezi River.
The second specimen was collected by the botanist and physician on the Zambezi Expedition, Sir John Kirk (1832-1922). One of the main aims of the Zambezi Expedition, aside from identifying the natural resources and availability of raw materials in the Zambezi area, was to find cotton, an important commodity in post-Industrial Revolution Britain.
Kirk collected a beautiful Goliathus species “among the hills of Kebrabassa, which is situated about forty miles beyond the Portuguese town of Tete [a town in modern-day Mozambique]”. This large beetle was described as Goliathus kirkianus by George Robert Gray (1808-1872) in 1864, the then Assistant Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum of Natural History. This species was later synonymised with Goliathus albosignatus (Boheman, 1857).
Goliathus kirkianus (Type specimen label just visible underneath the specimen).
Both of these species are widespread throughout Southern Africa and I have collected them on my previous trips to Tanzania. To think the specimens I collected sit in the same drawer of the Museum collections as those collected by Dr Livingstone is really quite mindboggling!
Unsurprisingly, many species of plant and animal have been named after Dr Livingstone over the years. One of the most spectacular is a species of Manticora ground beetle from the vicinity of Lake Ngami, north of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Francois Laporte, The Count of Castelnau, often known as Laporte de Castelnau (1812-1880) described Manticora livingstoni in 1863 in honour of the great explorer; (despite Livingstone having reached Lake Ngami in 1849, the specimens used by Castelnau for the description were not collected by Livingstone but by local collectors sent out by Castelnau).
The formidable Manticora livingstoni.
From the Great Waterfall at Livingstone, I will now be heading north-west to the forests of the Angola-Zambia-Congo borders, very near to the source of the River which brought Dr Livingstone so much joy as well as despair.
A statue of Dr David Livingstone at the entrance to Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, Zambia
Happy Birthday Dr Livingstone!'