What we did not know at the time is that Zoo Boise is also partnering with Carr and his foundation to reintroduce elephants into the park that sits at the southern tip of the African Rift Valley.
Zoo Boise is raising 25 percent of the money to help repopulate the park with elephants from a South African herd, explained Zoo Director Steve Burns. Each year a percentage of zoo entrance fees go into a conservation fund. The zoo chooses five grant proposals and the public votes on which project it will fund. Gorongosa already received a $17,000 grant from Zoo Boise to help with the lion population in the park, Burns said.
A 30-year civil war ravaged Mozambique, sweeping through Gorongosa, turning the park into a battlefield. Gorongosa's Web site describes how soldiers slaughtered 95 percent of the wildlife within the park.
Although the big game animal populations of Gorongosa have been decimated, the landscape remains relatively intact. Gorongosa rests in the heart of Mozambique, not too far from the coast, so it receives abundant seasonal rains. Gorongosa's diverse soils and ecosystems provide strong habitat for a wide variety of species.
The high quality habitat was crucial in the zoo's decision to join the effort to reintroduce elephant herds to Gorongosa, Burns said. He described how he met Carr three years ago and became certain this was an opportunity for Zoo Boise to take direct conservation action.
Elephants are a centerpiece of their ecosystem. Like natural bulldozers, they push over trees creating clearings where grass may grow plentifully and aiding other animals on the savannah. The Carr Foundation and Zoo Boise are hoping to draw visitors to the park and channel tourism profits back into the reintroduction of other species. Elephants tend to be a popular draw among the eco-tourism crowds.
Zoo Boise is selling stuffed elephants and the proceeds will help transfer a herd from Kruger National Park in South Africa. A herd of 10 to 12 elephants will be crated and transported on a flatbed truck 800 miles north to Gorongosa. But it must be timed right. Elephants are not easy to capture, and they want to give the elephants time to acclimate to their new landscape before the rainy season hits. Burns says Zoo Boise is providing $10,000, but it will cost more than $40,000 to make the move.
Zoo Boise has sold 800 stuffed elephants and 200 more need to be sold. They cost $10 apiece and buyers will get a newsletter to keep them updated on the move and how the herd fares. They can be purchased at zooboise.org.
Despite the complicated operation and the large price tag, Burns is optimistic the project will be a success. He says Gorongosa is unlike other places destroyed by war or environmental catastrophes in that the park is still ecologically intact. Burns hopes that after the completion of the elephant reintroduction, the Carr Foundation and Zoo Boise can continue to reintroduce lions, hyenas and rhinos.
When the elephant herds once again roam the Mozambican savannah, their presence, rather than the value of their sawed off tusks, will help sustain the local economy.*The original version of this story misstated Greg Carr's first name.