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Catapulter in Chief, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Updated: Dec 28, 2022


Lion in the afternoon heat in Gorongosa National Park
Lion lounging in the afternoon heat in Gorongosa National Park

The Catapulter-in-Chief job is that of Jorge (and other colleagues on his days off). He wakes up at 4:30 am and starts his vigil at 5 am, catapult in hand, to shoo off vervet monkeys and baboons from stealing campers’ and staff members' belongings, especially food. As we found out the hard way in Mana Pools, the monkeys are incredibly fast and determined! They are out as soon as the sun rises, and nothing holds them back; I saw them trying to open the lid of the metal garbage can. Gorongosa National Park has been through many phases since its start as a Preserve in 1920. During the Mozambique civil war, local people went hungry, and one of their food sources was the park: all the animals were hunted for meat, not just the antílopes, but also zebras, elephants, and more. Of course elephants were also killed for their tusks, which were sold. By the time the war concluded - Peace Day is October 4th - about 95% of the large animals had been killed.

In the 1970s, a South African PhD student, now Dr. Ken Tinley, lived in Gorongosa for 5 years with the goal of compiling extensive data about the park. In 2008, the Park signed an agreement with an American academic, Greg Carr, to revive the park. He had been able to get back in touch with Ken and his spouse, Lynne Tinley, having read the extremely detailed thesis, which turned out to be an invaluable asset. Nowadays, there is a large coffee table-style book about it in the Safari Office sitting area (air-conditioned, by the way), and the book is also for purchase in the gift shop.

The Park is currently thriving, despite cyclone Idai which blew through the region in 2019. Most of its income comes from donations and foundational gifts, but there are other sources of revenue, too.

There is the usual conservation work, but also projects to involve surrounding villages: training locals as guides, but also creating income-producing crops (coffee in the nearby hills) to encourage farmers to preserve the rainforest trees rather than cut them down for wood. Another source of income is honey from local hives.

Beehives are also set up around farms to discourage elephants from destroying crops, which in turn keeps the villagers from shooting said elephants.

Visitors either stay at the luxury hotel, or rent tents, or camp in their own vehicles/tents in the campsite, which includes an ablutions block, with small private shower rooms (including toilet and sink) in female and male blocks. There is also an outdoor kitchen sink area.

Unlike in Mana Pools, visitors are not allowed to enter the wild area by themselves. Either you go on a walking tour, or on a guided drive, both of which you book in advance at the reception area. We went on a few tours, and saw many antelopes, warthogs, and the famous wild dogs (that we didn't glimpse at Mana Pools), a couple of lions, and no elephants, whose population is still relatively sparse (we encountered none, whereas in Mana Pools we saw them all day long). The vegetation was also different from Zimbabwe: many palm trees, and fever trees (that I had heard of but never seen).

Some wildlife will come to the camp and hotel area! Not only are there monkeys (baboons and vervet monkeys galore), but warthogs come and lounge about near the restaurant area, and probably spend the night. I observed a tree frog climbing up a tree, to my great amazement; I had never encountered one before.

Think again if you think the pool is only for humans! Monkeys lounging.
Think again if you think the pool is only for humans!

The hotel has a swimming pool that we campers were allowed to use, and it was a true relief, as it was extremely hot when we were at the park, in October 2022. SOmetimes we had to share the pool area with baboons. I even had a stare-down with one of them, who then promptly absconded with a hotel towel!

Gorongosa Park has a gift shop. For the moment most of the merchandise was manufactured elsewhere (as in South Africa). I was able to purchase two hand-carved, possibly ebony, letter openers, made locally.

Guides are either from Zimbabwe, or from the surrounding area. More and more young people are being trained to work in conservation. One of our guides grew up during war time, and provided us with his personal experience about that difficult period in Mozambique.


Sunset in Gorongosa Park, Mozambique
Sunset in Gorongosa Park

For more about the story of the park's revival: https://africageographic.com/stories/the-restoration-of-gorongosa-national-park/

For beautiful photos:

https://africageographic.com/stories/gorongosa-in-images/

USAID:

https://www.usaid.gov/mozambique/fact-sheets/gorongosa-project

More about Mana Pools: https://www.the-write-strategy.com/post/mana-pools-in-zimbabwe-where-elephants-roam-into-your-campsite

#travel #africa #mozambique

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