From a Place of Danger to a Window on Eternity: Gorongosa National Park a Model for Repairing Degraded Wild Places

by Jun 3, 2014Habitat News

“Edward O. Wilson is one of the most celebrated scientists in the United States, a world-renowned biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner. In his new book, A Window on Eternity: A Biologist’s Walk through Gorongosa National Park, Wilson shows why biodiversity is vital to the future of the Earth and to our own species through the story of Gorongosa National Park, which is located in Mozambique and is among the most diverse places on earth.

Gorongosa in Mwani tongue means “place of danger.” And it has been just that. After Mozambique won its independence from Portugal in 1975, a civil war broke out and raged for sixteen years. Because the park was close to the headquarters of one of the opposing armies, it became a battleground. Its tourist facilities were destroyed, and soldiers, hungry for any food they could forage, killed many of the large animals that once teemed in the park.”

In a ‘Window on Eternity’ Wilson takes the reader on a biological, historical and anthropological whistle-stop safari of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, whetting the appetite for further exploration and discovery.  The eclectic biodiversity of the setting is aptly mirrored in the range of topics that the author enthusiastically hops between.  However, as much as this may appear to set out as a travel log, the miscellany of experiences and anecdotes is in fact laying the foundations for an impassioned call to make Gorongosa a model for repairing and conserving our degrading and fragmenting wild places. 

Some fifteen years ago, I drove a rusty Land Rover through the post-conflict park and was struck by the melancholic bareness.  Unless I searched attentively under rocks or bark nothing around me appeared to move; a static horizon is not what one expects on this continent.  

From that experience it seemed that there was no way back, that the park, stripped of the top layers of its food chains, was irrevocably defaced.  Yet, through the will of a dedicated few, the support of the necessary authorities and adequate financing, the park has seen a remarkable revival: the megafauna are returning home; the most indicative health gauge of any great swathe of nature.  So, perhaps the fatalism that has infused into common discourse about Africa’s biological wealth is not accurate.  

Perhaps the Gorongosa experience should give us inspiration that the conservationist’s efforts and visions are not purely aspirational, and that the path of progress is one worth fighting for.  Wilson’s plea to create networks of sanctuaries with a light and well-managed human touch must be heeded by all breeds of environmentalist.  The Gorongosa story provides a rare but real case study of hope for conservation in Africa.

By David Elliott, Trustee, The African Conservation Foundation.