Wednesday, July 17, 2024
ArtEthiopia's wildlife crisis: Tourism Minister calls for action to protect National Parks

Ethiopia’s wildlife crisis: Tourism Minister calls for action to protect National Parks

Nasise Chali, Ethiopia’s Minister of Tourism, addressed the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Trade and Tourism Affairs, revealing significant challenges in wild animal protection. Illegal settlements, hunting, investments, grazing, and farming are exacerbating border disputes and conflicts with wildlife.

Two weeks prior, Minister Nasisewarned of worsening regional competitions. Incidents in one region are igniting similar actions in neighboring areas, thus threatening the survival of the nation’s parks.

During the session, it was disclosed that in the first nine months of the current financial year, 12 people and six elephants were killed at the Babile Elephant Sanctuary. These casualties stemmed from ongoing conflicts as residents illegally entered the animal shelter, heightening risks of injury and death.

The report also highlighted escalating conflicts causing damage within Babile Elephant Sanctuary and Chebera-Churchura National Park. Illegal land control is rampant across nearly all parks, prompting a call for decisive measures to protect these sanctuaries and parks.

Ethiopia, celebrated for its cultural heritage and diverse landscapes, hosts some of Africa’s most biodiverse national parks. The Ministry of Tourism is tasked with researching, preserving, developing, and promoting Ethiopia’s cultural and tourist attractions to yield sustainable socio-economic and political benefits through stakeholder participation.

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With abundant natural attractions, including nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Simien Mountains and Bale Mountains, these protected areas are vital to the country’s ecological health and burgeoning tourism industry. However, increasing encroachment by trespassers poses a significant threat to these natural treasures. Although some improvements have been noted since the start of the current fiscal year, the Ministry continues to struggle to provide adequate security for its parks.

Minister Nasise presented these findings during the nine-month review by the standing committee on May 21, 2024.

The report indicated that encroachment on Ethiopia’s national parks has been a persistent issue, with recent data showing a significant increase. Local communities, driven by various factors, frequently use parklands for agriculture, livestock grazing, and settlement.

“In Ethiopia, national parks have seen a surge in unauthorized grazing, disrupting the habitat of endemic species. Many parks face threats from agricultural expansion as locals increasingly clear land for crops,” said Nasise. “This not only leads to habitat destruction but also heightens human-wildlife conflict, further endangering the delicate balance of these ecosystems.”

According to the Minister, the Ministry, in partnership with the Ethiopian Wildlife Protection Authority, identified five key areas requiring attention to address the sector’s current issues. Enhancing organizational capacity and providing better protections to the parks are top priorities to safeguard and develop wildlife sanctuaries.

Nasisealso mentioned the preparation of 11 research projects to address existing problems. Additionally, establishing a cross-border park is seen as crucial for preventing wildlife diseases and managing animal populations.

She emphasized a multifaceted approach to mitigate encroachment on the nation’s national parks.

“Strengthening the enforcement of park boundaries and regulations is essential, but it must be coupled with community engagement, awareness, and sustainable development initiatives,” Nasisesaid. “Over the past nine months, the use of smartphones and cyber tracking in patrol work, as well as drone cameras and GIS for law enforcement and research, has been implemented to protect wildlife in Bale Mountains and Nechisar National Parks.”

The Minister stressed that providing local communities with alternative livelihoods and access to resources can reduce their dependence on parklands. She believes training local guides, promoting community-based tourism initiatives, and ensuring that tourism revenue benefits local communities can incentivize the protection of national parks.

The Ministry’s law enforcement efforts have reduced the impact on parks by 66 percent. Nearly 500 illegal houses were demolished in Bale Mountains and Senkelle Park, and 200 acres of farmland were reclaimed in Babile Elephant Sanctuar, according to Nasise. Additionally, 2,400 acres of unrestricted grazing land were freed in Alitash Park.

Despite these efforts, recent reports indicate that wild animal attacks on people persist in various regions. The district police office of Dilla Zone reported that a group of hyenas attacked dozens of people, leading to advisories for residents to stay indoors at certain times.

Experts note that human-wildlife conflict arises when the needs and behavior of wildlife negatively impact humans or when human activities negatively affect wildlife. These conflicts have dire consequences for the ecosystems involved. Encroachment for grazing and settlement pressures animals into closer proximity with human populations, increasing the likelihood of conflict as natural habitats shrink and resources become scarce.

Tourism is a key part of Ethiopia’s economy, with national parks playing a central role. Tourists visit these areas for trekking, wildlife watching, and cultural experiences, generating revenue and creating jobs.

The Ministry has received more than USD 5.6 million from various development organizations for wildlife conservation and development. Over the last nine months, the tourism sector has earned USD 3.5 billion from foreign visitors. The ministry planned to mobilize 50.17 billion birr it managedto successfully mobilize 48.8 billion birr from local tourists.

Despite these accomplishments, Nasiseacknowledged that more needs to be done to prevent and control disasters in wild animal habitats and society.

The country boasts 15 national parks, eight reserves, four sanctuaries, two community conservation areas, 18 controlled hunting areas, and five open hunting areas, each unique and special in its own way.

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