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Most national parks and lakes in Ethiopia are in grave danger and may even dry up or become extinct, according to the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA).
Among the 13 parks the Authority administers, ones with endangered species such as the Babile Elephant Sanctuary (BES) and Sinkile Species Sanctuary are in danger of the most tragic ends.
BES is home to the Horn of Africa’s only surviving Elephants, Loxodonta Africana. However, according to Elephant Action Plan, there are only 350 elephants living there and the population is declining rapidly.
One major problem facing Ethiopia’s National Parks face is the many pastoralists who live on them and use the land for cattle grazing. Nech-sar National Park (NNP) is one example and Abiyata Shalla National Park is also being threatened because there are 5,000 people living there, according to Girma Timer, Director of Wildlife Protection at the Authority.
“There is an increasing number of people and cattle competing for resources,” Zerihun Tefera (PhD), Biodiversity Specialist told Capital.
Illegal fishing on the Arbaminch side of NNP is affecting Chamo Lake, causing it to rapidly narrow, according to Girma. Meanwhile neighboring Abaya Lake, is swallowing its surrounding area because it is also being affected by upper streams carrying eroded soil and increasing the water level.
“The ecological catastrophe will affect our lives and everyone should work to solve the problem, not only the Authority,” he told Capital. “We are paying a sacrifice for deforestation and soil erosion.”
Bale National Park is said to be a model for demarcation and establishment of legal protection. According to EWCA the park has in place a ten-year road map to solve the crisis of pastoralists living in the park and using the land for cattle grazing. There are an estimated one million cattle in Bale National Park.
EWCA is focusing on policies like this in other parks as well as it has recently hired new managers, Girma said.
They are trying to establish park boundaries, establish the ability to enforce laws, and undertaking structural and institutional reform in collaboration with German aid agency, G.I.Z.
He admitted that previous relationship between the Authority and the Parks was ineffective but said they are working to change this. Sometimes there is also not a clear understanding between local and federal administrations over park rules.
“We have agreed with the localities about the importance conserving wildlife and the park and we will progressively move people living in the park off the land,” Girma said. “We want every park and conservation area to follow suit.”
There are 27 Parks in Ethiopia, 14 of which are administered by the regional governments. Parks become national when they exist between two regional governments and are registered as a global heritage or when they are trans-boundary.
In trans-boundary parks, residents of neighboring countries can include foreign pastoralists looking for water and grass or dwelling in the parks along the border area until the dry season is over.
Zerihun Tefera (PhD), Biodiversity specialist, recommends developing a project to conserve natural resources. He gave the example of Abiyata Lake which is rapidly decreasing in volume due to Potash production, which is water intensive.
“The government must be serious about the Environmental Impact Assessments done not as a mere formality but as a life line of the ecosystem,” he advocated.
“The nation lost the most diverse ecology in the lakes including artic birds which migrate to Abiyata every winter. We have completely lost the Pelicans and flamingos are at their lowest numbers ever. There is also a tremendous loss of fish and other wildlife in the lakes, and similar phenomena is occurring in the Babile Elephant Sanctuary.”
“The problem must be taken seriously before it gets out of hand,” Zelalem pleaded.