Greg Carr is renowned for his magnificent regeneration of Gorongosa National Park, one of conservation’s greatest success stories.
Reviving the place scientist E.O. Wilson has described as “the most ecologically diverse park in the world” from the ashes after a 16-year civil war in Mozambique, Carr’s achievements in travel philanthropy are next to none.
His efforts gained momentum in 2008, when the Carr Foundation signed a deal with the Mozambican government to co-manage the park. After a decade of tireless restoration efforts, the park saw a 10-fold increase in larger animals; thriving sustainable industries such as honey, coffee and cashew farming; and health and education projects that provide vital foundations and a better quality of life for communities rebuilding their lives.
Magnificently biodiverse, wildly scenic and brimming with hope, Carr’s Gorongosa success story is evidence of what conservation of this depth and commitment can achieve.
Commitment, however, is only one slice of a holistic pie.
Greg Carr’s success in travel philanthropy is three-fold: only by focusing on people, pursuing an inspirational long-term vision, and driving tourism to the region has he created a blueprint for National Park conservation worth following.
1. He focuses on people
“Gorongosa Park is about the people.”
Greg Carr recalls the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, in which Nelson Mandela stated: “Conservation takes into account the people” – a sentiment that Carr takes very seriously. Community uplift is a major focus, especially female empowerment. The park’s Girls Club initiative, for example, focuses on creating equal opportunities for girls in the area through scholarships, promoting continued education as an alternative to early marriage.
“Claudia [Sucá, Director of Human Development] and Angelo [Levi, Director of Sustainable Development] are the key people. Their departments are the biggest,” Carr tells me. “It’s not a secret that Mozambique is pretty low on the Human Development Index. The key is making education available so that Mozambicans can make choices,” he says, adding, “The UN defines human dignity as having choice – even if that choice is to stay where they are.”
And as for “big vision” for the park? In Carr’s words, it’s “that the protection of nature and helping humans can be the same project. The national park can be the best friend of the outside community, and vice versa.”
All this, says Carr, is to boost an area left with nothing, to benefit people deeply scarred by war. Explaining why he chose Gorongosa as a location, he says, “I thought restoring the national park would help the local people. This is their ancient heritage.”
2. He has a long-term, inspirational vision
[It’s Greg’s] “long-term vision” for the park that makes Gorongosa such an exciting, fulfilling place to work.”
Levi, Head of Sustainable Development – Gorongosa National Park
It’s clear that Carr is the driving force and an endless source of inspiration through challenging times. He is wholeheartedly dedicated, spending approximately 50 per cent of his year in Gorongosa, and is truly dedicated to its long-term sustainable development. The public-private partnership is a 20-year deal, but everyone I speak to expects it to be extended for a further 20.
“The way [Carr] talks about his vision is inspiring,” Juliane Zeidler, who works on strategic planning and donor relations for the park, tells me over sundowner G&Ts in the bush. Head of Sustainable Development Levi nods, adding that it’s the “long-term vision” of the park that makes Gorongosa such an exciting, fulfilling place to work.
3. He understands the importance of tourism
“Tourists increase local employment. They place a value on the ecosystem.”
“Tourism fits beautifully with our vision,” Carr says. “First of all, tourists increase local employment. They place a value on the ecosystem.”
For Carr, the kind of employment offered is far more important than mere job creation. ‘Good’ employment – that is, jobs that are knowledge-based, prioritise advancement and are appropriately remunerated – is what Gongorosa aims to provide, a standard they believe should be replicated across the industry.
Currently, there is just the main national park lodge, with spacious and comfortable cottages. But there are sites set aside for three luxury tented eco-camps (negotiations with potential takers are underway) and Carr is even talking about a possible coffee lodge.
“High-end tourism plays an important role,” he explains. It creates more jobs per tourist, more income, and is low-impact. But Carr wants there to be a price-point for all budgets: “Everyone is welcome.”
And access is easy: it’s a two-hour flight to Beira from Johannesburg, followed by a scenic half-hour light aircraft flight into the park. As Greg Carr describes, you can have “dinner in London and lunch in Gorongosa National Park the next afternoon.”
Heather Richardson is a freelance travel writer currently based in Cape Town who’s interested in conservation stories and adventure travel. When she’s not writing or travelling, she enjoys getting outside, hiking around Table Mountain and stand-up paddle boarding around Cape Town’s beaches. @hg_richardson