PROJECT BACKGROUND AND JUSTIFICATION
Ethiopia is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and centers of endemism which is presumed to be attributed to the wide range of altitude and topographic features that have resulted in the occurrence of wide variations in rainfall, humidity and temperature, which in turn has resulted in the occurrence of several ecosystems with high diversity and endemic species of flora and fauna. Consequently, Ethiopia is a home to over 280, 681 and 6500 species of mammals, birds and plants, respectively, of which 31, 14 and 650 of them, respectively, are endemic to the country. Biodiversity Conservation in Ethiopia is not only a matter of morale obligations, but most Importantly is a matter of survival, because the livelihood and well-being of the country’s nation is directly or indirectly liked to the ecosystem services provided by them to the people. In recognition of such biodiversity significance, the country has been striving to protect its biodiversity by establishing a network of protected areas system; to date, Ethiopia has designated 20 national parks, 3 sanctuaries, 7 wildlife reserves and 26 controlled hunting areas. However, most of these protected areas are under severe threat which is underpinned by high human population pressure. In addition to transformation of natural habitats to agricultural land and degradation of land by overgrazing, humans have hunted and killed birds and mammals, reducing their populations to a fraction of what they were 250 years ago. For example, the Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevii) population in Ethiopia had declined by 93% over a 23 year period (from 1,600 individuals in 1980 to 110 individuals in 2003) and Elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations in Ethiopia have declined by some 90% since the 1980s, with extirpation from at least 6 of the 16 areas in which elephants were found in the early 1990s. Similarly, several endemic species such as the mountain nyala, walia ibex and Ethiopian wolf are currently threatened to extinction.
Although the impacts of land use change and hunting on wildlife populations, and their ultimate effects on ecosystems, has been relatively acknowledged, little attention has been given to the effects of threats posed on to wildlife due to illegal trade of live, or body parts, and road kill of animals in the country. However, there are growing concerns of traffic killing incidences in particular along all highways of the country, especially in and round wildlife protected areas. Both diurnal (day-time active species) and nocturnal (night time active) species are vulnerable to traffic killing, most kills are supposed to be pronounced during night time when there are no traffic polices/game rangers, over-speed drive due to low traffic crowd and most carnivores are more active. Thus, carnivores are supposed to be more vulnerable to traffic killing than diurnal animals. Although mortality is one of the primary factors that affect population size/density of a given species, unnatural death through human-induced causes such as road killing is, particularly, the most determinant factor shaping the population dynamics of wild species leading the rare ones to extinction. In Ethiopia, such traffic kill is expected to become more serious coupled to the on-going better development of road infrastructure throughout the country which usually is accomplished with low-level of EIA and inadequate strategies to overcome any potential/actual negative impacts on wildlife. Furthermore, there is a low collaboration and synergy among stakeholders/sectorial organizations (Wildlife Conservation Authorities, Road authority, Transportation Agencies and others) and lack of awareness. Although the reason for proliferation of pet trade (animal body parts such as ivory) is obviously for economic gain, the reason why and how vehicle drivers kill wildlife is worth to mention. The answer is simple: 1) some drivers kill deliberately due to lack of awareness, or to demonstrate bravery, or for cultural reasons/believes (e.g. most Ethiopian people believe that ‘if a hyena or a jackal crosses a road in front of you is an indication of bad luck’); and, 2) some others kill accidentally while driving in high speed. Despite the growing severity of wildlife road kill in the country, little to no attempts has been made in developing strategies, such as placing signposts, speed break and stakeholder awareness creation) to reduce the incidences and its impacts on wildlife. Therefore, there is an urgent need of reducing illegal trade and road kill of wildlife in the country, as well their impacts, by developing and implementing effective conservation management strategies.
Core problem: The core problem that this project is going to address is related to illegal trafficking and road killing of wildlife, which are among emerging key threats to wildlife conservation in Ethiopia, and is stated as follows:
Incidence of illegal trafficking and intentional and accidental road kill of wildlife in Ethiopia is severely affecting populations of several species in the country due to (i) stakeholders’ lack of awareness of the impacts,(ii) ineffective law-enforcement, and (iii) the presence of little mitigation strategies.