National Parks serve as engines of human development, promoting national and international investment and creating jobs in operations, science and tourism. Development is critical to the success of biodiversity conservation, as impoverished communities rely heavily on natural resources to the detriment of protected areas. At Gorongosa National Park, we recognise these synergies between development and conservation, but first and foremost we acknowledge human development as a critical and urgent mission in its own right.
The year 2017 has been dominated by winds of change and expectation. After more than two years, military and political tension in parts of Gorongosa District on our beautiful Mount Gorongosa, came to an end. I am delighted to report that during this year, in line with our Park Management Plan 2016–20, we were able to upscale all our operations and have been able to resume much of our work, even in the most seriously affected places in the Buffer Zone of the Park.
The Government of Mozambique is delivering on its goal to find dedicated co-management partners for its National Parks, as set forth in the Strategic Plan for the National Administration of Conservation Areas 2015–24. Here in Gorongosa, we are particularly grateful for a unique partnership with Greg Carr, who has dedicated himself and his Foundation to making Gorongosa great once again as a development engine for Sofala Province. Greg is working with the entire Gorongosa team and a myriad of public and private stakeholders to create the Greater Gorongosa vision. While the Park forms the developmental hub of the region, the people living in the Park’s Buffer Zone remain at the heart of the vision.
With the assistance of our valuable partners, we have been able to expand both infrastructure and our work with 16 communities in six districts throughout the 5,333 km2 Buffer Zone, which includes some 177,000 people. Despite challenges such as pests, small-holder farmers have benefited from improved production and market access, and coffee production on Mount Gorongosa has been re-established.
Our educational inputs from primary school to university level have increased substantially and included the official launch of the ‘Girls Clubs’ initiative aimed at retaining girls in school and reducing child pregnancy. The event was led by the First Lady of Mozambique, Isaura Nyusi, who became patron of the programme.
In the field of conservation, our wildlife numbers are increasing substantially. Deployment of our rangers and equipment, paired with capacity building and financial incentives, greater awareness and collaboration with the judiciary system and the Republic Police, have resulted in an increase in arrests and criminal cases successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes.
Our staff complement is growing in number and quality. Currently we have 592 full-time and 210 part-time staff working for the Park – not including the 75 employed by the Montebelo Safari Lodge. I am particularly proud of the fact that, of the full-time staff, 98% are Mozambican, of which 88% are from neighbouring districts, and the entire part-time staff complement is also from the surrounding districts.
On the tourist front, we began construction of the first high-end tourist camp, Muzimu, under the Gorongosa Collection brand, which is due to start operating in the first semester of 2018.
The expanded EO Wilson Biodiversity Lab continued to increase its role in science education and we geared our efforts towards diversifying the scope of research and the involvement of national and international research institutions in the Park.
In the national and international arena, the Park received encouraging feedback in the form of international awards for both Greg Carr and me, as Park Warden, and a number of invitations to deliver presentations and share experiences in conferences and seminars.
In ending this year of challenges and many achievements, I want to express my gratitude to the entire staff of Gorongosa National Park for their hard work and unparalleled commitment to our mission. Similar gratitude is extended to all layers of Government (District, Provincial and Central) as well as local communities, whose support was instrumental in what we have achieved in 2017.
With so much going on in 2017, we can definitely look forward to even more activity in 2018. We thank you for your continued support – and look forward to joining brains and hands in the new year! Please join me in enjoying the good news from 2017 by reading our Gorongosa Highlights 2017 paper.