BOISE — Steve Burns, Zoo Boise director, outlined the ambitious plan this week to build a 2-acre exhibit that reflects the 1.6 million-acre Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.
The project is designed to raise nearly $2 million for a restoration at Gorongosa, one of the world's crown jewels championed by Idaho philanthropist Greg Carr.
Gorongosa once was considered the most species-rich park in the world. But poverty and nearly two decades of civil war led to the killing of many of the animals and the destruction of much of the rainforest.
Carr, who grew up in Idaho Falls and made his wealth in the tech industry, signed a 20-year contract to collaborate with the Mozambique government to restore the park. The project is designed not just to bring back the animals and the park's vegetation, but also to improve the health, education and economic condition of the 200,000 people who live around Gorongosa.
Carr's community-based conservation has earned high marks from around the world, including from noted biologist E.O. Wilson. Wilson has been working in Gorongosa and is expected to write a book about it.
"Now we understand that human beings are part of the ecosystem," said Carr, who divides his time between Sun Valley and Mozambique. "You need people to love nature and to derive benefits from it."
Zoo Boise's Gorongosa exhibit will take the same philosophical approach. It will have exhibits about animals as well as about the programs that help the people of Gorongosa. The project will include ecotourism trips to Mozambique and exchange programs that will send kids there and Mozambican kids to Boise.
"We can sell goods from Gorongosa," Burns said. "We can have scientists in the field talk to kids here by computer."
Burns, who has transformed visits to Zoo Boise into acts of conservation, sees the exhibit as a natural extension of his efforts to coax zoos to do more for the animals they display. Zoo Boise visitors fees have contributed nearly $1 million to conservation programs worldwide.
"I think Steve's a pioneer," Carr said in a telephone interview this week. "There are probably 300 zoos large enough so that if every single one of them would adopt a national park in a developing country, it would make a substantial difference to preserve biodiversity in our lifetime."
The plans for the Gorongosa exhibit coincide with major improvements to the front area of the zoo, with new visitor amenities such as an event stage and a classroom. Some animals in the primate house and aviaries also will get new exhibits.
The work expected to cost a total of $6 million to $7 million, which will come from Zoo Boise fundraising. Work is expected in phases over the next four years, with the Gorongosa construction expected to begin in 2016 with the exhibit to open in 2017.
SURVIVING 'DARK DAYS'
Details on the Zoo Boise plans came as Mateus Mutemba, the park warden at Gorongosa, visited the zoo this week. Mutemba was in the United States to receive the International Wildlife Film Festival's 2013 Hero Of The Year Award.
When Mutemba was born in 1972, 14,000 cape buffalo and 200 lions lived in Gorongosa. After the civil war, only 100 buffalo remained; lions were nearly gone.
"We went through dark days," Mutemba said.
Today, the park has a buffalo population of 400 and a lion population of 30 to 40. The park also is home to sable antelope and elephants.
Mutemba heads a staff of more than 400 people, 90 percent of whom come from the local area. They restore habitat and protect the animals and operate schools and health services, and work with farmers to provide crops for the ecotourism businesses.
Other people make crafts sold to visitors and work with ecotourism companies. Mutemba's grandfather was one of the founders of the independence movement in Mozambique and he is a pioneer in its redevelopment.
"You sleep well," he said, "because you are helping people."
ONE IDAHOAN'S CRUSADES
Carr is best known in Idaho for his efforts on behalf of human rights. He donated $1 million to help develop the Idaho Human Rights Education Center and Anne Frank Memorial in Boise.
He bought the land and buildings formerly owned by the defunct Aryan Nations in North Idaho. The compound was destroyed at the request of Idaho human rights advocates. Carr then donated $1 million to fund the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene.
He said his relationship with the people of Mozambique has not been one-way.
"I give my time and money to Africa," Carr said. "I receive so much more in blessings from the African people than I give."
Rocky Barker: 377-6484