Stretching across a floodplain at the south end of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, encompassing savannas, woodlands, wetlands, and a wide pan of water called Lake Urema, Gorongosa was once a hunting reserve: Portuguese colonial administrators established it in 1921 for their sporting pleasure by removing the people who once shared the landscape with wildlife. In 1960, when first designated a national park, it harbored about 2,200 elephants, 200 lions, and 14,000 African buffalo, as well as hippos, impalas, zebras, wildebeests, eland, and other iconic African fauna.

But, two years after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, the country was engulfed by a civil war. By the time the war ended in 1992, the park was left in tatters.