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The Forgotten Park

s3500103-small.JPG  Kate Turkington visits THE FORGOTTEN PARK

It was once one of Africa’s crowning glories – a place where thousands of plains animals – sable, roan, oribi, waterbuck, impala, kudu - fed off some of the richest grazing grounds in Africa, followed by hundreds of predators – lion, leopard, hyena, cheetah, caracul, serval. dscn1350-small.JPGA 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, João Augusto Silva, an eminent Portuguese writer and researcher, wrote that, “situated 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€?

dscn1798-small.JPGBut 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 world’s best game-viewing regions, into the world’s biggest slaughterhouse. Three armies fed off the park – The Rhodesian Army, Renamo and Frelimo. And it’s 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.dscn1768-small.JPG

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 – 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 it’s these floodplain grasslands, marshes, vleis, rivers and lakes, that provide the feeding grounds which attracted such huge concentrations of wildlife before the wars.

dscn1284-small.JPG There were 4,000 elephant, 25,000 buffalo, over 500 lions – the biggest concentration of lions anywhere in Africa.

Let’s 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.dscn1819-small.JPG

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 – a truly memorable and inspiring one – 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.

dscn1293-small.JPGThe birds weren’t bad either – 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. Gorongosa’s future looks really bright.

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About

Kate Turkington is one of South Africa’s best-known broadcasters, travellers and travel writers.

Her weekly Sunday night three-hour live Talk Radio 702 / CapeTalk talkshow, Believe It Or Not, which came to an end in early 2013 was South Africa’s longest-running radio talkshow with the same host in the same time slot. She continues to broadcast as a regular guest on travel shows where she talks about the when, where, why, what and how of travel both locally and internationally from her vast personal experience. She also blogs for several travel websites.

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