Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, represents the last unstudied link in the great African Rift that runs across eastern Africa, wherein lie the “cradles of humankind”. Preliminary research conducted in 2016 confirmed that the Gorongosa Rift Valley bears new fossil sites and provides astounding ecological diversity as a setting within which to investigate primate evolution, both past and present. The project’s components seek to shed light on the origins and evolutionary success of the human lineage. This is the first project in human evolution where primatologists, palaeontologists, geologists, archaeologists and ecologists work daily side-by-side, collecting data that converge on an over-arching goal.
The Paleo-Primate Project is led by Dr Susana Carvalho, Associate Professor of Palaeoanthropology at the University of Oxford’s School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, where she coordinates the Primate Models for Behavioural Evolution Lab within the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology. Dr Carvalho is leading an international, interdisciplinary team of distinguished scholars from the fields of geology, speleology, palaeontology, palaeobotany, archaeology, primatology, genetics and conservation biology. The research group represents institutions from seven countries (Mozambique, UK, Portugal, Germany, USA, South Africa, and Chile). Already, in their preliminary investigations, they have discovered the first Miocene mammal fossils of the Rift Valley of Mozambique, inside Gorongosa National Park.
Dr Carvalho and her team have identified multiple promising fossil sites in Gorongosa Park and they have embarked on what could be a multi-decade exploration and research endeavour that might yield new insights about when and how our earliest human ancestors evolved in Africa. The team is also focusing on the unique modern ecology of the park to develop a better understanding of the environments where early humans evolved. Another powerful branch of this unique multidisciplinary project is the focus on studying modern primates, and their behavioural adaptations to the Gorongosa ecology, to model how, in the past, our human ancestors may have succeeded living in similar habitats. The University of Oxford currently has six doctoral students and one post-doctoral researcher – on prestigious scholarships/fellowships, including the University of Oxford Clarendon Fund, ESRC, AHRC, and the Leverhulme Trust – carrying out the first primatological projects with the baboons and vervet monkeys of Gorongosa. Their projects focus on diverse topics from the evolution of culture, to the effect of predation pressure on primate adaptations and decision making, as well as communication and leave-taking behaviour.
In 2018, the Paleo-Primate Project officially launched the Oxford-Gorongosa Paleo-Primate Field-School. This is currently the only field school in the African continent providing interdisciplinary training in Paleoanthropology, Primatology and Ecology. The field school runs annually and 50% of the students are selected from Mozambican Universities across the country. Past field school students have gone on to complete undergraduate dissertations using data they collected during their time in Gorongosa National Park, including a Mozambican student who studied object manipulation and play behaviour among the baboons of Gorongosa who is now working towards a postgraduate degree in primatology. Dr Carvalho is currently supervising four Mozambican students who wish to pursue research in primatology and paleoanthropology.
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Advance an integrated multi-partner approach to conservation and to people-centred development. The Gorongosa Project protects the Park’s biodiversity and ecosystem services and unlocks its economic potential for the community inhabitants of the Gorongosa Buffer Zone, Sofala Province, Mozambique and further afield.
A thriving, biodiversity-rich, Greater Gorongosa conservation landscape, which supports Sofala Province as an engine for resilient and sustainable development enabling nature experiences and wellbeing for its people, enriching all of Mozambique and the world.
A Park for Peace
On 1 August, 2019 a historic ceremony was held in Gorongosa to celebrate the Cessation of Hostilities Accord between the leaders of the Government of Mozambique and the opposition Renamo Party. The accord established Gorongosa National Park (GNP) as a ‘Park for Peace’, delivering human development to the communities that share the greater landscape.