The last survivors in the Horn of Africa!

Greetings everyone. My name is Yirmed Demeke, an Ethiopian scientist/zoologist working on wildlife of Ethiopia since 1990. I have worked as park biologist and warden for Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization. My main work has been in protecting elephants of Ethiopia and other endangered wildlife species. I’ve been studying elephants of Ethiopia since 1993. I did my M.Sc. study on the elephant population (abundance, home range and threats) of Mago National Park, south Ethiopia.

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The Graceful Bull, Provoker,chasing the tracker while he was in his musth.

Since 2003, however, I have paid particular attention to the last remnant elephant population in the remote and hostile region of Babille Elephant Sanctuary, east Ethiopia.

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Trenched and rugged topography of Babille ES helped the survival of elephants.

Recognizing its smallness and the only surviving population in the farthest Horn of Africa, in an ecologically unique habitat – the Somali-Masaai biome, my research in the Sanctuary was to investigate the phylogenetic status of the population, population demography and group dynamics (whose population structure is promising), seasonal elephant ranging patterns, and the major conflicts occurring between people and elephants.
Most identified bulls with names in Babille Elephant Sanctuary.
Most identified bulls with names in Babille Elephant Sanctuary.

I also looked at the existing law-enforcement mechanisms and monitored the extent of illegal use of wildlife. The study was complementary to my PhD thesis – yes, I just recieved my PhD!

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The largest group, the Gobele clan, with 132 individuals in Upper Gobele Valley.

Why is my work important? Elephants were relatively abundant throughout the country except in most northern highlands, the most densely populated part of Ethiopia and have been occupied by agriculturists for thousands of years.

Elephants roamed over these areas from sea level to about 2,500 m a.s.l. However, over the past two centuries, elephant ranges have shrunk as the herds were hunted intensively and increasing pressures from habitat destruction. Ethiopia has lost about 90% of its elephant populations since the 1980s.
Elephant distribution in Ethiopia over the past three centuries.
Elephant distribution in Ethiopia over the past three centuries.

The number of areas comprising elephants in 1990s was 16 with 94,291 km2, and these dropped to 9 confirmed sites with fragmented populations in 2006 with 28,895 km2.

Present elephant distribution in Ethiopia.
Isolated elephant populations in Ethiopia.
Legend: 1. Kafta-Shiraro NP, 2. Alatash NP, 3. Dabus CHA, 4. Gambela NP, 5. Chebera-Churchura NP, 6. Omo NP, 7. Mago MP, 8. Borana CHA, 9. Babille ES

Existing major problems for the survival of elephants

Human-elephant conflict: In Babille ES, it was confirmed that the degree to which humans and elephants have seriously been competing for survival. The elephant habitats have also been under heavy threat of disturbances by nearby communities. Extensive encroachments of villages, livestock and agriculture have increasingly become a severe challenge for future existence of this conservation area. Elephant poaching has also been the major causes for the decline of elephants in number from this Sanctuary. As a result, the degree of competition between people and elephants has become sever.

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An adult bull killed by militiamen as a result of crop raiding problem.

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Competition between elephants and cattle for foraging in Babille ES.

Maize fields severely damaged by elephants in Upper Erer Valley
Maize fields severely damaged by elephants in Upper Erer Valley.

Complaints from farmers about elephant damage in their maize field.
Complaints from farmers about elephant damage in their maize fields.

Summary

Babille ES supports the most significant elephant population in Ethiopia, representing about 27% of the country’s total elephant population. However, the dramatic loss of the species habitat and open access to poaching for their tusks have become the major causes for the decline of elephant numbers and shrunk of their ranges.

Goal – The ultimate goal of the proposed project is to ensure the long-term conservation of elephants in Babille by minimizing conflicts between people and elephants.

Planned activities

Updating data/Research: Conservation of this remnant elephants need to update information on population status, movement and ranging patterns and its obstructions, spatial use of the area, defined land-use system, and the way to mitigate the existing serious conflicts between people and elephants.

Community participation: To reduce the impact of elephants on local communities and protect the elephant population from extermination, it is essential to develop a comprehensive strategy in collaboration with the local communities. These need to reduce the extent of crop raiding while improving villagers’ perception of wildlife and local conservation efforts. By reducing human-elephant conflict in and around the Sanctuary, it should be possible to get community support for conservation and establish a win-win situation in the long run. Human-elephant conflict mitigation strategies require a multi disciplinary approach, and using a combination of methods could provide a better chance of success. It is essential to include those local communities that have elephant incident problems, and work collaboratively with them and other stakeholders.

Awareness promotion: This is also of its utmost importance because without it, the value of wildlife will remain unclear to its benefits and ways in which they can participate. The most workable alternative is to work in close collaboration with local agriculturists towards sound conservation. Discussions and awareness raising programs are crucial for people settled and cultivate inside and near the Sanctuary. Short-term and long-term elephant avoidance methods need to be practiced in detail among the conservationists and the communities. However, there is no doubt that all the activities require a substantial investment of funds – financial support.

Ecotourism development: Now, among the project’s long-term visions, development of wildlife-based ecotourism would enhance the possibility of reducing the existing intense conflicts and thus enhancing the economic situation of the local people. Tourism on elephants and to view a variety of scenic sites inside the Sanctuary should be viewed as a significant potential business that would provide mutual benefit for both people and elephants. Increasing tourism is important for in-situ conservation in that it brings revenue to the community while establishing an interest in resources. In addition to wildlife-based tourism, there are also considerable historic and scenic areas near the Sanctuary: the “Rock Valley” of Dakata, the attractive mountainous landscape of Garamuleta, ancient historic city of Harer, and the prison house for Emperor Eyasu can be tourist attractions. These resources are indicators of the immense potential of the surrounding areas for the development of tourism.

Preparation of an elephant management plan: The development of a management plan appears to be fundamental to the conservation of elephants and other wildlife resources in Babille Sanctuary. This plan could serve as the guiding principle of the project. The management plan should clearly demonstrate how much the local people to be involved in protecting the natural resources in this area, and the benefits they would derive from their involvement with short- and long-term plans of activities. The management plan has the following objectives: describe the biophysical and cultural features of the Sanctuary within the national and regional context; identify the general background conditions and describe the current management and conservation situation in the Babille Elephant Sanctuary; design appropriate uses of the Sanctuary through zonation; introduce and justify the idea of integrated conservation and development within the Sanctuary and its surrounding rural areas; and propose material and human resources needed to conduct effective management plan.

Strengthening anti-poaching team of the sanctuary: There will also be an urgent need to improve the efficiency of the anti-poaching team through training.

Commencement of ‘Elephant Tourism’ in Babile Elephant Sanctuary, Ethiopia

A project on Ecotourism Development in Babile Elephant Sanctuary and adjacent localities, Ethiopia has been carried out as of March 2008. Potential sites of historic, nature (wildlife) and cultural attractions have been identified.

1) Wildlife in Babile Elephant Sanctuary (Babile ES) –  Babile ES is one of the outstanding wildlife protected areas in Ethiopia and it supports the last survivors of the world elephant population in the farthest Horn of Africa. It is also a refuge for other large mammals such as the Black-manned lion, Leopard, Cheetah, the endemic Salvadori’s serine and other biodiversity. It is the prominent tourist destination area with regards to seeing Savanna elephants, for botanic  researchers of high endemism in floral composition and diversity in avian population.

The Wildlife for Sustainable Development in collaboration with the Babile ES office worked in commencing development of  ‘Elephant Tourism’ – seeing elephants both guided by the elephants fitted with GPS satellite collars and by game scouts of the Sanctuary. Both methods have been applicable and many tourists have flowen to the area.

Tourists traveling to this area may have several advantages i.e. from the point of watching variety of birds, including the endemic Salvadori’s serine.  

From the interest of plant diversity – the Sanctuary is known for its indigenous plant species though comprehensive assessments have not been carried out in the area.

2) Nearby Babile ES – Babile ES is close to a number of tourist attractions and a visitor will have the benefit of appreciating other historical, cultural and natural assets in the locality.

2.1 The historic Harer Town –  Harer town, with its ancient history and its famous walls form exceptional tourist attractions drawing thousands of visitors every year.

2.2 Hyenas

2.3 The unique ethnicity of the Harari, Oromo and Somali people forms an exceptional mix of cultures imparting to this town a colorful and vibrant nature.

2.3  The presence of the interesting geologic rock formations at Dakata’s Rock Valley and the Prison House of Lij Eyasu in the Gara Mulleta Mountains are other important tourism attractions.

 

Major activities that the project has undertaken are:
1. Re-defining the boundaries of the Sanctuary
2. Producing a comprehensive Sanctuary Management Plan
3. Developing ecotourism through community participation
4. Developing capacity of the Sanctuary, local communities, and the WSD
5. Providing the detail accounts of elephants’ home range through GPS satellite telemetry, and
6. Reducing the rate of loss of wildlife habitats and minimizing the illegal killing of elephants.

The development of ecotourism particularly on elephants of Babille ES supported by the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite telemetry has started its service. The project deployed satellite collars on three bulls and satellite data have been  received from collared elephants since August 2008.

Latest made collars manufactured by the DATA SCOUT in South Africa were used. So far, the collars have provided indispensable data. Such satellite-based elephant tracking is the first successful project in Ethiopia.

The 1st “satellite elephant” on 18 August 2008.

Date of collaring: 1 September 2008.

This ongoing project will be essential in monitoring GPS-collared elephants both from the air and from the ground. Collared elephants have been tracked from the ground using a VHF radio transmitter and a handheld GPS. Using these latter approaches we can work on population demography and some behavioral studies by approaching to the elephants.

Height at shoulder 3.67 m, 1 September 2008.

All bulls wore collars in Upper Erer Valley.

Why tracking elephants using GPS satellite telemetry?
This part of the project is among the major components of our initiatives in the national elephant conservation and management in Ethiopia. Satellite tracking of elephants in Babille ES has many advantages, including for management intervention:

1.To promote wildlife tourism

Efforts have been made to initiate wildlife-based ecotourism particularly on elephants since the inception of this project. In Ethiopia, most people wish to see elephants but making this possible was very difficult because of the lack of information on the location of elephants. Now, it has come to the reality that Babille has become the only conservation area in Ethiopia where “Elephant Tourism” can be initiated. Such satellite-based tracking of elephants will be starting in December 2008.

Bull groups under fig trees

2. To understand the movement/ranging patterns of elephants

The data will help the management authorities in reconsidering the existing land-use system in the surrounding area.

Movement data for all bulls from 18 Aug. – 07 Nov. 2008.

3. To understand the spatial use of habitats and associated disturbances to elephants

The spatial use of elephants over such areas can also be characterized.

4. To prepare Sanctuary Management Plan

A well organized management plan will be prepared for the sanctuary based on the knowledge of the seasonal home range of elephants and with clear understanding about the present land use system.

5. To alleviate human-elephant conflict

Once we know the daily and seasonal movement of elephants, it is possible to reduce the impact of elephant raids on crops and villages adjacent to the Sanctuary. Based on the location received from the collared animals, it is also possible to pass satellite-based early warning messages to the sanctuary neighboring agriculturalists, whose crops are subjected to raiding by elephants.

At present the position of collared elephants has been recorded every hour but we will change this at 4 hours reading per day (six positions per 24 hours) and these will continue for a minimum of two years.

Daily location of bulls in yellow on Google Earth.

Contact Address

Wildlife for Sustainable Development

P.O. Box 32099

Addis Ababa, ETHIOPIA

Tel: +251-116-530-245

         +251-911-643-388

E-mail: wsd-ethiopia@ethionet.et

               yirmed.demeke@gmail.com

Website: www.wsd.org.et

Explaining the tragic death of Zahoor Kashmiri by an elephant in Ethiopia

It is a shock of missing Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri from my side by such horrible incidence. With this devastating news, we extend our condolences to Kashmiri’s family and friends. A memorial for Zahoor undertook in Addis Ababain October 2008 in the presence of friends, conservationists, diplomats and families.

 Regardless of missing Zahoor with sadness, I feel that the project to be extremely worthwhile and will be grateful to receive your continued support. See details below.

 Elephant collaring initiatives in Babille Elephant Sanctuary and Kafta-Sheraro National Park, Ethiopia and its challenge

 

(In commemoration to Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri – 10 September 2008)

 

Yirmed Demeke

Elephant Researcher, Ethiopia

E-mail: yirmed.demeke@gmail.com

Summary – The challenges for future survival of elephants in Ethiopia are yet ahead of us. Poachers, looking for the ivory trade, kill these splendid animals with brutal efficiency. Habitat loss due to human pressure also limits the elephants’ range and places added stress on the remaining herds. Likewise, as their habitats continue to be reduced, the elephant must compete with other wildlife as well as humans and their livestock. As a result, the present projects supported with satellite telemetry aim at securing the long-term survival of elephants in the east and north Ethiopia and the satellite data received from the collared elephants for the coming two years will prove itself indispensable in furthering this aim. The use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite telemetry on elephants in Ethiopia was initiated in February 2007. These projects are among the major components of our initiative in the national elephant conservation and management in Ethiopia. Three bulls were successfully fitted with GPS satellite collars. “Goliath” became the project’s first “satellite” elephant followed by “Big Daddy” which was darted down on the 1st of September at 12:30 AM. Same day in the afternoon, Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri was victorious in knocking down the biggest of all bulls in the Sanctuary, Right-tusked, measuring 3.6 m. At present the position of collared elephants has been recorded every hour but will change this at 3 hours reading per day (eight positions per 24 hours) and these will continue for a minimum of two years.The following two pictures illustrate 1. 

Experts deploying the GPS collar ( 01 Sept. 2008), and 2. Administering the antidote ( 01 Sep. 2008). Both photos were taken in Babille ES, Ethiopia  Photos – Yirmed Demeke

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Team compositionThe Wildlife for Sustainable Development in collaboration with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and Tigray Region Agriculture and Rural Development organized this expedition aimed at tracking elephants using the GPS satellite telemetry. Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri, a well experienced wildlife veterinarian from Kenya, Dr. Keith Leggett, elephant researcher in Namibia, Dr. Fekadu Shiferaw, wildlife veterinarian in Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA), Dr. Rea Schoppe, wildlife veterinarian in Ethiopia and Switzerland, Diets Okhuysen, collar manufacturer from South Africa, Cherie Enawgaw, wildlife expert in EWCA, Wendwosen Sisay, Warden of Babille ES, four wildlife scouts from Babille ES, and Yirmed Demeke, Coordinator of this expedition were part of the team and all contributed to the elephant collaring operation exceptionally.

Elephant collaring expedition 2007 – Dr. Zahoor Kashmiri became my honest friend in January 2007 and found him a well committed supporter to the wildlife conservation and research activities here in Ethiopia. I was first connected to Zahoor through the Save the Elephants in Kenya in 2007. He was quite happy to accept my request to handle elephant immobilizing part for the project undertaken in Babille Elephant Sanctuary (ES), east Ethiopia from 22 February to 03 March 2007. This was the first research for Ethiopia to track elephants using the GPS satellite telemetry manufactured by DATA SCOUT in South Africa.

During last year expedition, the operation was exceptionally tough – because of a lack of adequate roads connecting to the valley floor, the team had to walk up to 15 km per day, descending down to the vast valley of the Gobele and climbing up to the top of the escarpment in the high heat of the day. However, regardless of these harsh conditions, all participants were entirely committed to the realization of our objectives. After a long and dogged campaign, the elephant collaring team successfully fixed five satellite collars on three bulls and two cows of the Sanctuary.

Immobilizing elephants from the ground in this type of terrain was hazardous to all involved and needed careful handling. In early March 2007, Zahoor and I were nearly cornered by the Right-tusked bull, (who has killed a woman, a young boy and a camel over the last two years) and were only saved by Warden Wendwosen whose shots into the air made the bull turn back.

Zahoor noticed for the occurrence of a very good environment in Ethiopia and he was planning to start ecotourism project in Ethiopia though unluckily he never ended up his anticipated vision.

Elephant collaring expedition 2008Elephant collaring team (Zahoor, Keith and Diets) arrived in Addis Ababa on the 15th and 16th August 2008. Both locals and expatriates traveled to Babille ES on the 17th morning. Searching for elephants started on the 18th morning. This present elephant collaring activity is the second in Ethiopia particularly in Babille ES, and the first in Kafta-Sheraro National Park in the north. It was planned to collar eight elephants (five bulls and three cows) using the satellite telemetry bought from DATA ACOUT in South Africa.

On the 18th afternoon the big bull named “Goliath” became the project’s first “satellite” elephant. In the following days the elephants moved to the south to inaccessible area so that the team could not stay longer and decided to move to the north to Kafta-Sheraro NP. When reaching there same to Babille the elephant herds moved to very distant area. Only one bull group was present but they were traveling outside the park in the southwest. We tracked them for three days but failed to reach them. Finally, we decided to postpone this operation and get back to Babille as the elephants returned to the north, near to our camp.

After 1,200 km drive per day from Kafta-Sheraro, we arrived at our camp in Babille ES at 4:00 AM on 01 Sep. 2008. Having 2 hrs nape and breakfast we left the camp at 8:00 AM to the place where we located the bull group based on the latest reading from the satellite, the big bull (Goliath) we collared him a week ago. The bulls were away from our camp for about 3.4 km to northeast. Assisted with our GPS we reached there easily but the vegetation where the elephants stationed were a mixture of Spiky cactus and Acacia. When reaching there, we managed to split the team into two: the leading team composed of Zahoor, I and one scout with heavy rifle, and the backup team stayed in a clear area and followed our activities by walkie talkies.

I was guiding the front team and after traveling about 1.5 km in the ticket and woodland we encountered five bulls and soon they picked up scent and moved another 1 km still we tracked them. Finally, around 1:30 PM Zahoor darted one of the huge bull and tracked him for half a km before lied down and finished collaring in 30 minute. This time I and Zahoor were in a very close distance to the immobilized bull just taking movie though we know well that it was totally wrong staying long near by a darted elephant.

Then we went for lunch (orange, banana and bread) under a big Acacia tree. After having that and taking some rest we decided to do the other bull we deployed a GPS satellite collar last year, we call him “Right-tusked” and ‘The killer’, he had frightened us last year. This bull also killed two people (a woman and a young boy) and a camel for the last two years. After finishing collaring we let go the backup team and I stayed with Zahoor to give the antidote and to leave the area soon. After the administration of the antidote the bull took more than 6 minutes to stand. Once he got up with difficulties and scanning his surroundings, he saw our movement as we were running away through the thick bush. The bull was extremely angry and charged us. I dived into a dense Acacia-Cactus mixed ticket and the scouts and local farmers made several shots to frighten the bull. When I saw that the bull had left the area I ran immediately to the site.  A large area of the vegetation was ruined and flattened and Zahoor was lying face down. He had been hit by the angry running elephant and was not breathing.

Loss of hope and frustration – every body cried.