A Conservation Success Story in Africa
Wildlife conservation is a priority in the enormous Gorongosa National Park in central Mozambique and the world is learning vital lessons about ecotourism ethics from this African conservation success story. Nearly two decades of civil war wiped out more than 95% of all large mammals in what had always been a prime safari destination in Mozambique. The park was in a mess from 1992, abandoned and almost forgotten – but more than 102 000 animals were counted in 2022 thanks to one man’s passion for Africa and dedication to the wildlife conservation of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. This is the story about the rejuvenation of a top game reserve where people work in tune with natural resources in a win-win situation.
The bottom line at Gorongosa National Park is sustainable development to protect the thriving biodiverse park and to generate meaningful nature experiences among the people who share the land. This means a unique partnership that drives economic, social and environmental successes.
Healthy wildlife numbers tell a remarkable story of conservation success and safari tourists will today be able to view enormous herds of antelope, fat prides of lions under graceful trees, pods of lazy hippos in water sources galore and endangered animals including pangolins, African wild dogs, leopards, rhinos and elephant herds too. Mammals have experienced a whopping 700% growth since 10 years ago and ongoing scientific research is showing that strong leadership, funding, and dedication to natural resources and the future of our planet can turn things around.
It was the year 2004 that American humanitarian, Gregory Carr from Idaho, committed millions of dollars to save Gorongosa National Park from a fate worse than death, adding to his ideals the empowerment and involvement of approximately 200 000 people living on the edges of the park. Everyone knows these days that ecotourism models come first, responsible tourism is the only way to travel and conservation of what we have left in Africa is vital for human survival in terms of health, social, economic and environmental dimensions. It’s a fact that most African game reserves and parks suffer from a lack of funding to maintain infrastructure, pay staff, do the outdoor groundwork and secure trust from local communities who are impacted by wildlife and national parks.
Relocation of Animals to Gorongosa Mozambique
The relocation of animals to Gorongosa Mozambique has been an emotional affair since the early 2000s in enormous wildlife conservation efforts that began immediately after the war. These struggles are now reaping benefits of all kinds – from a terrain riddled with thousands of snares and traps, lions missing legs, and most animals simply gone for good due to fear and poaching – to a lush reserve harbouring thousands of healthy animals and birds.
Before the horrors of the civil war, Gorongosa National Park was a famous safari destination, home to some of the biggest populations of wildlife in southern Africa. During the war, numerous animals were killed, with some species almost driven to extinction. The Gorongosa Restoration Project is therefore an ongoing science-based endeavour involving the relocation of animals to the park and the ongoing maintenance of the habitat to help it return to that thriving ecosystem it always was before the civil war.
When Greg Carr saw the state of the land and the few remaining lions with three legs each due to out-of-control snares and traps, he knew that he must first bring in herds of herbivores which would be food for predators later on. So he did – 200 buffalo, 200 wildebeest then zebra and antelope galore. Then the leopards were translocated and hyenas were introduced. But animal relocations are extremely stressful and unnatural and have to be completed with far-reaching scientific care and research.
The waterbuck rebounded well while other species are still recovering in terms of numbers – before the war, 3500 zebra wandered the grasslands but this sadly fell to about only 20 left. Gorongosa scientists decided to relocate herds of zebra because their role in nature is so vital for healthy ecosystem functioning – zebras eat the fibrous grasses allowing the new juicy shoots to become available for other species. It was with great sadness that when scientists tried to reintroduce 4 cheetahs to the park in 2011, one died en route in the aeroplane and the others died in the park. On a more positive note, however, game counts are revealing that animals are generally making a comeback, especially buffalo and other herbivores.
Lions rebounded with no outside relocations or assistance thanks to the arrival of a steady herbivore food source and the removal of human danger in all its spheres. From 5 lions with 3 legs each, Gorongosa now features about 200 lions and the park’s specialized team of vets and ecologists have incredible plans to protect and recover endangered lions, wild dogs, pangolins, and elephants. Since 2012, the team has been monitoring the revival of the lions and the reintroduction of wild dogs, leopards and hyenas. All African predators are constantly at risk of the bush meat trade, habitat loss and human encroachment, an ongoing battle. Lions are in a crisis and wild dogs increasingly rare.
Pangolin Rehabilitation Project in Gorongosa National Park
Critically endangered Pangolins are being rescued and rehabilitated at a centre in Chitengo, in the south of Gorongosa National Park. Since 2018, more than 73 of these extraordinary animals have been saved from poachers and bush meat traders. Pangolins have always been endemic to Gorongosa and adjacent provinces but they are hunted by wildlife traffickers for the Asian market where the scales are used in medicine and the meat is sold in open markets. This makes Pangolins the most trafficked mammal in the entire world! Sadly, ignorant local Mozambicans are bribed to catch them and sell them to traffickers.
The conservation team at Gorongosa will not stand by and let this happen so they started the first rescue programme ever for this mammal and have treated just under 100 Pangolins to date. Once healthy, they are then released into the wild under guard and closely watched using satellite technology – each individual is tagged and constantly monitored for research and survival reasons. As communities become more aware of Pangolins through education programmes, so they reveal more to authorities, helping to reduce the trafficking over the years.
The 4 Pillars of Landscape and Wildlife Conservation at Gorongosa
In all these ways, Gorongosa can be viewed as a beacon of hope for wildlife conservation. The national park is standing evidence that the 4 pillars of ecotourism and landscape restoration can work when people commit to them. These 4 pillars are:
- community involvement and ownership of conservation and projects,
- making a clear link between healthy economies and healthy natural resources,
- environmental education and earth conservation, and
- ensuring that women play a central role in making a better world for all living things.
Wildlife conservation at Gorongosa goes hand in hand with social upliftment and 89 schools are now supported while 600 teachers will be trained since the war and all disruption to these essential services. There is a focus on girls who need support to be independent, have a future and be equal to men in terms of jobs and opportunities.
‘The Gorongosa Way’ is a model for the rest of Africa:
- the coffee and reforestation projects on Mount Gorongosa,
- the cashew nut nurseries that are preserving biodiversity through agroforestry,
- the sustainable beekeeping practices and environmentally friendly honey projects,
- ecotourism development where locals are trained as staff, game rangers, anti-poaching, and
- training of scientists, teachers and mentors in a positive ripple effect.
It’s all being achieved in a climate of civil war aftermath, poverty, cyclones and flooding, drought and insect plagues, climate change and lack of basic infrastructure in a developing Mozambique of currently 200 million people.
The Gorongosa team engages local communities to assist them to start their own resources-based businesses in a unique Community-based Natural Resources Management (CBNRM) ethic to create direct funding for the people in the park buffer zone. They also realise that people cannot survive without healthy natural resources, water and good soils. New projects involving growing trees, creating income from ecotourism projects, and selling game meat in an ethical manner and community conservancies could add benefits to people’s lives.
Ecotourism Can Work to Save Wildlife
When he saw Africa and Gorongosa for the first time, Gregory Carr noted that the land belonged to the people. They had always been there living in harmony with wildlife with an innate environmental attachment to the land and its natural resources. They nurtured a deep indigenous knowledge about the value of conservation and Greg knew this. His aim was to create a human rights park that cared as much about the humans as about the animals and plants, a park that opened its gates to the people living there and gave them extraordinary opportunities to grow and be alive in a parallel existence with the natural resources. It is working and proving that ecotourism can work to save wildlife.
During the terrible 16 years of civil war, Mount Gorongosa lost all its trees and wildlife to human needs. Today, coffee trees are growing there, in cohesion with the forests, allowing communities to have work, make money and survive on a sustainable crop that does not impact the natural land too much. They are replanting trees at the same time to reforest the mountain slopes and creating new opportunities for their own needs.
Ecotourism goals created game ranger posts, anti-poaching teams and tourism staff for Gorongosa from the community villages which created a ripple effect of passion for the land and wildlife and clarity on why people cannot survive without fauna, flora, water, clean air and soil. Today, some 1600 people work for Gorongosa and tourism brings in much-needed cash that is ploughed back into salaries and conservation management. Carr adds in millions of dollars per year and so does the US foreign aid coffers.
One of the many different projects underway at Gorongosa is the awesome Gorongosa Biodiversity Science Education Program (BioEd) linked to the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory. The overall aim is to ensure that Mozambique gains extra biodiversity experts to run the country’s conservation projects. It therefore assists local people to study within the park and become conservation leaders as they complete their Masters in Conservation Biology with hands-on guidance.
The only way to protect wildlife in Africa is to get ongoing buy-in from the local people who live adjacent to the parks and rely on natural resources to survive. This means environmental education must work hand in hand with wildlife conservation projects in an ecotourism model where people can earn money and realise the benefits in conserving wildlife and ecosystems. To this end, ecosystem integrity teams work in communities to stop habitat encroachment and destruction and human-wildlife coexistence teams work inside the park to reduce impacts on animals straying outside unfences park areas.
Take a trip to Gorongosa National Park to view the richest wildlife and landscape marvels imaginable. Be very surprised at how beautiful and successful this Mozambique wildlife conservation region really is.
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