How one of Africa’s great parks is rebounding from war

“You can just see nature breathing a sigh of relief.” In Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, wildlife’s future depends on humans’ livelihoods.

A male elephant grabs an evening snack in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park. Most of the park’s elephants were killed for their ivory, used to buy weapons during the nation’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1992. With poaching controlled, the population is recovering.

On a warm morning at the end of the dry season, early November, a red and black Bell Jet Ranger helicopter raced eastward above the palm savanna of Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park.

Mike Pingo, a veteran pilot originally from Zimbabwe, controlled the stick; Louis van Wyk, a wildlife-capture specialist from South Africa, dangled halfway out the right rear side holding a long-muzzle gun loaded with a drug-filled dart. Seated beside Pingo was Dominique Gonçalves, a young Mozambican ecologist who serves as elephant manager for the park.

More than 650 elephants now inhabit Gorongosa—a robust increase since the days of the country’s civil war (1977-1992), when most of the park’s elephants were butchered for ivory and meat to buy guns and ammunition. With the population rebounding, Gonçalves wanted a GPS collar on one mature female within each matriarchal group.

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