Friday, 11 February 2011

At the campground in the middle of Gorongosa National Park, there is this 8x11 sign on a cluttered bulletin board.

For example, in 1972, the park had 1400 buffalo, 500 lions and 5500 wildebeests. In 1994, there was none of those. Currently, there are around 185 buffalo, 40 lions and 200 wildebeests.

The sign says nothing more on the subject. The would be completely explainable if animals had somehow developed the technology to instantaneous transport themselves on a whim. But that is not the case. So it begs an explanation for the mass amounts of disappearing-reappearing animals.

My roommate, Clancy, and I made the trek up to Gorongosa around Thanksgiving last year. We started our boleia-ing early Thursday morning, crashed with a volunteer in Inhassoro that night, and continued onto the park the next day. Our friend, Sinead, the Peace Corps volunteer who lived in Chokwe before us, currently lives and works in the park with the Centro de Educação Comunitaria.

And at this community education center, we got the story of the bulletin board.

The very same Vasco da Gama that we learned did something very important in history class that I don’t quite recall landed on what is now Ihla de Moçambique circa 1500. He and his Portuguese buddies made short work of colonizing the terra gloriosa and enslaving the African population.

Fast forward a few years to 19 60 – the Portuguese establish the Parque Nacional de Gorongosa in the central region of the country. With its large numbers of lions, hippos, and rhinos, it quickly became a premiere park in Southern Africa. Within 15 years, however, the Portuguese are formally kicked out of country, which would not be a problem in itself, save that the newly independent Mozambique was almost immediately thrust into a Civil War that would last for the next 16 years.

During this time, major national highways were coated in landmines, cutting off food, medical and other supplies in the bloody war. One day, someone in the central region realized that, in this protected land next to their house, their lived a bounty of zebras (≈3,000), mass herds of impalas (≈2,000) and even 2,200 of those enormous creatures that could easily feed a village for a week. Really, can you blame them?

By the time the government of Moçambique had reestablished peace and was clearing out those mines and rebuilding highways in 1994, the only living things left in the park walked on two legs. And there were a lot of them. Hence the middle column.

The unlikely hero of our story? The very same person you can thank every time you have a discover a missed call on your cell phone: Greg Carr. After he developed voicemail, the would-be philanthropist set out to use his funding as a source of good, and he stumbled upon Gorongosa. For the past few years, Mr. Carr has worked to rebuild the borders of the park, reestablish the central camp (which now includes a restaurant, pool/watering hole and air-conditioned huts) and reintroduce the animals that served as fodder for some many people over time.

The Centro de Educação Comunitaria, where Sinead works, was built to sustainable “green” methods, with bunker-style houses to keep visitors cool and solar energy. Students and community members from surrounding neighborhoods (and some still technically within the borders) are invited to learn how to co-exist and care for their rare four-legged friends that crazy foreigners like to come oogle at.

While the park still has a long way to go, a casual morning three hour tour (a three hour tour) through the park can give you a view of these…

And these…

And these…
Just be careful if you see these, because the saying is true – elephants never forget. And they tend to react none to friendly (trumpeting, flapping ears and running at your jeep) if they see the creatures that slaughtered so much of their herd.

And if you’re in the houses, you might also see some of these…

Step lightly.

Gorongosa, however, is by far the best and most developed wildlife park in Mozambique. A three-hour tour of the Limpopo Park, just a couple hours from Chokwe, got us a lovely view of a zebra and a better idea of why you should never use a low-rider Mazda four-door on an African Safari. Of the Parque Nacional de Banhihne in Gaza, the guidebook wisely advises: Banhine is currently completely undeveloped as a protected area and has no large wildlife of note. Camping is possible but there are no facilities and you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient.

If anyone cares to come visit, I promise you some fun close encounters at Gorongosa Park. For more information, check out the National Geographic documentary Africa’s Lost Eden: Gorongosa National Park.


  1. That's really interesting! hmmm

  2. Nice pictures, Val.

    Thanks for the updates.