National Geographic : 2013 Jun
112 national geographic • june 2013 won its independence from Portugal in 1975, a civil war broke out and raged for 17 years. The park, which had been established by the colonial government in 1960, became a battleground. Its headquarters and tourist facilities were de- stroyed. Roving soldiers, hungry for food as well as for ivory they could trade for weapons in South Africa, killed many of the large animals. After peace accords were signed, but before or- der could be restored at Gorongosa, commer- cial poachers killed an even larger number of animals, peddling the meat at nearby markets. In the end, nearly all the big game species were gone or nearly gone. Only the crocodiles, quick to slide down muddy banks into the safety of the rivers, escaped with little harm. The clearance of big game had important en- vironmental consequences. Where zebra herds no longer grazed, grass and woody shrubs thick- ened, and lightning-strike wildfires became more threatening. With no elephants knocking over trees to feed on the branches, some forests increased in density. With the scat and carcasses of big game severely reduced, the population of some scavengers fell sharply. Yet the ecological base of vegetation and small animals, including the myriad species of insects and other invertebrates, remained largely intact. Gorongosa Park contains a great variety of habi- tats—besides the valley grasslands and the moun- tain’s several vegetation zones, it includes forested plateaus and limestone gorges—and even today it supports tremendous biodiversity. In the whole of the park, 398 bird species (of which about 250 are residents), 122 mammals, 34 reptiles, and 43 amphibians have been found. Probably tens of thousands of species of insects, arachnids, and other invertebrates await discovery. For a decade following the end of the civil war, while a new, democratic Mozambique established itself, Gorongosa remained in ruins. Meanwhile, Greg Carr had gotten interested in the country and was looking for a way to help; after making his fortune in voice mail and Internet services, he had turned to philanthropy. In 2004 the gov- ernment of Mozambique and Carr agreed that he would help plan the park’s restoration. Carr has since done much more: He has undertaken to restore Gorongosa himself, largely at his own expense, and has made it his full-time occupation. Mozambique’s Ministry of Tourism has entered into a long-term partnership with him to manage and develop the park. Today, after less than a decade, Gorongosa is well on its way to recovery. Large animals, including African buffalo and elephants, have Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson has written 28 books and won two Pulitzer Prizes. Longtime contributor Joel Sartore has photographed on every continent.