The story of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique is one of the mos remarkable conservation success stories in Africa, if not the world. The Park was virtually destroyed during the dreadful civil war which wracked the country for 15 years from 1977 to 1992, during which more than a million people died, and the once abundant wildlife populations were largely wiped out. In 2008 the Carr Foundation in the USA began a project with the government of Mozambique to restore the Park to its former glory. It has been a spectacular achievement to date.
The Gorongosa Project has just released its Annual Report for 2021. My column this month will comprise extracts from this informative document. At the end I have provided a link where you can access the whole report, which is illustrated with some spectacular photographs. The report starts with a message from the Gorongosa Park Warden Pedro Muagura:
“2021 was a year of many emotions for the Gorongosa Project. COVID-19 extended into this year and continued to affect many of our activities in the Park, particularly in tourism and in our human and sustainable development departments which work directly with the local communities. On a more positive note, I would like to extend my sincere thanks for the good government collaboration at the Central, Provincial and District levels. Together we are protecting biodiversity and developing communities around the Park. This year has shown once again reforestation is an imperative mission for every citizen, in schools, churches, cities, and villages. I also want to thank the workers of all Park departments, for the employee dedication shown during a very complicated year.”
Publication of Montane to Mangrove
Dr Ken Tinley’s monumental 1977 DSc. thesis Framework of the Gorongosa Ecosystem was published as a book called Montane to Mangrove by Hamilton-Fynch. The 396-page, large format book captures the original text and its exquisitely drawn graphics. The book is available for US$150.00, excluding shipping, from firstname.lastname@example.org
Goals of the Gorongosa Project
The Gorongosa Project recognizes environmental conservation, especially in Africa, is possible only through socio-economic community development leading to a way out of poverty. To this end the Project has formulated a series of goals:
- Improve the capacity of the Gorongosa Project to preserve, protect and manage the diverse ecosystems within the Park. Biologists acknowledge that the Greater Gorongosa region is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world.
- Increase the scientific understanding and management decision-making of the Greater Gorongosa region’s diverse ecosystems — freshwater catchments, terrestrial and marine biomes, sustainable agricultural areas and sustainably harvested forests – to maximize both long-term biodiversity and sustainable land-use in order to create a green economy that lifts the region’s communities out of poverty.
- Provide improved delivery and access to health care services and improved education, both in-class and after-school; and, support civic education for local participation in community planning and disaster resilience, in collaboration with the respective Mozambican ministries. We have a strong focus on expanding girls’ and women’s participation and leadership opportunities in all areas.
- Support balanced urban growth in the towns surrounding the Park’s boundaries by constructing/ rehabilitating safe haven schools, health clinics and public libraries. We encourage and empower our employees to be community members and to work with local authorities on local planning. Traditional knowledge practices are also considered in the whole process. All of these initiatives are aligned with the priorities of district governments. In addition, the Gorongosa Project and the Mayor of Vila Gorongosa signed a MOU where these initiatives will be piloted. Together, the Gorongosa Project and Vila Gorongosa will build and put into practice the concept of a Model Village for Mozambique.
- Drive sustainable economic development for the women and men who live in Gorongosa Park’s 600,000 hectare (soon to be expanded) Sustainable Development Zone. We support small-scale farming, commercial agriculture, employment in agricultural processing factories, ecotourism and employment in construction. A variety of Park employment opportunities exist in forestry, science, administration and conservation.
The Conservation Department oversees implementation of data-driven management actions across the protected wildlands and areas surrounding the Park. All programmes in the Department — Law Enforcement, Wildlife Management, and, Ecosystem Integrity — are focused on strong, measurable outcomes that ensure the continued protection of Gorongosa Park’s precious biodiversity. Our core programmes include:
- Law enforcement — a 300-strong team of male and female wildlife rangers who serve across more than 12,000 km2 of the Greater Gorongosa.
- Wildlife management – this team is responsible for protected species monitoring and overseeing reintroductions of painted wolves, pangolins, leopards and other species.
- Training wildlife veterinarians, wildlife rangers, and engaging in conservation law training partnerships with attorneys, prosecutors and members of the judiciary.
- Ecosystem Integrity and Human-Wildlife Coexistence teams oversee community partnerships and projects that use strategies such as beehive fences, elephant-proof silos and predator-proof bomas to contribute to a healthy coexistence between humans and wildlife.
- Conservation technology includes field-testing cutting-edge tools, and integrating multiple datasets across all our programmes for real-time Park management.
Wildlife population growth
Our most recent aerial wildlife count in 2020 confirmed a spectacular rise in large mammal populations with more than 100,000 animals counted — including 1,200 buffalo, nearly 1,000 elephants, and a large number of other mammals. In the waterways and wetlands, we counted 750 hippos and 2,700 crocodiles.
Protection and rehabilitation of pangolins
We continue to rehabilitate pangolins trafficked and voluntarily delivered to the Park by communities and individuals before releasing them back into the wild. Pangolins are the most trafficked animals in the world, mostly destined for Asian markets. In 2021, a total of 13 pangolins were recovered from illegal trafficking and two were handed over voluntarily by local communities.
Painted wolves (African Wild Dogs)
Critically endangered, these carnivores are believed to number no more than 7,000 in the whole of Africa. The first reintroductions to Gorongosa were in 2018 and 2019, with nine more in 2021. All were flown in from South Africa, thanks to the support of Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). The Park shared three young males with neighbouring Malawi, specifically for the Majete Reserve, where wild dogs had been absent for three decades. Fifty-three pups were born in the Park this year bringing our total population to 123.
Much of the conservation work in Gorongosa National Park depends on Law Enforcement. Led by Mozambicans Tsuere Buramo (Head of Law Enforcement) and pilot Alfredo Matevele (Deputy Head of Law Enforcement), the Gorongosa Rangers are a 300-strong team of women and men, trained in conservation and human rights law as law-enforcement officers. A number of our top rangers have participated in advanced training abroad. Several have been awarded local and national awards for their outstanding service.
Gorongosa rangers patrol over 11,900 square km of habitat spanning the Park, including an additional area adjacent to the Zambezi River north of the Park (since 2018), and the surrounding Sustainable Development Zone. Our efforts continue to expand to include several areas adjacent to the Park as part of a long-term vision to extend wildlife corridors from ‘Montane to Mangrove’ with a mosaic of Park, community conservancies, and sustainable forestry. Many Gorongosa rangers are from the communities that they serve and help establish long-term trust by mobilizing local leaders and educating local communities. In March of 2019, the Gorongosa rangers were among the first reaching flooded communities to provide food and medical support to families affected by Cyclone Idai.
Reintroduction of leopards
Elusive and shy, agile, mobile and very powerful, leopards have the widest habitat tolerance of any species in the cat family. Leopards are apex predators and a vital component of the ecosystem. We have reintroduced five leopards so far, four females and one male, thanks to a great collaboration between the Gorongosa Project, Wildlife Vets-SA and Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency.
- Selection and training of over 31 new rangers (three women), six refresher courses, a patrol leader’s course and two courses on the behaviour of dangerous animals; and
- Two training courses on handling of environmental crime scenes. Participants included judicial magistrates, prosecutors, SERNIC (National Criminal Investigation Service) directors, PRM (Republic of Mozambique Police) commanders and Gorongosa rangers.
In the field
- 830 patrols, 203 arrests, and the confiscation of 12 firearms, 236 traps, 1,603 steel cables and one vehicle.
- 45 traffickers found in possession of live animals and products of protected species, were arrested in the provinces of Sofala, Manica and Tete.
- 24 traffickers of ivory tusks, 20 dealers in pangolins and one dealer selling a leopard skin were prosecuted.
Subsistence farmers can lose as much as a whole season’s crop to elephants. Beehive fences, have a 90% success in protecting both crops and elephants, and placing metal sheets at crossing points helps ensure a peaceful co-existence. Beehive fences have the added advantage of providing community revenue through honey collection. Some of our achievements to reduce human-wildlife conflict during 2021 include the construction of:
- 150 elephant-proof improved silos;
- 27 predator-proof improved bomas; and
- Improved beehive fences, using zinc-plated steel sheets, on elephant pathways.
These strategies are bringing positive results, with a significant reduction of elephant crossings into croplands.
While vultures play a critical role in ecosystems they are at risk outside of protected areas from poisoning and collection of vulture body parts for traditional medicine use. Our teams work with students from Boise University in the United States, who partner us in vulture research.
Prior to the commencement of the Project’s science activities in 2006, little was known about Gorongosa’s biodiversity with the exception of the larger charismatic wildlife and birds. What was known about its ecological functioning was based on Ken Tinley’s excellent landscape ecological study from the 1970s. Since then however, much has changed in this dynamic environment. Land-use changes in the Sustainable Development Zone are profound, and new scientific tools, techniques and theories are now available and accessible. The three main spheres of science activities in the Gorongosa Project are:
- Gathering knowledge
- Monitoring change
- Building Mozambican scientific capacity
These spheres are implemented through seven major, interlinked and mutually-supporting science programmes. Each programme is realized through our own staff in partnership with a wide range of external researchers and institutions.
The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory
The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory in Chitengo is the physical facility and central hub through which many different science programmes are delivered. Considering the expanding activities of the Gorongosa Project across the broader landscape from Mount Gorongosa to the sand forests of Coutada 12, it will be important to establish additional satellite science facilities.
Bird count on Lake Urema
A third monitoring survey of the large water bird colony on Lake Urema was undertaken by our Scientific Services and Tourism teams during the month of March. This field team counted a total of 4,382 nests belonging to nine species. Openbill Stork nests increased by 45% from the April 2019 count and represented the species with the highest number. Yellow-billed Stork nests increased to 1,281 (equating to 2,562 birds – far exceeding the 1% RAMSAR threshold for wetlands of international significance in sub-Saharan Africa.
There is much, more of interest in this Annual Report, which covers a lot more than the conservation of biodiversity. Those running the Gorongosa Project are very aware that the future of the Park depends on good relationships with its neighbours, so a massive effort is being made to develop and uplift the surrounding communities. Here is a sample of some amazing sustainable development initiatives:
The Gorongosa Project is committed to the kind of sustainable development that ensures long-term survival of both human society and natural resources by making sure livelihoods are improved without depleting natural resources.
The coffee project on Mount Gorongosa, integrated with our rainforest restoration programmes, has gone from strength to strength. Our signature single-origin Arabica coffee blends: Girls Run the World, Speak for the Trees, Lion’s Blend and Elephants Never Forget, are now available in more than 50 countries with the USA and UK as major distributors. The coffee project has created 400 additional jobs. Local coffee farmers planted over 600,000 trees in 2021 – a tenfold increase over previous years – and harvested 105,210kgs of green coffee beans in 2021. More than 800 local families are now growing coffee.
The Gorongosa cashew programme built three more nurseries to minimize damage and dehydration during seedling transportation to farms. These are located in the strategic locations of Mazamba in Cheringoma, Bebedo in Nhamatanda and in Dondo.
- Each nursery has the capacity to hold 7,000 seedlings.
- Five hundred hectares were secured as demonstration fields for local farmers in Dondo.
- The cashew sector team conducted 22 training sessions in mulching, ten sessions in intercropping, and five sessions in cashew quality picking as a way of ensuring cashew productivity and quality.
- A total of 3,803 (920 females) smallholder farmers have been reached with the district-wide sessions.
- This year the Park worked with 7,000 families in the Sustainable Development Zone, in which these farmers earned a total of MZM 1,800,000.00 (US$ 28,125) from the sale of raw cashew nuts.
Two model ponds and 17 aspiring fish farmers were at the heart of the fish farming project in 2021, followed by construction of a third pond. Fish project managers anticipate two tons of fish will be harvested from the ponds. The process began in cooperation with the government Economic Activities Services in the Gorongosa District Sustainable Development Zone. Meetings were held at the administrative post, bringing on board local leaders, to select the first 17 beneficiaries (9 men and 8 women). This enabled formation of the fisheries participant group and construction of three model ponds at the Vunduzi administrative post. To ensure sustainability, the project is training community members in feed production using local resources. This valuable protein will enhance local nutrition, as well as create an income stream for participating fish farmers. The production cycle lasts six months from maturation to the start of the first sales to outlets in fish markets in the nearest cities and towns.
Honey and certifications
The Gorongosa honey project currently supports more than 400 beekeepers in the Sustainable Development Zone, making sustainable honey production and income generation possible through direct support of improved hives, technical assistance
and market assurance products. In 2021 more than 900 new hives were distributed and installed in the Sustainable Development Zone. Today, the honey project is in the process of organic certification, that guarantees the commercialization of our honey in Europe and America, adding value and improving livelihoods.
Dr John Ledger is a past Director of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, now a consultant, writer and teacher on the environment, energy and wildlife; he is a columnist for the African Hunting Gazette. He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. John.Ledger@wol.co.za