MY BIG AFRICAN SAFARI Gorongasa National Park, Mozambique

Leonard Lea Frazer
Left: Lions sunning themselves by a river.  Right: Our bus stopped on a bridge en route to Gorongaso.
Left: Lions sunning themselves by a river. Right: Our bus stopped on a bridge en route to Gorongaso.
Leonard Lea Frazer photos

“March 11 – 12, 1972  (medium hot)  - I am in a small tour bus with five other crew members waiting for the other half of our party to cross a flooded river and join us for the long trip back to the coast (160 miles). We are now returning to the ship after surviving a weekend visit to one of East Africa’s biggest game reserve parks, “Gorongasa.”


We left the Bris (the Norwegian freighter I was working on) on Saturday afternoon and drove by bus more that one hundred miles inland to the Pungwe River where we left the bus and crossed the river in two trips in a small aluminum boat. On the other side we got in a smaller bus and proceeded to the entrance of the park where a safety record was made of the number of the bus. When we arrived at the resort hotel we were 160 miles from Beira (on the coast where our ship was moored). The resort has a tennis court, two swimming pools, an airport, three airplanes, their own electricity, gas station, bar, restaurant, many other buildings, and cottages- and all this is in the middle of the bush.
When we arrived we were shown to our rooms. I shared No. 30 with another guy from the Bris. Then we had a five-course dinner, went to the bar, had a midnight swim in the larger pool, then I played 5-6 songs on a guitar that I borrowed and we all turned in for the night.
We were finished breakfast the next morning and ready to start on the bus safari at 7:00. We then set out in the open-roofed VW zebra-painted micro-bus and cruised over more of the park, photographing the various wild animals along the way (lions, elephants, hippos, buffalos, gazelles and giraffes). We were back at the main camp at 11:30. When we finished lunch we all went for another swim. The chief officer and Jungmann Lund were very drunk and they both fell in with their clothes on and Lund with his camera.  The Chief had fallen overboard, also, in the Pungwe River the day before as we were crossing over to the other side in the small boat. After the swim we all rested a bit and then had a drink at the bar while we were waiting for the bus. After another journey back to the coast we left the bus and climbed aboard the Bris.”
Since I wrote the above four paragraphs in my travel journal back in 1972, I have followed any news of Mozambique and Gorongasa over the years - news of civil war, bloodshed, famine, Independence, more civil war and, today, where the present government is again encouraging tourism to tropical Mozambique.
I found the following Timeline on the present-day Gorongasa website which I am including. I was interested in what came before my visit to the Gorongasa National Park and what came after.
Gorongasa Timeline
The first archaeological record of humans in Gorongosa dates back to 300,000 BC. The relatively wet landscape of Gorongosa was considered to be a refuge for early humans during major droughts in the Pleistocene era. This allowed early humans to survive and eventually migrate out of Africa.
In 1505 the Portuguese colonized the area and named the country after the Island of Mozambique, which was named after the Arab trader, Mussa Ben Mbiki, who lived on the island.
Between 1858 – 1864 David Livingstone, a British explorer, traveled the lower Zambezi and Shire rivers in Mozambique to find a passable trade route and to document natural resources along the river.
In 1920 Gorongosa was first established as a 1,000 km sq hunting reserve by 'The Mozambique Company', a private business that managed the center of Mozambique for the Portuguese government.
On 23rd July, 1960 the government declared Gorongosa a national park while also adding another 2,100 sq km to the park, increasing its size to 5,300 sq km.
In the 1960s and 1970s Gorongosa was a popular destination for celebrities including John Wayne (actor), Joan Crawford (actress), Gregory Peck (actor), James Lovell (astronaut), Tippi Hedren (actress) and James Michener (author).
Between 25th Sept. 1964 – 8th Sept. 1974 the War for Independence raged. The Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) launched a war for independence against Portugal. In 1972, a Portuguese company was stationed in Gorongosa National Park but the war had little impact on Gorongosa and its wildlife.
In 1968 park ecologist, Dr. Kenneth Tinley, led Gorongosa’s first aerial survey for wildlife. Tinley and his team counted about 200 lions, 2,200 elephants, 14,000 buffalos, 5,500 wildebeest, 3,000 zebras, 3,500 waterbucks, 2,000 impala, 3,500 hippos, and herds of eland, sable and hartebeest numbering more than five hundred. His monumental PhD thesis, “Framework of The Gorongosa Ecosystem”, still stands as the definitive ecological work on Gorongosa and is used as a reference tool by Park Management today.
On 25th June 1975 Mozambique gained independence from Portugal. Samora Machel was appointed as president of the country.
Between 1977 – 1992 a civil conflict between the Mozambican Government (Frelimo Party-controlled) and the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), a group funded and trained by neighbouring countries, raged. Fighting continued to take place within the park and on Mount Gorongosa until 1992. After the war, in 1993-96, professional hunters added to the carnage already suffered by the animals during the armed conflict, and many of Gorongosa’s large animal populations were reduced by 90% or more.
In 1994 the first wildlife survey since the conflict counted 100 elephants, 300 reedbuck, 100 waterbuck, and only a handful of zebra and small antelope. Many of Gorongosa’s iconic large grazers and predators had vanished.
In 2004 the Gorongosa Restoration Project, a U.S. based non-profit organization, teamed up with the Government of Mozambique under a memorandum of understanding to restore Gorongosa National Park.
In August of 2006 54 buffalos were relocated from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to Gorongosa’s new wildlife sanctuary.
In June of 2008 a television crew from CBS 60 Minutes filmed their special report on the Gorongosa restoration story.
In November of 2010 an aerial survey of Gorongosa wildlife showed that the numbers of wildlife in the park have risen about 40% in the last three years.
In March of 2012 National Geographic’s second film in Gorongosa featured the park’s elephants as the world’s foremost elephant researcher Dr. Joyce Poole and her brother, cameraman Bob Poole, work to gain their trust.
In April 2013 the Gorongosa Lion Project satellite-collared their first Gorongosa National Park lion. The satellite-collars will help our scientists understand the movements of local prides in relation to fire and flooding across the Gorongosa landscape and how they interact with the boundaries of the Park. The collars will also assist with anti-poaching and de-snaring efforts.
On July 25, 2016 the Government of Mozambique approved the expansion of the Goronogsa Park Management Plan.

Top left: The dining room at Gorongasa.  Top right: An elephant in the field.  Bottom left: An African rhino.  Bottom right: Mini bus stopped at the “Hippo Bar”
Top left: The dining room at Gorongasa. Top right: An elephant in the field. Bottom left: An African rhino. Bottom right: Mini bus stopped at the “Hippo Bar”
Leonard Lea Frazer photos