Every year, the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. recognizes and honors a new group of gifted and inspiring conservationists and scientists who are changing the world, known as “Emerging Explorers”.
Mateus Mutemba, honoured by National Geographic
Mateus Mutemba, the Warden of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique received news that he has been selected as one of National Geographic’s “Class of 2017” Emerging Explorers. As Warden of Gorongosa, Mateus leads the Public - Private partnership between the Government of Mozambique, the Greg Carr Foundation, and the people living in the ‘Human Development Zone’ around Gorongosa Park.
Gorongosa is a spectacular 4,000-square-kilometer national park located in central Mozambique’s Sofala Province. Historically, its unique bio-geographical features supported some of the densest wildlife populations in Africa. World-renowned scientists - such as Harvard Professor E.O. Wilson - consider Gorongosa to be one of the most biodiversity-rich Protected Areas in the world.
Mateus and his team have received global attention and praise for their successful restoration of Gorongosa Park. Under his leadership, park infrastructure has been rebuilt. Tourism was re-opened and scientific facilities were built. An ambitious research and science education program was also launched. The wildlife recovery has been particularly impressive. In 2004, scientists counted less than 10,000 large animals during an aerial survey over the Park. But, in 2016, they counted almost 80,000 animals. In the last decade, Gorongosa has become one of the largest employers in Sofala Province, (employing around 500 people), an economic engine improving the lives of tens of thousands of people in the surrounding communities.
With a background in community development, Mateus has also steered Gorongosa away from the traditional definition of a national park as a “conservation fortress” towards a more innovative, inclusive approach. Gorongosa spends about two-thirds of its budget outside the park - on human development programs - and the rest inside the Park on more conventional activities - such as law enforcement, science research and wildlife conservation.
The Park and its funding partners use Gorongosa as a human development hub to deliver long-term, large-scale health, education, and sustainable agriculture programs to the surrounding communities. In turn, local people are more likely to see the Park as an asset and an ally, avoiding activities that might threaten the park’s future such as illegal hunting and deforestation. In a mutually supportive feedback loop, Mateus and his team use Gorongosa to catalyze human development and protect wildlife and biodiversity at the same time.
Mateus has a deep understanding of the local communities: he joined the Gorongosa Project in January 2008 as the Director of Community Relations and served in that role until he was appointed Park Warden in 2011. (He is also on the Board of the Gorongosa Project.) Since 2011, (re-elected in 2016) he has served as Vice President of the General Assembly of the Foundation for Biodiversity Conservation in Mozambique (Biofundo), representing the Gorongosa Project.
In response to receiving the news, Mateus commented:
"It is a great honor to be named as one of 14 recipients of National Geographic Society Emerging Explorers Award 2017. This is a tremendous opportunity and I am beyond grateful to receive this recognition along with such talented fellows from all over the world. It has been an invaluable, very challenging, and yet rewarding experience to work within this Public and Private Partnership to manage Gorongosa National Park. I thank the Government of Mozambique, my family, my tireless colleagues, local communities and all of Gorongosa National Park local and international public and private partner organizations for their commitment to our mission and for allowing me to grow and achieve this through the work we do together to protect this treasure of Mozambique and put it at service of the surrounding communities.
"On this occasion I raise this visionary and yet inspiring statement by then President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela at the opening of the 5th World Congress of National Parks in 2003:
"A sustainable future for humankind depends on a caring partnership with nature as much as anything else."
Mateus joins the thirteen other members of the prestigious Emerging Explorers group, along with other members hailing from Borneo, Italy, Angola, the United States, and more. Not only are these Explorers geographically diverse, but they also represent a variety of fields: from photography, glaciology, conservation, geography, engineering, education, and even dentistry. According to National Geographic,
“these fourteen bold people with transformative ideas are taking National Geographic’s mission further and improving the world as they go. They will explore new frontiers and find innovative ways to remedy some of the greatest challenges facing our planet.”
The 2017 Class of Emerging Explorers will be honored at the National Geographic Explorers Festival in Washington, D.C. in June.
This isn’t the first international honor for Mateus. In January 2017, he shared the stage with Greg Carr (President of the Carr Foundation) when each of them received the Good Steward Award from the International Conservation Caucus Foundation (ICCF) in Washington, D.C. in recognition of their conservation and human development leadership in Gorongosa. In 2013, Mateus was honored as “Conservation Hero of the Year” at the 36th "International Wildlife Film Festival" in the USA.
Again in 2013 Mateus also received a Merit Award from the World Organization for Families (WFO) in recognition of the work carried out with the communities of the buffer zone of the Gorongosa Park.
About Mateus Mutemba
Mateus was born in 1972 in Maputo and is married with two daughters. He graduated in 1997 from University Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo with a degree in History. His postgraduate studies were at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where he completed a Graduate Diploma in Development Administration in 2004. He received a Masters in Public Policy, specializing in Development Administration at the ANU in 2005. In addition, he studied Protected Area Management at the University of Montana, USA in 2009.
Since 1994, Mateus has worked in social development with both NGOs and private sector companies, including Helvetas, Educo Australia, Austral Consultoria Mozambique and the Food and Agriculture Agency of the United Nations (FAO) in Mozambique.
From 1994 to 1997, Mateus tutored courses in "Cultural Anthropology" and "Political Anthropology" at the University Eduardo Mondlane. During that time he also worked as assistant field researcher for several projects, including "Women and Law in Southern Africa” (WLSA) and the first survey on "Perceptions of Poverty" in Mozambique implemented by the Center for Population Studies as part of global research on Poverty led by the World Bank. Prior to that, he served as inquirer in VoxPopuli, a Brazilian company that specialized in surveying political opinions in 1993-4 as part of the first multiparty general elections in Mozambique.
Between 1994 and early 1998, Mateus was a radio presenter at the National Channel of Radio Mozambique. Between 2006-2008, he taught "Project Cycle Management", at the Institute of Science and Technology of Mozambique (ISCTEM). Since the late 90s, he has traveled extensively throughout Southern Africa training and learning about the community management of natural resources, with an emphasis on tourism.
About Gorongosa National Park and the Gorongosa Project
Gorongosa National Park is Mozambique’s premier wildlife national park located at the southern end of the Great East African Rift Valley. It is home to some of the biologically richest and most geologically diverse ecosystems on the African continent. Its border encompasses caves and deep gorges of the Cheringoma Plateau, vast savannahs of the Valley floor, and the precious rainforest of Mt. Gorongosa.
The Gorongosa Project integrates conservation and human development with the understanding that a healthy ecosystem will benefit human beings, who in turn will be motivated to support Gorongosa Park objectives.
Gorongosa has received the following team recognition:
2015: Decoration by the President of Portugal, as “Member of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Portugal”;
2015: “Recognition for the contributing to an inclusive and sustainable growth in Mozambique”, Mozambique Social and Economic Forum, MOZEFO Awards.