The figures read like a horror story. At the end of the war, there were only 44 hippo (down from 3 500), 15 Cape buffalo (down from 13 000), 12 zebra (down from 3 300) and just 1 lonely blue wildebeest (down from 6 400). The elephant population was reduced by 90%. Predators like spotted hyenas and wild dogs were wiped out, and only a few lions managed to survive.
Today, wildlife numbers are booming, thanks mostly to one individual. Greg Carr is an American billionaire who first visited the park in 2004, and has invested more than $40 million in Gorongosa’s conservation. Working with the government and local communities especially, he is slowly but surely empowering – through conservation – a whole region of one of the poorest countries in the world.
There’s still much work to be done, yes, but for me, if Africa’s wildlife is going to survive the next 100 years, then wealthy individuals and organizations like the World Bank need to follow Greg Carr’s example and commit serious funding to the cause. Both eco-tourism and controlled hunting will never on their own be able to fund the protection, restoration and expansion of African wilderness.
It’s time to acknowledge that Africa’s wildlife is a global treasure, and deserving of billions of dollars of funding from wealthy western and Asian countries, many of which have already profited directly from the destruction of the continent’s natural resources. Not forgetting we are all indirectly responsible in some way. It’s time to take a stand and fight for the last remaining wildlife of Africa. As Carr says: “I adore Gorongosa” – and so do I.
There’s a superbly written article from the New Yorker in 2009 which profiles Greg Carr and his work in Gorongosa. Highly recommended reading, and a PDF of it can be downloaded here – New Yorker – Greg Carr Article.
Waterbuck on the floodplains of Lake Urema. Cape buffalo were once the dominant grazers in the park, but with their decimation by soldiers during the civil war, the waterbuck population exploded, and today they are the most numerous herbivore in Gorongosa – by far.
Waterbuck on the road to Chitengo Camp. Gorongosa has spectacular woodlands, floodplains and lake systems. The landscape is extremely photogenic, but probably best appreciated from the air, as it is generally flat and has few elevated viewpoints.
Lions are the symbol of Gorongosa, and hold special place in local folklore. Powerful men are said to turn into lions when they die, and Chief Chitengo was believed to have transformed into a white lion when he died in the early 1900s. The lions of Gorongosa have always been here. Unlike spotted hyaenas and wild dogs, they weren’t wiped out by the civil war. From about 200 individuals, they were reduced to just a few individuals, probably fewer than ten. Today there are about 70 lions that researchers have documented, and there have been no introductions of lions from other parks. Yet, interestingly, despite no competition from other large predators like hyaenas, the lion population doesn’t seem to be growing. Researcher Paola Bouley is at the forefront of the research effort to understand the behaviour and biology of the lions of Gorongosa.
Why you don’t go walking through the African grass without knowing what you’re doing. This lioness was almost invisible behind the camouflage of the dry grass.
The elephants of Gorongosa were almost exterminated during the civil war, but they hung on…but they’re still very wary of humans, and are more aggressive than other elephants which have lived in relative peace.
There are about 500 elephants in Gorongosa, and their numbers have rebounded after they were almost wiped out during the civil war.
My friend Andy diving into a rock pool on Mount Gorongosa. The rivers on this mountain feed Lake Urema on the floodplains, but the deforestation on the highlands has threatened the flow of water to the lowlands. Gorongosa’s ecology is in many ways dependent on the conservation of it’s mountain…but when we explored it one day, we saw parts of the forest being burnt down. Much work remains to be done before the park can claim to be an iconic African park.
Wildness comes in many forms, and for me, it is represented not only in lions and elephants and other charismatic species, but also insects like this wild bee hive which we saw hanging from a tree. Remarkable to witness!
Gorongosa has an extensive insect fauna, and has drawn great admiration from eminent biologist EO Wilson, who has visited the park several times and has mentored several young local biologists. In his own words, Gorongosa is “the most ecologically diverse park in the world.” We came across these Matabele ants one afternoon, as they were raiding a termite nest. To me, watching these remarkable insects was as intriguing as watching lions on a hunt. I’m sure Dr Wilson would agree, as his favourite study species is the ant.
The baboons at Chitengo camp aren’t afraid to test the limits of human tolerance. This male was only too happy to claim his territory, in no uncertain terms!
On one of the guided game drives in the late afternoon, we came across this porcupine near a waterpan. My first daylight sighting of one of these nocturnal creatures.
Scott Ramsay of Love Wild Africa is a photographer and writer in protected areas, national parks and nature reserves in Africa.