Meet the Animals of Gorongosa Park


Gorongosa National Park, a 1500-square mile expanse of wilderness in Southern African country Mozambique, hasn’t always been an idyllic home for wildlife. In 1977, Mozambique erupted into a prolonged civil war between the country’s ruling party and a resistance movement funded by the white-only governments of Rhodesia and South Africa. The park became a battleground. Roving soldiers hungry for food, as well as for ivory they could trade for weapons, killed many of the large animals. With the country in disarray, commercial poachers killed an even larger number of animals, selling the meat at nearby markets. In the end, 90 percent of the big game species were gone or nearly gone. The upcoming PBS film “Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise” recounts the on-going effort to the restore the park’s wildlife to its original state. Here are some of the signature species that have been returned to the park with an accompanying clip from the long-running television series NATURE on PBS.

Lions (Panthera Leo)
The lions of Gorongosa Park suffered one of the biggest losses of any large mammal during Mozambique’s civil conflict, from over 200 in 1977 to single digits at the end of the fighting. Thanks to a restoration project the lions have begun a steady recovery and 65 lions have been documented in a survey that covered only 20 percent of the park. In this clip from “White Lions” a lioness from South Africa’s Kruger Park fends off a pack of hyenas.

Elephants (Elephantidae Loxodonta)

Many of the park’s adult elephants were orphaned during the war and a number of the older elephants exhibit aggression towards vehicles. While the coordinated defensive behavior exhibited by some of the Gorongosa females is normal anti-predator behavior, its direction toward people can be traced to the trauma they suffered during the 1980s and 90s. A study is underway to monitor the lingering effects of Mozambique’s civil conflict on the elephants – examining how it has impacted the population’s sex ratio, age structure and the degree of tusklessness. Watch the NATURE episode “Echo: An Elephant to Remember” about one of the Africa’s more famous elephants.

Crocodiles (Crocodilia)
Crocodiles are one of the few large species that were unscathed by the Mozambique’s civil conflict. Their ability to remain submerged and out of view probably contributed to their survival. No one really knows for sure how many crocs live in Gorongosa but locals guess it’s probably in the thousands. Lake Urema and its network of rivers and lagoons are home to Africa’s biggest, and most feared, predator – the Nile Crocodile. Watch the episode NATURE “Supersize Crocs” to see the Nile Crocodile in action.

African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)

Similar in appearance to the North American bald-headed eagle, this species is common near freshwater lakes, reservoirs and rivers in sub-Saharan Africa. When a potential meal is spotted, it will swoop down and snatch it from the water with its large clawed talons. The eagle is one of 398 bird species (of which about 250 are residents) in the Gorongosa. Watch a clip of two Fish Eagles fighting over a meal from the NATURE episode “Kalahari”.

Don’t miss Gorongosa Park: Rebirth of Paradise, starting Tuesday, September 22 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.