In bygone eras, Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique was host to jet-setting international guests, royalty, and celebrities. But then came the country’s civil war, which lasted 17 years, finally ending in 1992. During that time 95 percent of the mammal population disappeared. The guerrilla fighters of Renamo, funded by apartheid South Africa, used Gorongosa as a base of operations for most of the war. As a consequence of the fighting, many prominent species were eaten, poached for their ivory, or destroyed by gunfire and landmines.
In 2004 American Greg Carr visited Gorongosa for the first time and found the beloved old park in ruins. Carr was a millionaire, one of the founders of voicemail company Boston Technology, a past chairman of the Internet company Prodigy, and, most importantly, a philanthropist. He made a vow to give the park $40 million over the next 30 years. The Carr Foundation, a U.S. not-for-profit formed in 1999, teamed up with the Mozambican government to protect and restore the ecosystem of Gorongosa National Park and to develop a model of ecotourism that would benefit local communities while helping to support the careful ecological management of the park. The 4,000 sq. km. park, which once had one of the densest animal populations on the continent, is located at the southern end of the Great East African Rift Valley.
Carr himself spends a lot of time in the park and is directly involved in every detail. Now animals are coming back, mostly by way of successful reintroductions from Zimbabwe and South Africa.
There are many partners in the project to restore Gorongosa, including people in the travel industry, hotels in the capital Maputo and safari operators in Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Girassol Goongosa Lodge & Safari was awarded the concession in November 2011 and offers chalets and backpacking facilities (enough accommodations for 78 guests). The company offers the usual safari activities as well as walks on a vast network of trails, including areas in the park that have recently been expanded to include the peaks and rainforests of 1,862-meter Mount Gorongosa.
In addition Explore Gorongosa is a private ecotourism outfit that runs safaris out of their exclusive seasonal tented camp with a series of lightweight fly camps. These intimate, personal mobile safari experiences led by expert guides cater for a maximum of eight guests.
An interesting movie was shot in 1961, when Mozambique was still a Portuguese colony. It’s in Portuguese, but you can see how the park once teemed with animals.