Wildlife loss accelerating in Ethiopia
Globally, the decline of biodiversity is now recognized as one of today’s most serious environmental problems. The extinction of species is increasing, meaning they have disappeared forever. It is no different in Ethiopia. Wildlife biodiversity has shown a dramatic decline in recent years both in terms of type and size. The problem has been accelerating due to the expansion of agriculture, grazing land encroachment, illegal hunting, fishing, and natural catastrophes. The rapidly growing infrastructural expansion such as roads, government projects, and trans-boundary trade are also contributing to the loss of wildlife. EBR’s Kiya Ali explores the issue in depth.
Feeding and playing with a Gelada Baboon, also known as the bleeding-heart monkey, is part of Anteneh Firduh’s every daily activities. Anteneh, in his mid-30s, lives in Janamora Woreda located adjacent to the Simien Mountains National Park. The park is home to endemic species such as the Walia Ibex, the Gelada and the Ethiopian wolf, which are like neighbors for Anteneh. “I grew up watching and playing with the Gelada,” he tells EBR.
But the intimate relationship he has with the animals is on the verge of fading away because of poor wildlife conservation. “The park is under danger with the recurring fire outbreaks in the park, coupled with other human-made factors, all of which are adversely impacting the animals living inside it,” Anteneh says.
Six months ago, a wild fire that lasted for more than five weeks destroyed more than 1,000ha of the park, consuming vegetation and natural habitat areas as well as killing some of the wild animals. While this has endangered the fourth largest mountain in Africa, located 800km away from the capital, the fire also jeopardized the safety of endemic animals living inside the Park, which currently hosts over 180 bird species and 30 large mammals. Out of the total mammals living in the park, six are endemic.
It is not only natural hazards that put the park in jeopardy. Rather, human-related activities also play a big role in this regard. This is best illustrated by the living experiences of Anteneh, who is dependent on mixed farming as a major source of income. Anteneh grew up herding his father’s cattle and helping him on the farm inside the park until he got married at the age of 21. He then built his own separate house by clearing a section of the forest inside the Park.
However, in 2016 he voluntarily relocated to outside the Simien Mountains National Park along with other 160 households. Nonetheless, Anteneh and the other settlers in Janamora Woreda still clear the forest inside the Park in search of grazing land and firewood. This has become the other major threat to the park that is already in danger. The presence of five Woredas namely Janamora, Aderkay, Debark, Beyeda and Tselemet with 50,000 households living in each Woreda as well as 42 Kebeles, makes the situation all the more worrisome.
Being a place where Ethiopia’s tallest mountains, Ras Dejen (4,620m), Biuat (4,437m) and Kidus Yared (4,453m) are found, and with its stunning viewpoints, landscape as well as the exceptional habitats, unique flora and fauna, the park is among the must-visit places in Ethiopia. But this did not save it from being under a serious threat. The park is under pressure because of the agricultural expansion, habitat fragmentation, accessibility and resource extraction, expansion of settlement, overgrazing, and deforestation.
Given this, the World Heritage Committee inscribed the park on the List of World Heritage in Danger at its 20th session in 1996. Back then, the number of the Ethiopian wolf had reduced to 20 and that of the Walia ibex was below 150. However, with a lot of effort exerted by authorities and the neighboring communities, the number drastically increased by six folds and the park fulfilled the requirements put by UNESCO, which helped in removing it from the list of endangered heritages in 2017. That does not mean that the park is free from trouble though. “The Park is still under threat,” says Abebaw Azanew, warden of the Park, mentioning that the Ethiopian wolf is still considered an endangered species and is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list.
Semien Mountain National Park is not the only place where wildlife is in danger. In fact, wildlife in many national parks in Ethiopia is alarmingly under threat because of several reasons. Yet, thanks to its rich and varied topography and climate, Ethiopia remains the home of a great number of wild animals and plants living in different altitudes and climates. According to the Ethiopian Biodiversity Authority, an estimated 6,000 species of plants, 201 species of mammals, out of which 29 are endemic species, and 561 species of birds are found in Ethiopia. The number of animals would have been much higher, had the nation not lost 90Pct of various animal species over the past century. “The nation has buried the lion share of its animal species because of poor wildlife conservation activities,” says Feleke Woldeyes (PhD), deputy head of the Authority. “Species of wolves, gelada and various birds are amongst those we have lost over the past century.”
Of course, due to poaching and human-wildlife conflict, the survival of Ethiopia’s iconic species is under threat. A case in point is the situation of elephants living in the Babile Elephant Sanctuary, located 548km away from Addis Ababa. The sanctuary used to support over 340 Elephants. Despite being the only protected area in eastern Ethiopia, it is experiencing a drastic decline in the number of elephants living inside the Sanctuary, chiefly because of human-related activities. In the past year alone, 10 elephants have died. Seven of them were killed by illegal hunters, the remaining three passed away because of disturbances caused by human settlements near the area where the elephants were living. “Ivory trade is the fourth most practiced illegal activity globally next to the drug, human and weapons trafficking. It is no different in Ethiopia where people illegally hunt the elephants and take the ivory to sell it for a higher price. Such an activity greatly affects the national treasure of Babile,” states Adem Mohamed, manager of the Sanctuary.
The human-elephant conflict is another factor that contributed to the decline of the elephants. “People are living around Erer and Gubela areas where it is suitable for elephants. This, coupled with other human-related activities resulted in the death and migration of 90Pct of the total elephant population, which is now estimated to reach 300,” according to Adem.
Besides elephants, Serinus Xantholaema and black lions are also on the verge of extinction in Babile, which is a habitat for 31 mammals and 191 bird species. “Their number is declining continuously largely as a result of human-related activities. Unless preventive measures are taken in a prompt manner, they will soon become history,” says Adem. The same trend holds true in other areas of the country where wild animals live.
Ethiopia has so far established several protected areas, including 21 national parks, four sanctuaries, eight wildlife reserves, 20 controlled hunting areas, six open hunting areas, six community conservation areas, and 58 national forest priority areas. But, these areas are facing many challenges because of growing populations, border conflicts, and recurring drought, among others. Invasive species, overgrazing, and land degradation are also common problems in many parks, including Babile Elephant Sanctuary, Yangudi-rasa, Omo, Awash, and Nechisar national parks.
Habitat destruction is also common in the country. For instance, scattered bushland, the most important habitat for the wild animals inside the Awash National Park, has been cleared for illegal settlements and grazing, resulting in the loss of wildlife. The same is true for the Nechisar National Park. With the increasing livestock population and illicit exploitation of resources, animals like the elephant and the Gosh totally disappeared from the Nechisar National Park since the 1980s. The Korki, an endemic animal inside the Park, could not be located since 2017, while the number of African wild dogs living inside the Nechisar is also declining rapidly, according to Shimeles Zenebe, manager of the Nechisar National Park. More than 4,800 households living in four Kebeles found inside Nechisar is also threatening the wildlife inside the park because they clear forests in search of firewood. “Additionally, for the aquatic species, the number of the Nile Perch fish has reduced because of pesticides and fertilizers that get into the Abaya and Chamo lakes,” Shimeles says. Emboch, covering parts of the Chamo Lake, is also adversely affecting the food chains of the aquatic species like the crocodile.
Projects constructed without considering the environment is another factor affecting wildlife in Ethiopia. A case in point is the situation in the Omo National Park. Because of the failure of the government to undertake a proper environmental assessment before constructing Omo Kuraz Sugar Factories, wildlife is experiencing hardship in navigating inside the park. The strip of land used by wild animals like the elephant to move to Mago Park is blocked because of the sugar factories. This made the seasonal movements of wild animals very challenging, according to Nuru Yimer, manager of the park. “Elephants and other animals are dying after plunging into the hole dug by the administration of the Sugar Factory in order to prevent floods.”
The other factor for wildlife destruction in Ethiopia comes from neighboring countries. For instance, in Altash National Park, one of the most devastating factors for wildlife and habitat destruction is the impact of nomads from neighboring countries, such as the Felata of Nigeria, the Minamir of Eritrea and the Rubtan of Kenya. These nomads and their huge herds of cattle excessively depend on natural resources of the park. This puts the park in jeopardy.
For Girma Tamer, Director of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, (EWCA) preventing problems that are a threat to wildlife is not simple. “In Ethiopia, conserving nature is considered as a secondary priority by the government,” he says. “The government should not overlook the importance of having a detailed environment assessment and feasibility study during project implementation in order to ensure wildlife conservation.” Public dialogue is another solution Girma’s office came up with. “As a short-term strategy, we are ensuring resources inside parks are used properly by residents living inside the parks in a bid to reduce habitat destructions,” Girma says.
On the other hand, Tsegaw Fentie (MD), Dean at the Gonder University College of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences, suggests that proper medication should be given to the animals in a bid to prevent the transmission of various diseases. “For sustainable conservation of wildlife, the institutions, laws and regulations related to wildlife and protected area management need to be properly implemented at all levels of the government. Research should also be conducted continuously to identify the problems and find the appropriate solutions,” Tsegaw says.
Private entities are also embarking on various initiatives in an attempt to conserve wildlife inside the parks. One of which is the initiative by Heineken Breweries called ‘Walia saves Walia’. The Brewery, which uses Walia as its brand icon for one of its beers, established a partnership with EWCA with the objective of increasing the number of Walias in the Semien Mountains National Park. “Our primary objective is to do our best to help the Walia Ibex to get out of the endangered list by increasing its number,” says Fekadu Beshah, external relations and sustainability manager at Heineken.
8th Year • Oct.16 – Nov.15 2019 • No. 79