“To be a veterinarian in one of the best conservation areas in the country [of Mozambique] is to have the best office in the world,” Dr. Tonecas Paulo says.
Meet Gorongosa National Park’s Head Veterinarian
Published: November 2, 2020
Tonecas Paulo: (Translated from Portuguese) My name is Tonecas Paulo. I'm from Búzi, Sofala province, very close to Gorongosa. I'm a veterinarian at Gorongosa National Park.
To be a veterinarian in one of the best conservation areas of the country is to have the best office in the world.
Breathing the fresh air every day and getting to share the space every day with wild animals, living with them in a natural way to really understand what the animals need from us and to help save them. It’s a challenging job and a fantastic one.
Onscreen: Gorongosa National Park is in central Mozambique. It is recovering from a long war that wiped out 95% of the park’s large animals. Herbivore populations have already rebounded. Now, the park is trying to bolster its large predator populations, including African wild dogs.
Tonecas Paulo: When the wild dogs first arrived last year, I was a bit nervous because it was the first time I had any direct contact with them and I was also aware of the great responsibilities facing us.
The park needs the wild dogs because having too many herbivores without predators can lead to overgrazing.
As a veterinarian, I am responsible for ensuring the good health of those wild dogs and also for monitoring them every day.
My inspiration to become a veterinarian came from my grandmother. She was very fond of household animals,
especially cats. I began to love animals, and then I discovered I could study veterinary medicine. I could take care of animals.
I went through five years of training at Eduardo Mondlane University here in Mozambique. My first idea was to be a veterinarian working with domestic animals, but then this opportunity came along to join the Gorongosa team, and that led to a new passion, to conserve the environment.
We are able to see animals in Gorongosa today because there were people who looked after them. Now, I have this noble mission of protecting and caring for the animals that need us so much.
Here in the wild, each day is different from the next. For a veterinarian working with domestic animals,
the patients go to the veterinarian, but here in the wild, we have to chase after the patients. Our work has no routine. Normally in a day, I work two hours with the wild dogs, two hours with lions, three or four hours with the pangolins. But it changes every day. There is no kind of routine. Every day brings us surprises. We must always be ready to attend to any type of emergency.
The pangolin project was created to respond to illegal trafficking. The pangolin is at risk of extinction. They are the most trafficked animals in the world. This concerns us very much, which is why we created this center to try to return this species to nature.
When the pangolins arrive here at Gorongosa, they arrive with wounds, signs of abuse and exhaustion. We treat and then return them to the wild. Pangolins have great ecological importance. They consume around 70 million insects annually. They also help with the aeration and fertilization of the soil.
Onscreen: So far, the Gorongosa Pangolin Project has saved the lives of nearly 40 pangolins rescued from traffickers.
Tonecas Paulo: It's been a year and two months since we reintroduced the wild dogs to Gorongosa National Park. And since then, many things have happened. The most important milestone we've had is one that happened about two and a half months ago. A historical birth for the first time since the civil war.
The birth of these wild dog pups brings me great hope. It is like a light at the end of the tunnel that in the very near future this population can grow and stabilize here in the park.
Onscreen: The land surrounding Goronogsa National Park is home to some 200,000 people. The median age in Mozambique is 17.
Tonecas Paulo: I am proud to be a young man who came from a community similar to the communities around the park taking on a job with such huge responsibilities.
I think that it’s extremely important that the people who live around the park understand Gorongosa’s mission and the work we do daily. Gorongosa’s fundamental objective is the conservation of biodiversity while promoting development in the communities surrounding the park.
We have a lot of hard conservation work to do so that the next generations can come here to Gorongosa, to see for themselves what a lion really is, an elephant, a hippopotamus, a crocodile, and not just to see them in cartoons or photographs. For that reason, we have to do what we can to protect this ecosystem.
What motivates me to work so hard is to achieve the objectives of the Gorongosa Restoration Project in support of the animals lost during the 16-year war.
I want young people to see me as a model so that they can believe it is possible to be a veterinarian in a conservation area right here in Mozambique. To bet on their training and to fight for this opportunity.
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