My time at Gorongosa was one of the best times of my life. I intend to go back as more animals are re-introduced. I toured the re-introduction pen for Hyenas which will be there soon as well as the area for Zebras, etc. to be transported to the area after all studies are completed. To put my experience in words and pictures would not be doing Gorongosa justice. The people I met, the stories of war, survival and the resilient hope I saw in people’s eyes was nothing short of amazing. And to think this was- at one time, the most abundant game area in all of Africa.
I heard about the restoration project going on there at a premiere party in Denver for their National Geographic Special- “Africa’s Lost Eden”. When I heard the story, I immediately thought of the wolf re-introduction project in Yellowstone that very well changed not only the ecology, people’s perception of how important keystone predators are but also the huge advances that were made with the Trophic Cascade, etc.
The idea of an area going through these changes with so many species not only fascinated me but I wanted to be a part of it. Something told me I had to go to Africa…
This trip has not only given me more knowledge of such amazing creatures, the landscape and people that have a love/hate relationship with nature but it has changed me not only professionally but personally.
I felt that by connecting with people living in such poverty, sitting down and eating corn with them and their struggles to put food on the table for their family that it gave me a different perspective. I understood why so many had come to a last resort and went trecking into the park and poaching an animal to survive- they had nothing to eat. On the flip side, I had dinner with Carlos Lopes Pereira, Gorongosa’s Director of Conservation. A man I have much respect for given the huge task in front of him. (By the way, Carlos is a former canine handler and used Belgian Malinois to de-mine many areas of the park.) He talked to me about the other poachers- the ones making money by killing an Elephant for it’s tusks and killing Rhino’s for their horns. These animals were killed for money- left to die. Carlos’s first task was to secure the park from poachers which employed a local task force of guards patrolling the perimeter every 10 or so meters but sometimes the poachers would still get in. One poacher even lost his pants somewhere in the bush that were left behind as he was chased off, so there is a pantless poacher somewhere in or outside Gorongosa National Park incase you happen to spot him. Overall however, poaching has signifigantly decreased since protecting the area but it is still an issue that the park faces weekly.
The problems Gorongosa faces are all but similar to management in Yellowstone. Monitoring behavior patterns and keeping close tabs on animals that may not be used to cars driving off at any little sign of an elephant charge or something similar but the bottom line is this- Of the few animals that did survive the brutal civil war, they did so through adaptation. The crocs. are so scared of humans that they immediately run for the water. Not only are the animals in trauma recovery but the people too. Some had lost 6-7 family members per family. I met one man who survived for 24 hrs. in the river with the crocodiles by breathing through some sort of reed stick like a straw as to not get shot by the enemy.
Since the park has had a second chance thanks to American philanthropist, Gregory Carr, The Carr Foundation and the Government of Mozambique, things are only looking up. I visited a school and clinic that was built in one of the nearby local communities. I shook the hand of the Dr. and nurses that were excited to have us visit and I saw that over 400 local people in the nearby towns now were employed for the park and had steady jobs.
My hope here is that once more animals will be re-introduced, there will be no fences surronding Gorongosa and that the people and animals can learn to live peacefully. I hope that poachers can find other means of making money and I hope that studies are done as this park emerges back to what it used to be- Africa’s first Serengeti so that we may continue to learn, preserve and protect what is important for generations to come.
I have every inkling of going back for a longer period of time after more animals are re-introduced and I hope to raise awareness and support for this important cause. This is like our Yellowstone but with only a portion of the wildlife- so far.
Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world and I think I may have seen only one or two Americans the whole time I was there. The war is now over though and the beaches are beautiful. I also swam with two whale sharks and visited the largest research area for whale sharks in the world.
The hotels have opened their doors and slowly, new ones are being built. This gem of a country is on it’s way to hitting the world stage and I’m proud to say that Gorongosa will be a part of that.
On a bad note, I did fracture my ankle in Africa at the end of my trip including a severe sprain, torn tissues, etc. I am on the mend but will be back running with the wolves and training man’s best friend very soon. For now, here are a few pictures with more available shortly at: www.http://www.photoshelter.com/c/jennifermccarthy.com. These images are also available for purchase through that site. I will also be posting links to organizations to donate to Gorongosa National Park very soon…
This is an ungulate we thought may have been poached. Upon further inspection, it died in a fight by another animal’s horn…