I like Ethiopia. I like the Ethiopian people. I like hunting in Ethiopia. In fact, I have spent nearly 100 days hunting in this fascinating country during four visits over the last 12 years but, of course, that does not make me an expert on things Ethiopian and, therefore, what you are about to read are the impressions of an Ethiopian fan – no less and no more.
Ethiopia is unique in so many ways. It operates on a Julian calendar and the year is 2004 while everywhere else it is 2011. New Year takes place on the 11th of September. They speak Amharic, a unique language with about 244 letters in its alphabet. I say “about” as new letters have been added to represent syllables and no one seems to be quite sure how many there are.
Ethiopia was the first African country to defeat a European power in pitched battle at Adua in 1882 where some 7 000 Italian soldiers, under the command of Count Baratieri, were slaughtered.
I can go on and on – the stone churches at Lalibella, the Ark of the Covenant, and the country’s mind-blowing geographic features. Ethiopia is largely a 9 000 foot plateau which descends into deserts, rainforests and steamy swamps. It is ruled, for the most part, by a bunch of smart Tigreans, one of the many tribes which constitute the country although the Oromo tribe is the largest in number.
But it is the wildlife that is and always has been the largest attraction for me. Not only the unique species and subspecies such as mountain nyala, Menelik’s bushbuck, tiang, Swayne’s hartebeest, Abyssinian bushbuck, Guenther’s dik-dik, Walia ibex, gelada baboon, Simien fox (Ethiopian wolf) and so forth but also the outstanding quality of some of the non-endemic game such as Beisa oryx, lesser kudu, giant forest hog, northern gerenuk and Grant’s gazelle.
The hunting industry in Ethiopia is small. There are only six outfitters of which Ethiopian Rift Valley Safaris (ERVS) is probably as big as the other five put together. The latest statistics (2008/2009) indicated that the industry as a whole sold only some 1 300 hunting days, turned over $1,3 million and shot 450 animals in that year. There are about 40 professional hunters although probably only a dozen or so ever conduct safaris for the some 40 overseas hunters which annually visit the country. One of the many weird quirks of the regulations and practices which govern hunting in Ethiopia is that any person working for the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) is entitled to a full professional hunting licence.
As an overall comment, it is my opinion that Ethiopian hunting is severely threatened. Not because Ethiopians have anything against hunting but, firstly, because there appears little understanding at government level, in general, and at the EWCA level, in particular, of the vitally important role hunting can play in protecting and conserving wildlife and wildlife habitats while, at the same time, creating employment and generating revenue for local people, particularly in rural areas.
At best, hunting is seen as a golden goose which needs to be squeezed as hard as possible to extract the largest number of eggs as quickly as possible regardless of the consequences for the goose.
For example, EWCA believes the Government is entitled to earn the same amount from every safari as the outfitter does, regardless of the fact that the outfitter builds the camps, employs the people and bears the costs of running the safaris while EWCA and the regions do little or nothing to earn what they do. In the last two years, EWCA has doubled attributable hunting fees payable to it and the regions and this has pushed up the costs of a mountain nyala safari (the most sought-after hunt in the country) to about $75 000, making it by far the most expensive animal to hunt in Africa and, from a situation where these hunts were booked up five years in advance, most outfitters currently sit with unsold safaris, with at least one outfitter not having sold a single one. From a situation where North Americans made up about 70% of overseas hunters, their numbers have dropped to about 20%.
Secondly, because of the rapid population growth in the country and the Government’s inability and/or unwillingness to address the root causes of this massive problem, widespread habitat destruction is an ever-present and ever-growing reality in Ethiopia. On my first trip to Ethiopia over 10 years ago, the reports I read in preparation for the trip quoted 69 million as the population figure. Today, this number is closer to 85 million (officially 78 million) and growing exponentially. The number of people in the country, already one of the most densely populated in Africa, is set to rise to at least 160 million by the year 2050.
On the one hand, there is no concerted attempt to introduce even basic family planning. Given the scope of the problem, the single billboard erected in the capital this year and advertising family planning, is almost a sick joke. When this is coupled to the Government’s policy of “re-village-isation” – where people are picked up en masse and moved from an area which they have denuded and destroyed through overpopulation, combined with bad animal husbandry and farming practices, and moved to a much better one, often occupied by game and one or more small tribes – the bankrupt nature of government policies is plain for everyone to see. To me, this is like removing an alcoholic from a bar where he has drunk all the whiskey, taking him to another with a plentiful supply and telling him not to drink alcohol any more.
Moving people from one part of the country to another, particularly when the new area constitutes good wildlife habitat, is doing nothing to address the root causes of this problem. I believe that one day someone will write a case study on the desertification of Ethiopia and the current Government will be held responsible.
Thirdly, little or no will exists to control the rampant poaching in the country. To quote but two recent examples: A shot narrowly missed a safari vehicle. The outfitter sent vehicles to fetch the police and tribal elders to the scene of the crime and the offender was apprehended but set free the next day. The police explained that he had not intended to fire at the vehicle. “He was only poaching,” they said.
In the second incident, an outfitter caught the poacher of a mountain nyala bull red-handed. This represented a loss to Government of $15 000 (the current trophy fee). They took him to the police with the damning evidence and laid a charge. He was released the next day as the police said he was only a poor man and they had no means of bringing him before a court.
Ethiopia has eighteen controlled hunting areas and five open hunting areas. Six controlled hunting areas have had to be abandoned in the past because the huntable species had been destroyed by uncontrolled poaching and habitat destruction caused by illegal human encroachment.
There are 13 national parks and a number of game reserves in Ethiopia. While the parks are staffed and receive an annual budget, they exist largely in name only and as lines on a map. They are essentially devoid of wildlife but full of people and livestock. Bale Mountain National Park, home to the largest concentration of the indigenous mountain nyala, hosts some 37 000 people and over 50 000 head of livestock.
Nechisar National Park is another case in point. After a public/private partnership agreement was entered into with African Parks to take over the management of the park, which I personally thought was a real breakthrough for wildlife and wildlife habitat in the country, the Ethiopian Government snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by refusing either to fence the park or remove the people who streamed into it and the agreement was terminated by African Parks. The park, although by no means the worst example, is today full of people and livestock and game numbers are deteriorating rapidly.
Some years ago, during the course of a five-and-a-half-hour drive through Mago National Park, my diary recorded the sighting of a few hartebeest, a couple of warthogs and some two dozen dik-dik. Cattle, sheep and goats were everywhere, however, and at the park headquarters, slovenly game scouts lolled around in groups doing nothing.
On the other hand, the Oromia regional government has terminated the Dati hunting concession in order to convert it into a park. The fact that the area containing the only wildlife – Nile buffalo, hippopotamuses and waterbuck – is under water for half the year, that even when it is dry there are no roads through the area which is all but inaccessible to most 4x4s, and that Dati itself is far off the beaten track, seems to have gone unnoticed. All they have done is destroyed a good hunting concession and the wildlife it contained without any benefit to themselves or their people. The poaching has already begun in earnest as the outfitter prepares to vacate the concession. In April it was reported that 40 donkeys were seen leaving the area carrying buffalo meat.
Fourthly, dubious agricultural schemes have been granted land (which is all owned by the Government) – sometimes extensive tracts – containing scarce wildlife resources without any detailed study let alone an environmental impact assessment or cost-benefit analysis being done. In a number of cases, the land has contained valuable rainforest habitat, which has been cut and sold and the Government then advised afterwards that the agricultural scheme has failed. The fraudsters are then allowed to repeat the exercise using a different front organisation.
Fifthly, EWCA itself, and the leadership it fails to provide, is a major stumbling block.
The game reserves fall under the regions and are not staffed at all nor do they receive a budget and yet no one may hunt there. Why? Because they are protected areas according to EWCA although absolutely no effort is made to protect the wildlife in any of these reserves. The one exception is the Alledeghi Game Reserve, home to some Grevy’s zebra and allegedly wild ass, which the Afar region, for reasons known only to them, has asked EWCA to manage.
Bale Mountain National Park is also home to the world’s most threatened canid, the Simien fox or, as it is now more accurately called, the Ethiopian wolf. There are approximately 600 of these magnificent red animals left. Their biggest threats are rabies, distemper and hybridisation, all brought about by their contact with domestic dogs, which the people in the park have brought with them. Instead of shooting the dogs or allowing the outfitters to do so, the EWCA’s response has been to inoculate the dogs which have, therefore, dramatically increased in number, thereby rendering the likelihood of hybridisation ever more possible.
When attempts have been made to establish a breeding programme for the Ethiopian wolf outside of the country where the necessary facilities, expertise and supplies are freely available, EWCA has refused to allow the exportation of a few breeding pairs. “These are Ethiopian animals. They will stay in Ethiopia even if they all die in Ethiopia,” they are reported to have said.
In a similar vein, some years back, EWCA attempted to stop outfitters exporting mountain nyala skins as they were concerned that scientists might be able to clone these animals from the DNA. This ridiculous type of “dog in a manger” attitude is prevalent throughout EWCA and, when combined with their “not invented here” bias, which prevents them from adopting tried and tested, successful conservation strategies and tactics evident on their own doorstep in East and Southern Africa, I confess I have little hope for the future of Ethiopian wildlife and wildlife habitat in the country.
Hunting in Ethiopia is probably more strictly controlled than anywhere else in Africa and 4 officials in EWCA out of the 900-strong staff (set to rise to 1 400 in the near future) are dedicated to controlling the six outfitters. Concessions are evaluated every two years on foot and quotas changed, often severely reduced, on the basis of these brief and superficial visits. While counteracting poaching and habitat destruction is totally, and I do mean totally, neglected, should an outfitter shoot a mountain nyala, for example, that is 1/8 inch under the 29-inch minimum set by EWCA, he has to pay a fine of $ 15 000.
The Addis Ababa University received a donation from the Japanese Government to build a natural history museum in the capital. The university approached EWCA’s forerunner for permission to shoot examples of all Ethiopian wildlife and an outfitter was found by them to assist with the practical arrangements. They refused and would only allow animals on quota in hunting concessions to be shot. To add insult to injury, any animal so shot would then be deducted from the outfitter’s quota. Needless to say, the natural history museum is largely devoid of taxidermied animal mounts.
In and around the Gambella region in western Ethiopia, the army and poachers shoot approximately 5 000 to 10 000 white-eared kob a year, amongst other game, and yet outfitters have been unable to obtain a licence for a single kob. On a recent visit to the area, an outfitter was invited by a senior government official to lunch at a local restaurant. “Let’s go and eat some kob,” he said. “It’s quite good you know.” Another PH saw a military vehicle loading dozens of slaughtered kob.
In the face of such uncontrolled slaughter, when EWCA was approached for reasons why they would not award a miniscule quota of say 10 animals to outfitters, they first said that the migration patterns of the kob needed to be studied, and then later, that to grant a quota might create an international incident with Sudan which might object to the hunting of “their” kob. So, it is fine to stand idly by while your own military illegally poaches thousands of kob but not to grant a licence for 10 to be hunted legally. It is estimated that there are several hundred thousand kob in Gambella in the dry season.
Currently quotas are limited to between one and two per cent of male animals observed during the superficial two yearly on-sight inspections. As a game rancher with 20 years of experience, I know that three to five per cent of the whole herd is a very conservative quota if you want to retain trophy quality. In general, my impression is that there is substantial scope to both increase the quotas of game on licence and the areas offered to outfitters if only EWCA would get off its behind. This would also help increase revenue from hunting, add more jobs to the some 350 which have already been created, help combat poaching and improve the relevance of hunting in the conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitats.
Currently, hunting concessions are granted to outfitters for five years at an annual rental of between $ 15 000 and $ 20 000. Although this is a relatively short period and would appear to encourage short-term exploitation, it is accepted that, if the outfitter is in good standing and wants to do so, he will be given the first opportunity to extend the lease for a further five years. Recently, however, a proposal has been mooted by EWCA to move to a two yearly auction of all new hunting concessions with the inevitable consequences that short-term planning will bring for the wildlife in such concessions.
Prior to 1993, it was possible to buy a hunting licence for an animal and hunt it anywhere in the country. Currently, the system imposed by EWCA is both unique in Africa and difficult to understand. A hunter must select and pay for trophy licences before his hunt begins on a region-by-region basis. If he fails to shoot any of the animals on his licence, he forfeits the monies paid. This has a negative effect on revenue generated. On the one hand, hunters are reluctant to buy expensive licences if they are concerned that they may not have a chance to shoot the animal and, on the other hand, it prevents them shooting an animal they may come across on a hunt which they did not know about or did not wanted to hunt originally but, in respect of which they now have changed their mind. This must cost the country literally tens of thousands of dollars as, from personal experience, virtually every hunter on our own private game ranch, once he has arrived, has wanted to hunt additional animals once he has seen them and the quality available.
When I first hunted in the Omo Valley, there was little livestock as, being a controlled hunting area, livestock, people and weapons were, in terms of both the law and the agreement between the Government and the outfitter, not allowed into the area. Today, the hunting camp on the banks of the Omo River and once in the middle of the concession is some 45 minutes by car from the nearest game. The area is awash with Hammer people and their livestock and almost every Hammer man has a firearm. In 10 short years, Neumann’s hartebeest and Beisa oryx have disappeared. The once mighty herds of tiang, a damalisc and topi lookalike, have been cut off from water and reduced to a mere 200 in number in a buffer zone between the Nyanyatom, Dassanich and Hammer herders who frequently shoot one another as well as the game. The stench of cow dung is ever present on the plains which, except in the buffer zone, are all but devoid of grass and rapidly becoming a desert.
The next new and positive idea for wildlife, wildlife habitat and its conservation that EWCA comes up with is going to be the first. For heaven’s sake, what about an annual international public auction for one or two licences for Walia ibex, Swayne’s hartebeest, Grevy’s zebra, Nile lechwe, white-eared kob, elephant or wild ass? They are all currently being poached and eaten by the locals or dying from old age and I suspect that the revenue generated would double the funds generated by all other hunting in the country combined, provide much-needed funds for conservation and anti-poaching efforts and focus world and government attention on the plight of these animals. But maybe EWCA doesn’t want the money because then they may be forced to show that they are doing something with it instead of sitting in Addis Ababa, doing nothing constructive.
The head of EWCA is a vet with limited wildlife experience and, other than one or two people (including the head), who have had some experience of darting and game capture, there is no one in EWCA with any hunting experience. Privately I am told that many of the senior EWCA staff agree on the urgent necessity for change, on the one hand, but then point to the difficulty of making the necessary changes, on the other hand.
While EWCA fiddles about at 9 000 feet in Addis Ababa, the country’s wildlife and wildlife habitats continue to disappear at an alarming rate and no one in Government seems to care that they are unnecessarily destroying a precious, renewable natural resource which, if used wisely and sustainably, could provide opportunities to a wide cross section of people, particularly in the poor rural areas, forever. When the modern history of Ethiopia is written, the current Government, in general, and EWCA, in particular, are going to be pilloried for the needless destruction they have wrought.
For more information on Peter Flack, his books, DVDs and SHAC see www.peterflack.co.za
(Article courtesy of African Indaba. For more information contact Gerhard Damm at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.africanindaba.co.za)