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Gorongosa National Park, in central Mozambique, along the southeastern coast of Africa, is rising anew from the ashes and ruination of war.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Elephants have rebounded—more than 550 of them now, though Greg Carr and his colleagues aspire toward many more. 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.
As for the birdlife of Gorongosa, it’s wondrous and abundant: Egrets and ibises, darters and cormorants, lapwings and stilts, gray herons and spur-winged geese and African jacana are all doing well.
Marc Stalmans finds good news in the counts. “The results for wildebeest are particularly encouraging,” he says. Buffalo also—he was guardedly hopeful of that species reaching the 1,000-animal threshold and is gratified that it did. “Also, the degree of recovery of the warthog is quite spectacular”—they have almost doubled just since 2016.
All this wildlife recovery reflects fourteen years of smart, passionate effort by the team at Gorongosa, meaning not just Carr and the Park Warden and the conservation and science professionals but also those in operations, communications, and on the human development and enterprise sides.
Even a decent, generally law-abiding man or woman might set a snare for unsuspecting wildlife to feed his or her starving children.