Reborn from Ashes
Gorongosa has not always been so idyllic. Established as a national park in 1960, the park’s protected status was short-lived. In the 1970s, a civil war broke out. As the war threw people into increasing poverty, they turned to the park for resources. The elephant population, once in the thousands, dwindled to just 200 by the war’s end in 1992. (Both sides slaughtered them and sold their ivory to fund their efforts.) Other animals, such as zebras and wildebeest, were widely hunted for food. Predators such as leopards vanished as their prey disappeared.
Since then, the park has risen from the ashes. African wild dogs, Cape buffalos, zebras, and hippos have returned. The population of elephants is now around 800 individuals, a four-fold increase from the end of the war. Endangered pangolins also appear to be multiplying. Large herbivores such as giraffes, waterbucks, bushbucks, kudus, impalas, and nyalas now number more than 100,000. The petite oribi antelope, which is rare in most of Africa, is fairly easy to find in Gorongosa.
This renewal is largely thanks to work by the Gorongosa Project, a partnership between the Mozambican government and the U.S. philanthropist Gregory Carr. The project takes a holistic approach to conservation through ecosystem restoration, community development, research, and education—even creating a master’s in conservation biology program to enable Mozambicans to better protect their nation’s resources.
Since the Gorongosa Project began in 2004, researchers have discovered more than 100 plant and animal species previously unknown to science. That includes 25 species found only within the park’s boundaries!