In Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, a lack of predators has caused populations to explode and prey animals to behave in strange new ways. Ecologists worry that this is tipping the ecosystem into peril and have a solution: reintroduce painted wolves to the park.
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From 1977 to 1992, a civil war devastated Mozambique and killed more than 90 PERCENT of the large mammal populations in Gorongosa. Though so many of the animals were gone — many hunted with little protection during the war — the land and vegetation was still largely intact. So once rangers secured the park from poaching, many herbivore populations began to rebound. Others got a little help from the scientists.
Predators eat some of the prey. But more importantly, they instill what scientists call a LANDSCAPE OF FEAR. Just the presence of predators changes the prey’s behavior, forcing them to be more vigilant and take fewer risks. Lions are one predator that was slowly recovering in the park. And while they did their part in going after some prey animals, they weren’t doing enough.
Ambush hunting is effective, but not enough to affect the behavior of prey like the bushbuck in the park. So a predator with a different hunting style was needed to have a real impact. And based on decades of data, they settled on painted wolves.
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Meet Gorongosa National Park’s Head Veterinarian
“To be a veterinarian in one of the best conservation areas in the country [of Mozambique] is to have the best office in the world,.”
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“The release of gray wolves in Yellowstone decades ago still stands as one of the few examples of a predator reintroduction, and the lessons learned continue to be debated. New projects aim to do it again.”
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Researchers see in Gorongosa the chance to track the recovery of a complex ecosystem from the ground up, and to see what will heal on its own and what requires intervention.
Species of all shapes and sizes, as well as the ecosystems where they exist, are on the brink of disappearing forever. But, we don’t have to let that happen. Seeker travels the world interviewing the researchers, engineers, scientists and adventurers who are dedicating their lives to saving, preserving and protecting the most vulnerable plants, animals, people and places on Earth.
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