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.

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14 comments on “The last survivors in the Horn of Africa!

  1. Lisa, California on said:

    Hello Yirmed Demeke, Looking forward to reading more about your work and knowledge of this beatiful creature the elephant. Thanks. Lisa

  2. F. J. PECHIR on said:

    Wellcome to Wildlife Direct Yirmed! Your work there in Ethiopia seems to be just great and interesting. The elephants need all the possible protection and your efforts will be of great help. I look forward to hear more from your work with elephants. Good luck!

  3. Sherri S. on said:

    Hello! I look forward to reading more about your work!

  4. Hello Yirmed and welcome. Congratulations on earning your Ph.D! Looking forward to your posts about Ethiopia’s elephants.

  5. dr antonio canella italy on said:

    What’s fantastic news!
    The elephants survive too in ethiopia!

  6. Birboo Hacoo on said:

    Hi Yimred,
    I some monthes a go read about Ethiopian elephants, that only 700 are remaining in Ethiopia. 300 of these are existing in Babille, East Harargie.

    The agonizing news about these elephants is that they are now retreating from that area becaouse of the fact that some of their sactuary is given to Flora Eco Power (Israeli Citizen Sub- contructors)for casterplant production. I tried to see some of them in upper Erer but I couldn’t find any. For me, the struggle for survival is not between the poor Erer farmaers and the elephants; rather, between the Rich Flora Ecopower and the innocent elephants.

    What you are doing is so great and if you contonue further, you can bring a difference (saving life).

    MA
    Addis Ababa,
    Ethiopia

  7. THERESA SISKIND on said:

    Greetings, Yirmed! Does the government “cull” elephants there[i hope not!]What, if any preventative measures do the farmers take? Would a guard dog help serve as a deterrent like they do with cheetahs? I know how big elephants are but wouldn’t they be put of by the incessant barking? One more question, have you spotted any ethiopian wolves?

  8. THERESA SISKIND on said:

    Hi, Yirmed, its Theresa! You’re probably right about the elephants not being fooled by fake snakes! It does work for orangutan orphans who are taught at a very early age by their caretakers to avoid all snakes! Anyway, you are also right that the real solution to the conflict between the farmers and the elephants is education. I saw a documentary about elephants killing hippos, can you imangine that? The film explained that due to habitat loss and a prolonged drought that the elephants were very stressed. Are your elephants considered desert elephants? I have a million questions but I’ll save them for another time! The good news is I’m making a 100.00 donation for your hard but very interesting work. Until we “talk again” your pupil and friend, Theresa.

    Dear Theresa, this is the first step to move forward and I thank you so much for the donation you have made for our hard work. This will covere/block one out of the hundreds of holes. Coming back to your interesting question, the elephants in this part of Africa live in a semi-arid environment, even the northern section is evergreen type with green vegetation for half of the year.

    It is also interesting to see the spiky cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) in the upper valleys of both Erer and Dakata with intact stands. It grows from the river banks to up hills in both sides of the rivers. In Erer it is a surprise to see the stands with the riverine Acacia woodland with considerable heights. In this valley, the plant coverage extends for some 12 km on both sides of Erer valley. It is greatly abundant in this section of the Sanctuary and it is much sought after by elephants during their stay each year from April to late September.

  9. THERESA SISKIND on said:

    Merry Cristmas, Yirmed, and to all the others who work so hard to protect the elephants and other wildlife in your beautiful country. Thank you from the bottom of my heart…

  10. TheTeach on said:

    Yirmed,
    My students and I are anxious to hear an update on the elephants. We often track many of the wildlife direct blogs on species and locations of particular interest. We have made your blog one of our points of interest. I didn’t realize there still were elephants in Ethiopia until I read your blog. This is fantastic news! We are concerned what kind of impact the ongoing wars in Somalia and border tensions with Eritrea are having on the elephant population there. Somalia is notorious for its gangs of militia and poachers crossing borders and wrecking havoc in neighboring countries. Hope that isn’t a problem where you are. We will pray for your safety and continued success in the field. We’re tuned in, so keep us updated. Best Wishes.

  11. Xavier on said:

    Would like to thank you so much for the great work !!

    Will be waiting for all the news coming from your side.

    Are there any other endangered animals on that area?..is is a protected area by the government ?

    Cheers

  12. Powell Ettinger on said:

    Hello Yirmed

    I was very interestded to read about the elephants of Ethiopia. i am the editor of the online wildlife magazine, www.wildlifeextra.com, and if you would like some coverage, we would be happy to post any article that you provide about the elephants in Ethiopia.

    Best wishes

  13. THERESA SISKIND on said:

    Dear Yirmed, just learned some very disturbing news out of Zimbabwe. They are planning to kill at least 500 elephants to make biltong, a dried meat snack which is popular among hunters and rugby fans. I simply can’t believe that government officials could carry out such a cruel plan on these beautiful creatures, it just breaks my heart…for more information go to ZWNEWS.com and click on environment

  14. Lucia Cristiana, Brazil on said:

    Hi Yirmed. I know that your time is too little. But I would like to know how is going your very important job?

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