An American entrepreneur says there is a link between conservation and human rights. Gregory Carr says that's why he pledged $40 million to rebuild Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park..
About eight years ago, Mozambique's ambassador to the United Nations invited Carr to visit his country. He knew the American was a philanthropist and hoped he could do some good in Mozambique. Carr says he was both honored and enthusiastic about the offer.
"I asked myself what Mozambique can do to advance its human development. Where can it build its economy? And I thought, well, what about safari tourism? A lot of African nations have a multi-billion dollar safari tourism industry and Mozambique's was very small," he said.
He says that's when he was told about Gorongosa.
"I thought what if I worked with the government and we restored this park we could create an enormous tourism industry, which would create jobs, but also we get to save and restore conservation," said Carr.
Gorongosa National Park spreads across nearly 3,800 square kilometers in central Mozambique. In 1983, the park closed because of civil war and became the site of a number of battles. Many elephants were killed for their ivory and other wildlife were slaughtered for bushmeat and for sport. Literally a handful of animals were left by the time fighting finally ended in 1994.
In 2004, the Mozambique government and the Gregory C. Carr Foundation reached agreement on the Gorongosa Restoration Project. Carr later pledged $40 million over 30 years. He says conservation is vital for the health of the planet.
"We are at risk of losing a third of our species to a variety of reasons, including habitat loss, pollution,climate change and so forth. Africa has one third of the Earth's terrestrial biodiversity. And a lot of that biodiversity is located in hundreds of wonderful national parks that Africa has. And if all those parks succeed then we can save a lot of biodiversity that might otherwise be lost," he said.
There is a big connection, said Carr, between the environment and human rights.
"The most vulnerable people, the poorest people are the ones who suffer when there are environmental problems, when there are floods, when there's deforestation and they lose their farmlands, when they don't have land rights. Then people can't protect their land. Every national park in Africa is located in a remote area, which means it's located near some of the poorest people in the world," he said.
The Gorongosa Restoration Project not only aims to improve the environment, but the livelihoods of people as well.
Carr said, "We insist that this national park helps the people that live around it. We help them with their farming. We help them with health care. We do provide them employment. We engage with them and we help them get their land rights. You can think of conservation and human development as separated. You have to approach projects and combine those objectives."
Carr said many people say they want to protect Planet Earth. But he says they must then ask themselves how.
"You can visit Africa as a tourist. When you do that you support ecotourism. Then you're helping these parks pay for themselves. There are places where you can donate. You can volunteer. Anyone listening to this program has an opportunity to help by actually getting involved," he said.
He also praised the U.S. and Portuguese governments for their support. He called on members of congress not to reduce foreign aid, which he described as a tiny portion of the U.S. budget. Carr made his remarks during a recent visit to the VOA.