Gorongosa National Park, in central Mozambique, along the southeastern coast of Africa, is rising anew from the ashes and ruination of war. The latest numbers from its 2018 aerial wildlife count, just released, show that the park’s populations of large mammals, devastated during the conflict, continue to rebound.
This is a place—rare in Africa, cause for jubilation—where most species of big fauna are vastly more numerous now than in 1992, at the end of the civil war. Surveys then found just 15 African buffalo, six lions, 100 hippo, and a handful of blue wildebeest. By the latest counts, the buffalo population is above one thousand head, hippo are at nearly 550, wildebeest above 600. Lions, though harder to count, are thriving too amid the expanded prey base.
Back in the early 1990s, after fifteen years of civil war, with two armies treating Gorongosa as a battlefield—and killing its wildlife for meat to feed soldiers and for ivory to buy arms—the place was in wreckage. It languished for more than a decade until, in 2004, the Gorongosa Restoration Project began, as a partnership between the Mozambican government and the U.S.-based Carr Foundation. What the Carr Foundation (and its founder, Greg Carr) brought to this challenge was not just financial resources and management acumen but a vision that Gorongosa could become a “human rights park.”
That meant tangible benefits for the local people roundabout it—in health care, education, agronomy, economic development—as well as protection for its landscape, its waters, its biological diversity in all forms. Progress has been steady and measurable. One metric is literacy among local women and young girls. Another is wildlife recovery. Counting wild animals is never easy, but on the open savannas, floodplains, and mixed forest terrain of Gorongosa it can be done systematically and reliably by helicopter.
Mike Pingo, a seasoned veteran of wildlife piloting, flew the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter for two weeks of intensive counts, roughly six hours each day, with Marc Stalmans, the park’s director for science, and two other colleagues in the heli’s other seats, spotting animals, counting them species by species, and recording data. Pingo choppered up and back along charted transects, spanning a 500-meter-wide strip with each passage, from an elevation of 50 meters, while he and the others enumerated every visible animal as large as a warthog. (Waterbuck were the exception: so abundant on the Gorongosa floodplains that they had to be counted from wide-angle photographs.) Try that yourself for a few hours and you’ll see: It’s a recipe for airsickness and headache as well as statistical rigor. But these guys were experienced, with iron stomachs and good eyes, and they got the job done.
In addition to the increases in buffalo and wildebeest populations—dramatic since the war’s end, and significant since just 2014—numbers of impala, kudu, and nyala (a handsome spiral-horned antelope) are strongly up too. More than five hundred hippos cool themselves in the waters of Gorongosa’s Lake Urema and its nearby rivers on a given afternoon. Warthogs are so plentiful that you might find two sleeping under your porch at the Gorongosa hotel. Waterbuck are way up, to more than 55,000 head, offering testimony on the quality of Gorongosa floodplain habitat and lots of potential food for lions, wild dogs, and leopards. Elephants have rebounded—more than 550 of them now, though Greg Carr and his colleagues aspire toward many more.
Published: 14 December 2018
View article source: National Geographic