Greg Carr’s Big Gamble

In a watershed experiment, the Boston entrepreneur is putting $40 million of his own money into a splendid but ravaged park in Mozambique

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"I like the idea of tourism because it's a sustainable business," he says. "Extraction industries and so forth, there can come a time when it runs out, if you're mining or you're logging or whatever. And unfortunately a lot of Third World countries get caught in that trap, where the real benefits, the real added value, is going to other nations that are processing the raw materials."

In 2004, Carr returned to Mozambique in search of a place that could be nurtured into an international vacation destination. He had read about Gorongosa and asked to see it; he made a flyover of the former jewel of Mozambique. The landscape stayed with him long afterward. "Gorongosa Park stands apart from just about any place you're going to find," he says.

In October 2004, Carr signed an agreement with Mozambique's Ministry of Tourism in which he pledged $500,000 toward the park's restoration. But soon he was negotiating a new, bigger deal and assembling a team of experts on development and the environment, seeking Mozambicans and other Portuguese speakers for leading roles. In November 2005, he signed a new agreement with the ministry, in which he pledged up to $40 million over 30 years. That document outlines aspects of the renewal, ranging from ecological restoration to economic development, and gave Carr's foundation joint operating control over the park with the Mozambican government, which retains ownership.

Last year, Gorongosa Park introduced its first herd of buffalo, launched renovations on the main camp at Chitengo, began its outreach to neighboring communities and started a tree-planting program on the mountain. Its staff has increased from 100 to more than 500, doing a variety of jobs including rangers and housekeepers, and visitors increased from fewer than 1,000 in 2005 to more than 5,000 last year.

Beyond the park's borders, African wildlife experts—who are often skeptical of foreign projects—give Carr's efforts cautious praise.
"Obviously, it is going to be a long time to see if it all works," says Markus Hofmeyr, one of South Africa's top veterinarians, who has advised Carr, "but I think the tenacity and determination he's shown have been commendable."

Carr now spends about every other month at Gorongosa, encamped at Chitengo, sleeping in a tent, one of the camp's restored concrete bungalows or the back of a pickup truck. Along with the park's communications, business and scientific activities, he also oversees its community relations. Which means going from one community to another, explaining the concept of eco-tourism (including a return trip to Nhatsoco, where Samatenje finally blessed the project). Instead of mzungu, the Swahili term for white person that sticks to most Caucasian visitors, some of the locals now call him "Senhor Greg." And so far, the "consummate optimist" remains upbeat.

A few days after his disappointment at Nhatsoco, Carr and some others from the Gorongosa project pay a visit to Sadjungira, the community led by the regulo who had been made to change his clothes. His name is Marcelino Manuel.

Although Sadjungira is less isolated than Nhatsoco, guests are nevertheless rare. The villagers' main experience with white people came during the civil war, when the governments of South Africa and Rhodesia sent troops to help the Mozambican rebels.

At a village meeting called in a clearing, men and women sitting separately face a row of wooden chairs set up in the dirt for Carr and his party. Carr introduces himself and talks about how foreigners will someday pay to walk near Sadjungira. "We recognize this mountain belongs to you," he tells the crowd. "We will not be asking you to move. We respect the fact that this is your land, and we are just visitors."

An older man rises to say that there have been whites here before, and for all their talk they have always brought trouble. A second man says that even if Carr is sincere in his promises, his sons or grandsons might not uphold the bargain.


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