A wildlife park in Mozambique and Zoo Boise have teamed up to preserve some of the most pristine land and wildlife in Africa.
Gorongosa National Park, in southeast Africa, is home to diverse landscape and wildlife. “It’s a natural jewel of my country when it comes to natural parks and tourism attractions,” says Mateus Mutemba, the park administrator.
Located in central Mozambique, the park has a wide variety of animals. “Mammals, insects, amphibians, birds, we have just in birds about 400 species, and reptiles and so forth.”
The park was created in 1960. It thrived until the 1980's when civil war broke out in Mozambique. “So we went through these dark days in our history whereby most of the animals were depleted in the park.”
In the 1970’s there were 14,000 buffalo in the park. By 2000, there were less than 100. In 2004, restoration began. Now there are 400 buffalo in Gorongosa. But Mutemba says bringing wildlife back is only half of the restoration. The other half focuses on people. “Because of the levels of poverty and illiteracy, there is a very high reliance on extracting natural resources for people’s living.”
More than 200,000 people live around the park. Part of Mutemba’s job is to reach out to villagers to show them the benefits of Gorongosa. The park provides close to 500 jobs. It also offers agriculture programs to help farmers increase their yields and slow encroachment on park lands.
And Gorongosa has a health program. Nurses from Gorongosa travel into the villages in mobile clinics and offer health care to communities surrounding the park.
Mutemba says the programs are important because he wants those living around Gorongosa to help protect it. “They have a stake in protecting the park. The park does not exist without them.”
Idaho also has had a stake in park restoration. Idaho philanthropist Greg Carr has devoted much of his time and money to the project.
Zoo Boise has given conservation grants to Gorongosa, totaling $115,000. In the next few years, it will create a tiny replica of Gorongosa National Park on land at the zoo.
Director Steve Burns says there will be lions, baboons, and crocodiles. “But we want this exhibit to also talk about the people who live around the park and the fact that they need to go to school and have health clinics and we want to be able to tell the whole story, not just the animal story.”
Over the next ten years, the zoo wants to raise $2 million for Gorongosa. “It’s a way to involve people in Idaho directly in the conservation of a place in Africa and this is one of the bright spots, this is a good story coming from Africa.”
Gorongosa Administrator Mateus Mutemba says money from Idaho is a vital part of the 30-year restoration plan for the park. He says it’s going well. “You sleep well, because you feel you are making a difference with your daily work and interactions you have with people. You are affecting their lives on a daily basis and that’s tangible.”
Mutemba says the Idaho-Africa connection will teach zoo goers about his park and may encourage them to come visit Africa.
Zoo Boise hopes to open its version of Gorongosa by 2017.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio