A small group of African wild dogs have returned to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, heralding a potential upswing in a diverse ecosystem that has suffered severe damage in recent decades. In the almost two decades of civil war that plagued the country beginning in the 1970s, more than a million people were killed by violence or famine while much of the wildlife at Gorongosa was also eradicated. Now, thanks to a collaborative effort between a non-profit group founded by American philanthropist Greg Carr and the Mozambican government, the wild dogs have come home. Still, so much has changed and is continuing to change. “We can’t go back to what exactly it was,” Gorongosa science director Marc Stalmans told Phys.org. “Has the environment changed over the last 50 years in a way that certain previous states can no longer be attained?”

African wild dog looking off to the side

Gorongosa’s past informs its future. In 1975, as Mozambique was nearing the end of four centuries of Portuguese occupation, the national park attracted the rich and famous while systematically denying black Mozambicans any significant part of its operation or benefits. Today, local economic development, spearheaded by the Gorongosa Restoration Project, is key to revitalizing the park. The project aims to serve 200,000 people through programs that support local education and farming, among other services. “To me, restoration means to recover what was destroyed, Gorongosa’s Director of Conservation & Reforestation Program Coordinator Pedro Muagura told Phys.org. “Not only to recover, but to improve. The center of everything, what we are doing, is the people.”

Related: It “sounded like an explosion:” avalanche of trash kills 16 people in Mozambique

Six female and eight male African wild dogs were recently reintroduced to the park, joining an increasingly vibrant local wildlife community. Leopards, which were once thought to have gone extinct in the park, have recently been spotted, while animals like baboons are thriving. Gorongosa incorporates a holistic ecological perspective in its management of the park. “We try to mimic natural processes,” Gorongosa carnivore conservation program leader David Marneweck said. The park plans to expand its research into local water levels, which Stalmans said “have a major influence on the vegetation production and animal movements.”

+ Gorongosa National Park

Via Phys.org

Images via Stuart Orford and Charles J. Sharp