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Reviving Mozambique's crown jewel

Boston philanthropist Greg Carr spurs the redevelopment of fabled Gorongosa National Park.

Sunset over Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park. (Jeffrey Barbee/GlobalPost)

Gorongosa National Park was once the crown jewel of Mozambique’s national parks and one of the most fabled in Africa. But after 28 years of war, the park is now almost empty.

The massive numbers of elephants and lions that once brought Greta Garbo and John Wayne to the park can no longer be found. Even after Mozambique’s civil war ended in 1993, the park lay dormant, ignored by a government dealing with pressing humanitarian and development issues. But many people in Mozambique and the rest of southern Africa remember this almost mythical place that had a unique concentration of Africa’s wildlife.

Greg Carr, a Boston-based philanthropist who made his fortune in voice messaging, was looking for a chance to put his money to work for a higher purpose. Carr already had projects in Afghanistan, but he had been bitten by the Africa bug. When visiting Mozambique, he heard of this neglected former jewel, and after eight years his dream of rebuilding Gorongosa National Park is becoming a reality. He has pledged up to $40 million over 30 years for the restoration efforts.

The statistics are sobering. Before the war, the park had 14,000 buffalo, 2,000 elephants and 5,500 wildebeest, all sharing a park smaller than Yellowstone National Park. But in the aftermath of the conflict only a few dozen buffalo remained. The elephants had been cut down to one or two hundred and those that survived were very shy. Just a smattering of wildebeest still roamed the verdant plains.

In the face of such losses, other parks in the region stepped in. With the Carr Foundation in partnership with the Mozambican government, Kruger National Park in South Africa helped with restocking and the park saw a resurgence in game. Animal numbers are up across the board, and not only the restocked ones — other animal populations are booming because this unique ecosystem has something special about it.