Carlos Lopes Pereira is the winner of Tusk’s 2019 Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa. Sarah Marshall shares his incredible story.
When Carlos Lopes Pereira, winner of Tusk’s 2019 Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, moved to the 1,500 square mile Gorongosa National Park in central Mozambique in 2005 it was, he says, “the wild, wild west”. Once the jewel of African game parks, its wildlife had been slaughtered and infrastructure destroyed during years of civil war.
Over the next six years Pereira, 64, transformed Gorongoza’s fortunes as its Director of Conservation. Supported by an American NGO, the Carr Foundation, he rebuilt its ranger force and imported elephants, hippopotami and buffalo from South Africa.
In 2011 the government asked him to rehabilitate another “disaster” – the Denmark-sized Niassa National Reserve on Mozambique’s border with Tanzania. One of Africa’s last great wildernesses, it was losing more than 1,000 elephants a year to poaching gangs. Pereira remembers flying along elephant trails in a helicopter and seeing whole families butchered.
Backed by The Wildlife Conservation Society, he retrained its demoralised and corrupted rangers, dismantled its foremost poaching syndicate and deployed Mozambique’s elite rapid intervention police to tackle the others. Since May 2018 poachers have killed not one elephant.
In 2012 Pereira was also appointed Law Enforcement Director for Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas, and set about changing the mindset of a very poor country where killing protected species was scarcely considered a crime.
He taught MPs, prosecutors and judges to value wildlife. He persuaded the government to introduce a maximum 16-year sentence for wildlife crimes. He established investigation teams that present the police with evidence they have to act on – 32 cases this year alone. He forged ties with South Africa’s adjacent Kruger National Park to stop Mozambican poachers decimating its rhino population. He introduced a canine unit at Maputo airport to deter trafficking. In August a Chinese national became the first foreigner convicted for trafficking rhino horn and given 15 years.
Pereira receives death threats. The Chinese and Vietnamese syndicates hate him. “Trafficking is based on high profit low risk, but they’re on the defensive now,” he says. “They’ll either have to run faster than us or end up in court.”
Originally a vet, Pereira still goes into the bush whenever he can. Last week he dehorned eight rhino. Two months ago he relocated seven lions terrorising a village. Before that he collared 40 elephants in Niassa. Flying over the reserve and seeing the elephants back and unafraid was “overwhelming”, says this modest but utterly committed man.