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- 08.02.07 / 6pm
The Forgotten Park
Â Kate Turkington visits THE FORGOTTEN PARK
It was once one of Africaâs crowning glories â a place where thousands of plains animals â sable, roan, oribi, waterbuck, impala, kudu - fed off some of the richest grazing grounds in Africa, followed by hundreds of predators â lion, leopard, hyena, cheetah, caracul, serval. A place where hippos splashed and cavorted in their thousands; myriads of birds, some only to be found in this place of plenty, strutted in the marshlands, cruised on the great lake, and flocked in the trees.
In the great mountain, the calls of even rarer birds whistled through the ancient tall trees and head-high ferns, as waterfalls tumbled down the rocks from sky-reaching ravines. In 1965, JoÃ£o Augusto Silva, an eminent Portuguese writer and researcher, wrote that, âsituated on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, there does not exist, in the whole of this vast continent of Africa, a park that compares with the Gorongosa.â?
But tragedy soon followed. The bitter Liberation Struggle for Independence from the Portuguese colonizers, was followed by an even more savage civil war - events that changed the face of Mozambique politically, and also left her countryside in ruins. And the devastation was no more evident and appalling than in Gorongosa National Park, which morphed from being one of the worldâs best game-viewing regions, into the worldâs biggest slaughterhouse. Three armies fed off the park â The Rhodesian Army, Renamo and Frelimo. And itâs been said that the war ended in 1992 only because the food ran out.
Many older people will fondly remember their visits to Gorongosa, and soon, because of a miracle, many more visitors from all over the world will once again be coming through its gates.
Gorongosa is situated almost in the dead centre of Mozambique, in Sofala Province, 100 km or so from the port of Beira. The park is 4,000 sq km â about a quarter of the size of Kruger National Park - but whereas Kruger is long and thin, Gorongosa is shaped like a lopsided square. Its grasslands and ecosystems are fed by the rivers and waters that flow down from the 1860m-high Gorongosa Mountain, just outside the Park, and itâs these floodplain grasslands, marshes, vleis, rivers and lakes, that provide the feeding grounds which attracted such huge concentrations of wildlife before the wars.
Â There were 4,000 elephant, 25,000 buffalo, over 500 lions â the biggest concentration of lions anywhere in Africa.
Letâs fast-forward now to 2006. Greg Carr, a young American multi-millionaire, decides to give up the IT business he has so successfully created, and devote his life to a really worthwhile philanthropic project - a project that will stimulate the economy, engage and develop local communities, teach skills, bring education and better health. He decides that Gorongosa in Mozambique fits his bill. But this is no quick-fix situation. The Harvard-educated brilliant businessman, together with the Mozambique Government, envisions, conceptualizes and creates a 30-year business plan.
In 2004 The Carr Foundation and the Mozambique Government start a rehabilitation and management programme for Gorongosa, with the Carr Foundation investing an initial two-and-a-half million US dollars in rehabilitation and community-based ecotourism systems. Now in 2006, things are beginning to happen, the vision is on target.
On my trip â a truly memorable and inspiring one â I saw bushbaby, bushpig, genet, civet, porcupine, serval, nyala, oribi, reedbuck, sable, waterbuck, lions, crocs, hippo, monkeys and baboons, and more warthogs than I have ever seen in my life.
The birds werenât bad either â Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Moustached warbler, Greenheaded oriole, Collared palm thrush, Vanga flycatcher, although I just missed the Chestnutfronted Helmet shrikes.
It was a great privilege and a very humbling experience to see a legend being reborn and to believe that once again unique memories will be in store for so many more visitors. Gorongosaâs future looks really bright.