Sometimes I find it terribly painful to hear the news or surf the net for the latest on environment, earth lover that I am. It’s gotten so bad that I even toss a lot of my mail from cherished environmental organizations, unopened, to ward off grief. Still, I can’t live in a bubble. It changes nothing.
Last night, the sobering Guardian report on climate change with its catastrophic scenario of a 7.2 F/4C temperature rise by century end, rendering life in the tropics virtually impossible. Then the just released Intergovernmental Panel Report on Climate Change, indicating human activity as “the likely cause” for global warming, or 95% certain. Hey, is anybody out there listening? Meanwhile, business as usual: Boeing announces its plan to double its new North Charleston, SC, facility, which includes filling in 400 acres of wetlands.
ThIs explains my elation on discovering the story of efforts to restore Mozambique’s once iconic Gorongosa National Park, since such good news is a rarity these days, or akin to say a medical breakthrough in remedying a chronic disease.
Gorongosa Park, founded by the Portuguese in 1960, used to be famous for its teeming wild life that even included nearly 2000 elephants. But then came the long struggle for Mozambique’s independence in which armies sometimes ravaged the Park for food and ivory. Like today’s Mali, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, independence (1975) then gave way to protracted civil war, lasting 17 years. By then, poachers and subsistence farmers had settled in, decimating virtually all wildlife, apart from the Park’s crocodiles. As one example, only 50 buffalos remained of an original herd of 14,000.
The new government (1992), finding itself cash-strapped, was looking for new resources, among them eco-tourism through restoration of Gorongosa National Park, but it lacked investment capital. That’s when American businessman Greg Carr, who had made his fortune offering Internet services, stepped in, setting up a foundation and pledging $40 million over the next 30 years to finance the project.
Thanks to his herculean efforts, the Park has been steadily regaining its pristine splendor with herds of elephants, African buffalo, hippopotamus, warthogs and antelopes now grazing its savannas in growing abundance. Further good news: in 2010, the government enlarged the Park to include Mount Gorongosa, so essential to the year round flow of the Park’s rivers and preservation of its unique megafauna. Were the rain forest gone, there would no longer exist the capacity of the mountain to release monsoon rains gradually and long term, sustaining life in the dry season. As is, subsistence farmers have reduced the rain forest at its summit by a third over the last decade.
Like all such noble schemes to preserve environment, hard choices often pit habitat vs jobs. You can’t simply ask these settlers to leave. Poverty is just so immense, with the per capita annual wage $310, according to World Bank, and a life expectancy of only 40 years. The trick is to create new industries for them.
Again, Carr has proven to be visionary in providing economic incentives, creating rain forest seed nurseries, schools and medical clinics below the rain forest line, hiring guards, and expanding tourist facilities offering comfortable amenities that are increasingly attracting European and North American visitors, initiatives now employing more than a thousand workers.
While things are off to a good start, the Park’s ongoing fate depends on two key factors: a stable democratic government and tourist dollars. With regard to the latter, once again, good news, with visitor tallies rising from an initial 1000 to over a current 10,000. Eco-tourism is obviously essential to making Carr’s bet pay off.
If Carr’s project works in Mozambique, it can work elsewhere in Africa as seems the case in Botswana, providing ecological preservation linked with economic well-being.
This is, indeed, good news!