It was a beautiful place once

And it will be again. But from 1977 to 1992, Gorongosa National Park was a war zone.

In 1975, the African county of Mozambique won its independence from Portugal. Two years later, it was engaged in a civil war. Both people and animals suffered. Large animals were noticeably missing. The population of 2,500 elephants was reduced to fewer than 200.

For Dominique Gonçalves, Gorongosa is home. She is a National Geographic Explorer and the manager of the Elephant Ecology Project.





Gorongosa National Park

Elephants are known for their social bonds, intelligence, and memory.

Animal behaviorists believe that these elephants are aggressive. Gonçalves thinks of them as protective. They have seen their families slaughtered. They’ve been hunted for their meat and their tusks. Many elephants from that time are alive today. And they have long memories. They don’t trust humans.

Matriarch Valda stands tall. But you can clearly see the bullet hole in her right earan injury she got in the war.

All in the Family

An elephant herd is like a family. The oldest and largest female is in charge. She leads her daughters and their offspring. She is the matriarch.

Male elephants, or bulls, form small pods in which they live and travel.

Dominique Gonçalves observes elephants in the field.

In Gorongosa, elephants display their fear of people by their behavior. They stay away from open areas in daylight. When they see people, they fight or flee. They trumpet loudly to scare people away.

Gonçalves has seen this behavior. She knows what it means. “The social bonds between elephants are really complex,” she says. Protecting the herd is the matriarch’s job. Gonçalves learned this firsthand in the field