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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
An adult bull killed by militiamen as a result of crop raiding problem.
Competition between elephants and cattle for foraging in Babille ES.
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.
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.