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Restoring Gorongosa National Park after decades of war

Rehabilitating Gorongosa National Park
Rebuilding and repopulating Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park | 60 Minutes 13:16

Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park was the envy of Africa. Wildlife drew tourists from around the world. But, beginning in the 1960's, a manmade catastrophe slaughtered the animals until, it was said, there was nothing left but mosquitos and landmines. In 2008, we followed an American entrepreneur who dreamed of returning a wasteland to greatness. Now, 14 years later, Greg Carr has something to show the world. And we couldn't resist a return to Gorongosa when Carr sends invitations like this.  

Greg Carr: Just come and sit at a sunset by the lake, in the center of this national park, I mean, time stops. And you get a hundred colors of yellow, and a hundred colors of orange, and then the dusk sets in, and then a flock of birds go over the water. And there's a hippo over there, making a noise, and there's an impala over there. And you know? It's, like, "Well, I coulda been here a hundred thousand years ago and it might have been the same."

Greg Carr's wonder is almost like disbelief. A million acres of Africa, reborn.  

Greg Carr: When I first came here in 2004, I could drive around with my Mozambican friends all day long, and if we were lucky maybe we'd see one baboon, or one warthog or something. Now we drive around and it's an ocean of wildlife. Come around the corner, there's a herd of elephants, you know? Go the other direction, there's some lion cubs. Ten thousand waterbuck, and I say to myself, "You know what? Nature can rebound." 

  Gorongosa National Park

The rebound is in southeast Africa, near the center of Mozambique. Here, 28 years of war, from the '60's to the '90's, killed an estimated 1 million people and wiped-out 95% of the wildlife in Gorongosa for food and profit.

As the war raged in the 1980's, Greg Carr was a tech entrepreneur who'd made a fortune perfecting voicemail. He quit business to devote himself to human rights and in 2004, he met Mozambique's president, Joaquim Chissano, who made a wild pitch.

Greg Carr: And he said, look, please come to Mozambique and help us. We want to restore our national park. 

Greg Carr: When we flew over this, I said this is it.

When we met Carr in 2008, his nonprofit foundation had signed a 20-year contract with Mozambique. His plan was to import animals from all over Africa. 

Greg Carr: Well, step one, we had to remove 20,000 traps and wire snares that were left in this park, left over from the war. Get rid of all those. Because when I first came here, I mean, we think we had five or six lions, maybe.

Scott Pelley: In a million acres?

Greg Carr: In a million acres. and the lions that we did have, most of 'em had three legs because they had stepped in a trap or something and then second, some of the species were just gone completely, so we went on a process: First bring in the herbivores. So, we bring in 200 buffalo. We bring in 200 wildebeest. We bring in some Zebra. And then when you got enough herbivores, then you're gonna want the carnivores back. So, we reintroduced leopards. We reintroduced hyenas. The lions, all by themselves, their numbers just took off. So, from five or six lions when we started, we now have probably 200.

  Greg Carr

Gorongosa's lion conservation is urgent because, since 1950, Africa's lion population has fallen from half a million to 20,000 due to habitat loss and hunting. We saw how Gorongosa is protecting its lions on a mission with park veterinarian Antonio Paolo. 

Antonio Paolo: Okay. I will shoot now.  

Paolo fired a tranquilizer dart and a 300-pound lioness led us on a chase.

Scott Pelley: Right on target.

Antonio Paolo: Reverse. Give space-- turn around, turn around.

She left us behind, but she couldn't outrun the sedative.  

Scott Pelley: There she is.

Antonio Paolo: Yeah, she is there, sleeping. 

She'd be out about an hour as Dr. Paolo changed her failing GPS collar. The signal goes to headquarters where they track the prides and herds. A bit of ear was nicked for genetic tests. And then there was a surprise. 

Scott Pelley: You think she's pregnant?

Antonio Paolo: Yeah. She's look like pregnant.

Scott Pelley: And there is the future of the park.

Antonio Paolo: Yes, the future cubs of the park.

Later, she awoke and headed out—with her future cub.

  Gorongosa National Park

Greg Carr: I never imagined it would go so well or so fast. In 2018, we did an aerial survey, you know, so counting only the big animals we counted 100,000 large animals from the air. 

Thrilled as he is, it wasn't wildlife that drew this 63-year-old Idaho native to Africa. In 2008, he introduced us to the 200,000 people living around the park, survivors of the wars, living on a dollar a day. 

Greg Carr: People had nothing. I mean, they didn't have clothes. They were wearing rags, or they had made clothes out of tree bark. They were eating insects and trying to catch mice. And, you know, that's when it struck me, well this national park is going to have to help the people. 

Today, Gorongosa National Park employs 1,600 workers. Tourism brings in cash which goes to the people and to the park and Greg Carr has partnered with the government on health care and education. Carr is the biggest donor but U.S. foreign aid kicks in about $6 million a year. 

Greg Carr: We now work in 89 primary schools, which is every single school that surrounds this national park. We're training 600 schoolteachers right now. Now think about how difficult it is to create a school system when you don't have schoolteachers that know how to read and write because of generations of war. Now, something we really focused on, as step one, was really vulnerable girls. Now, a lotta times what happens in the poor families around here, a girl turns 13 or 14 and the family says, "Well, it's time for her to get married." Now, it may not be what they actually want, but they don't think there's another choice. And this is what happens and she marries a farmer and that's it. So we started something called the Girls Club. 

There are 3,000 girls in 92 after-school clubs. The program is led by Larissa Sousa.

Scott Pelley: Why is this the job of a conservation park?

Larissa Sousa: Why not? It should be the job for everyone, for everyone. Education is for everyone. 

The clubs provide the resources to get the girls into high school and it gives students an answer to our question which, five years ago, wouldn't have made sense. What do you want to be? 

Scott Pelley: We have a teacher, a nurse, a conservation park ranger, and another nurse.

Larissa Sousa: Another nurse, yes. 

Larissa Sousa: When we started the program, they didn't know that they had this choice. 

Scott Pelley: And now they do.

Larissa Sousa: Now they do.

  Larissa Sousa

Greg Carr: This land belongs to these people. They've been here forever. It's their animals, it's their land, it's their trees, it's their cultural and spiritual heritage, right? It's an idea that came from my hero, Nelson Mandela. And the idea was to create a human rights park, you know. What does that mean, right? A park that cares about the people, a park that belongs to the people. So instead of a park turning its back on the people, a park opening itself to the people and say, "This is your park. These are your animals. These are your opportunities."

We saw those opportunities on Mount Gorongosa, which was stripped of trees during the wars. Here, Carr's nonprofit foundation is giving away coffee trees. 868 family farmers, working for themselves, are earning far more than ever, so, they can't plant trees fast enough, which reforests the mountain. Carr's foundation buys the beans at above the market rate and built the farmers a roasting plant. There's no better example of Carr's model for lifting people and healing the wild. It's working, but the last 14 years haven't been sweet music alone.

Scott Pelley: Since we were here in 2008, there have been enormous roadblocks to this project. 

Greg Carr: That's right. If I had known then what was gonna come...

What came was another civil war, in 2013. And then, in 2019, a cyclone leveled 100,000 homes. 

In Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, not just the animals are thriving | 60 Minutes 06:14

Greg Carr: Okay, there was the six years of war and then the cyclone. When Cyclone Idai hit basically every one of our employees became a first responder. So, in other words-- oh, there's an elephant right there. 

Scott Pelley: Is there? Well, there certainly is!

Greg Carr: I just have to stop and say hello to the elephant.

Scott Pelley: We couldn't find the wildlife in 2008--

Greg Carr: And now, they're interrupting our interview.

Scott Pelley: And now, they're walking in on the interview. 

Scott Pelley: Was there ever a time that you thought to yourself, "I did my best, but this just isn't gonna be humanly possible"?

Greg Carr: Not for a second. Not for one second.

Scott Pelley: With the cyclones, with the return of the civil war...

Greg Carr: I just think every time something like that happens, it just makes you more determined, not less determined. And when you've got people suffering in a war that need help or people suffering in a cyclone, they need help, you know, you're more committed. You don't lose commitment at a time like that.

  Gorongosa National Park

We saw commitment in the rangers who protect the park.

For the flora and the fauna, they sing, we will die for our park. 

Part of what they protect are endangered species including this mammal with a bottomless taste for termites. Pangolins are hunted for their scales which are prized in folk medicine. Veterinarian Mercia Angela told us that pangolins ride on their mother's backs, but we found any back will do.

Scott Pelley: That's funny; he just naturally goes right up to the shoulder and hangs on your back.

Mercia Angela: Yeah... 

Scott Pelley: Powerful tail.

Mercia Angela: Tail, yeah, the tail is very powerful. They also use for protection--

Scott Pelley: Where are you going? I'm surprised they're so docile. I mean, this is a wild animal.

Mercia Angela: Yes, it's a wild animal.

But for us, the most interesting animal in the park is Greg Carr—an entrepreneur with the empathy to see, the humility to listen, and the optimism to act. His business model is creating a new ecosystem where animals that were hunted are suddenly worth much more alive. 

Scott Pelley: How much of your personal fortune have you put into this?

Greg Carr: Well-- well, I'd like to keep that a secret, but unfortunately, I think-- you know, you could probably do the math and figure it out, it's more than $100 million. My message to anybody with money is, I mean what are you gonna do, stick it all in your casket? I mean, why not enjoy the joy of philanthropy? I would say to the billionaire next door go out and enjoy spending your money to help some people.

Scott Pelley: Find your Gorongosa.

Greg Carr: Go find your Gorongosa. And it will bless you more than you can possibly ever bless it.

Produced by Henry Schuster and Sarah Turcotte. Broadcast associate, Michelle Karim. Edited by Warren Lustig.

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