The History of Modern Wildlife Conservation in Ethiopia

by Kumara Wakjira, Ethiopia, ELP 2015
Written on October 26, 2015.

The beginning of the modern wildlife conservation movement in Ethiopia back in the 1960’s laid down a foundation for the birth of modern concepts of nature and natural resource conservation, including the thought of cultural conservation in the country.

At its 12th session of the General Conference that was held from November 9th to December 12th, 1962 in Paris, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted two motions with regard to the conservation of nature and natural resources. The first resolution was concerned about the economic development and conservation of natural resources, flora and fauna. Its essence was to consider the importance of natural resources conservation, flora and fauna, for sustainable economic development of countries and the benefits of their population. Thus, the General Conference urged all member states, particularly the developing countries to pay due attention to the conservation, restoration and enrichment of their natural resources, flora and fauna, while UNESCO and the competent international organizations should give their fullest support to the developing countries in the conservation, restoration and enrichment of their natural resources at their request. The second motion was concerned about the safeguarding of the beauty and character of landscapes and sites, with consideration to their aesthetic and cultural values.

The Ethiopian Delegations to the General Conference of UBESCO had given their fullest support to these motions through the then minister of Agriculture and head of the delegation, H. E. Mr. Akalework Habtewold. Subsequently, the minister requested assistance from UNESCO in the field of natural resources, flora and fauna, conservation in Ethiopia. In his letter, the minister pointed out that “it is our wish to manage and develop national parks and wildlife reserves to ensure the preservation of our flora and fauna, to provide centers of biological and ecological research and contribute to the growth of the national economy, especially through tourism development and game cropping.” UNESCO decided to support the request, and organized five members of the mission to Ethiopia following the invitation of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor.

Right after attending the 8th General Assembly of IUCN which was held in Nairobi, the group proceeded from Nairobi to Addis Ababa on Sept 25th, 1963. The mission was comprised of Sir Julian Huxley, a former Director-General of UNESCO from London (the head of the mission); Prof. Th. Monod at the Museum of National d’histoire Naturalle of Paris and Director of the Institut franqais d’Afrique noire, from Paris and Dakar; Mr. L. Swift, former Director of the Division of Wildlife Management, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Dr. E.B. Worthington, Deputy Director of the Nature Conservancy of London; and Mr. Monsieur Alain Gille, UNESCO Science Officer for Africa. The mission was received by His Imperial Majesty the Emperor and exchanged ideas. Also, the mission visited some relevant institutions in Addis Ababa, including the Institute of Archaeology, the Office of Tourism, the Haile Selassie I University and the Ministry of Agriculture. For seven consecutive days, starting on September 26th, 1963, the mission conducted intensive field trips across the countries, encompassing Awash, Jima, Maji, the north end of Lake Rudolf, Omo River Delta, Lake Stefanie, Rift Valley Lakes, the Blue Nile Gorges, Lake Tana and Mount Simien Massif. Mr. Wolde Michael Kelecha, the then Director of Forestry and Game accompanied the mission on all its field visits.

Then, the team realized that Ethiopia supports a remarkable varieties of wildlife species, including extraordinary landscape features and unique cultural values, but lacked appropriate technical expertise to deal with the conservation matters. Thus, the team recommended given the country’s endowments with such high endemism and tremendous potential of natural resources which can be the basis for flourishing tourist industry, immediate and long-term conservation plans should be developed and implemented with the support of international organizations.

Following these recommendations, a semi-autonomous conservation organization came into being under the Ministry of Agriculture in 1965. The first national park, Awash, was created in 1966. An English man, John Blower, was recruited from East Africa to advise on wildlife conservation and management in Ethiopia. Then after, about 55 wildlife Protected Areas were designated with respect to the criteria of the IUCN management categories, comprising of national parks (22), sanctuaries (2), wildlife reserves (6), controlled hunting areas (18), biosphere reserves (4) and Community Conservation Areas (3). According the existing wildlife act, regulation and policy, inside the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, human activities including hunting, cultivating, grazing, settling in, burning vegetation, deforestation or exploiting other natural resources is strictly prohibited. Inside the rest of the Protected Areas, access to natural resources use may be allowed under regulatory procedures on sustainable basis. In total, the current size of Protected Areas System represents about 6.7% of the total land mass of the country. All of the ten major ecosystems of the country have been represented in these Protected Areas Network, providing environmental goods and services for the citizens, and even including the population beyond the political boundary. These Protected Areas are managed by Governments (Federal and Regional), communities and hunting companies, including co-management partnerships with NGOs, following the principles of participatory approaches. In general, the current wildlife policy and strategies of Ethiopia allow both modes of wildlife resource uses: consumptive and non consumptive utilizations pertaining to the stipulation of the existing rule and regulation.

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