Conservationist and noted Idaho philanthropist Greg Carr has spent more than 15 years organizing efforts to restore ecological biodiversity to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. His efforts and successes are being featured in a landmark PBS documentary series, “The Age of Nature,” premiering Wednesday.
“When humans stop messing things up, nature will rebound,” Carr said in “Awakening,” the first episode of the three-part series, which focuses on actions people are taking around the world to save species and combat climate change, including projects in China, Norway, Africa and the American Northwest.
Carr took on the restoration of the 1,500-square-mile Gorongosa National Park in 2004 after a series of military conflicts decimated large animal populations there through poaching and hunting for food. Missing from the landscape was the usual herd of 14,000 cape buffalo and other large grazers, leaving very tall grasses and an ecosystem out of balance, he said.
“Without large animals to spread dung there won’t be insects, and without insects there won’t be as many birds,” Carr said in an interview. “In ecological systems everything is connected.”
The initial restoration efforts at Gorongosa included the importation of 200 cape buffalo and 180 wildebeest, followed by zebra, elephants and hippos.
The park has rebounded significantly and become a source of economic development. These days, the park employs 600 people, including 260 park rangers. It offers programs in forestry, tourism, coffee growing and scientific research.
“The last time we did a survey we found there were more than 100,000 large animals in the park,” Carr said.
Two years ago, Mozambique was struck by a major cyclone, displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Gorongosa, a major economic engine in the region, played a vital role in responding to the crisis.
Nearly 5,000 internationals and Mozambiquans visited Gorongosa in 2018, but in the wake of COVID-19, all tourism has ended in the park. Carr said that despite this impact, the programs integral to environmental restoration and conservation are up and running, including education and forestry programs and the sale of locally grown coffee and cashews.
“We have an amazing team over there and about 95 percent of what is being done there is not tourism related,” Carr said. “National Parks are biodiversity reservoirs and we have a 30-year vision for Gorongosa that includes maintaining all the forest, growing some more, and protecting the biodiversity there.”
Carr said there is a direct correlation between biodiversity and combatting climate change.
“What many people don’t know is that 40 percent of rainfall comes from evapotranspiration from trees,” he said. “You must keep the forest intact to keep the rain falling. When an ecosystem is most biodiverse, that is when it is most resilient and able to bounce back.”
“The Age of Nature” explores how an increased awareness of the natural world is leading to a “new chapter in the story of both humanity and the planet,” states a press release. “With the current pandemic exposing the fragility and vulnerability of humankind, the balance of nature and our relationship with it is more important than ever.”
Narrated by Uma Thurman, the series will air Wednesdays, Oct. 14-28, at 8 p.m. MST (check local listings) on PBS, pbs.org and the PBS Video App.