WATCH: Conservation guru shares an African success story
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Durban - A game park in Mozambique which conservation legend Paul Dutton saw in the depths of despair during that country’s war years now gives him hope, as he watches conservation sink into trouble in KwaZulu-Natal.
“In order to be more positive about conservation and also to feed my own soul, Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique offers a glimmer of hope,” he said at his Salt Rock home, ahead of one of his frequent visits to the park, inland of Beira.
He saw the park reduced to total devastation after wildlife became the protein source during Mozambique’s civil war. Now it’s an island of hope as elephant, hippo, lion, sable antelope and other species’ numbers have recovered. Locals run the park and tourists are pouring in.
Dutton puts the revival of Gorongosa down to American investor Greg Carr, who is both a human rights activist and a conservationist with a long-term vision of “bringing wildernesses and wildlife back into our system”.
“Most importantly, he has made friends with the neighbours, the communities (around the park) who have now been brought into Gorongosa as shareholders. Also helping the situation is Mozambique’s government not being too overpowering”, he added.
“Every time I go back I see Mozambicans are filling most of the posts in Gorongosa. I see all the game coming back. So it’s very good for enriching my own soul in terms of what’s going on in our own country.”
Dutton, who is in his eighties, first became familiar with Gorongosa back in 1968 when he and fellow conservationist Ken Tinley conducted aerial surveys in Dutton’s legendary aircraft Spirit of the Wilderness.
He later worked in conservation under both the Portuguese colonial and Frelimo administrations, training former combatants in conservation at Gorongosa under the latter until Renamo rebels attacked them.
The ensuing civil war laid waste to the country’s wildlife and by 2004 all that remained of herds of hippo was their bones, scattered across the plains that mark the southern tip of the Great African Rift Valley.
“There were more landmines there than animals,” Dutton recalled.
“When the peace accords were signed in 1994 it was because there had been a total devastation of the wildlife, which was the source of protein.”
Dutton again went there to try to keep Gorongosa going, but his efforts were stalled by a lack of funding. Then Carr, who had made his millions in computers, arrived.
Central Mozambique’s surviving wildlife drifted back to Gorongosa and multiplied. Some species were reintroduced from South Africa.
“There is now a surplus of waterbuck and Gorongosa now supplies other reserves in Mozambique,” said Dutton. Other parts of Mozambique were not doing as well on the conservation front, but Gorongosa has set a precedent for the country as well as the continent, including South Africa and KwaZulu-Natal.
Dutton fears that Ezemvelo reserves could be depleted of rhino within 10 years, which would affect the country’s potential to earn money from tourism. “They are losing rhino at a rate of three every two days,” said Dutton. It was important for tourism in different areas to have their respective flagship species.
Recently, Dutton produced a book about his life, titled Spirit of the Wilderness, named after his aircraft in which he survived crash landings.
His conservation focus has also been on coastal eco-systems, both in Mozambique and South Africa, where he set up trails on the Transkei Wild Coast.
This month the South African Association for Marine Biological Research named him the first of its six living legends for this year.
Spirit of the Wilderness retails for R295 at Bargain Books and R306 at Exclusive Books.