Ethiopia's Biodiversity

Ethiopia is one of the world's rich biodiversity countries and it deserves attention regionally and globally. It has a very diverse set of ecosystems ranging from humid forest and extensive wetlands to the desert of the Afar depression. This is due to the variation in climate, topography and vegetation. As indicated by Edwards (1991), Ethiopia is one of the twelve known ancient countries for crop plant diversities in the world and has valuable reserves of crop genetic diversity, of which 11 cultivated crops have their centre of diversity in the country. The extensive and unique conditions in the highlands of the country have contributed to the presence of a large number of endemic species.

The flora of Ethiopia is very diverse with an estimated number between 6,500 and 7,000 species of higher plants, of which about 15 per cent are endemic. It has been said that Ethiopia is the fifth largest floral country in tropical Africa. The country is also rich in its faunistic diversity. The larger mammals are mainly concentrated in the south and southwest border and adjacent areas of the country. There are also plentiful plains games along the stretch of the Great Rift Valley System. Mountain massifs in the north are also home to many endemic species of mammals, particularly the Walia Ibex, Semien Fox and Gelada Baboon. About 277 species of mammals, 861 species of birds, 201 reptile species (over 87 snakes, 101 lizards and 13 species of tortoises and turtles), 145 species of freshwater fish, of which over 87 species are from Baro river and 16 from Lake Abaya, 324 butterflies and 63 species of amphibians are known from Ethiopia.

Endemic Mammals: A total of 31 species of endemic mammals are found in Ethiopia. Among these five are larger mammals (Walia Ibex Capra walle, Gelada Baboon Theropithecus gelads, Starck's Hare Lepus Starcki, Mountain Nyala Tragelaphus buxtoni and Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis) and the rest (83.9 per cent) are smaller ones including 2, 9 and 15 species of bats, insectivores and rodents, respectively.

The Globally threatened mammal species recorded from Ethiopia are: Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis, Grevy's Zebra Equus grevyi, African Wild Ass Equus africanus, Walia Ibex Capra walle and Ethiopian Wolf Canis simensis.

A vifauna (Birds):

In terms of its avifauna, Ethiopia is one of the most significant countries in mainland Africa. The country's diverse habitat types definitely contribute for the tremendously diverse avifauna, over 861 endemic are recorded from Ethiopia. At present, 69 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) which are also important for large number of other taxa are identified by the Ethiopian Wildlife & Natural History Society (EWNHS) following scientifically defensible quantitative criteria. These include the already existing protected areas and many other additional sites.

In general, the birds of Ethiopia are grouped into three biome assemblages:

The Afrotropical Highland Biome Species: It holds about 48 species of birds including 7 endemic birds. Bale Mountains National Park is the richest site for this biome assemblage, representing over 80 per cent of the species:

The Somali-Massai Biome Species: This is the richest in its species variety and holds over 97 bird species of which 6 are endemic; and

The Sudan-Guinea Savannah Biome Species: Though the area is poorly known biologically, it holds about 16 species of birds. Gambella is the richest area for this biome.

About 214 palarearctic migrants are recorded from Ethiopia, of these a large number of them have breeding populations in the country.

The endemic birds of Ethiopia as compiled by EWNHS (1996):

Endemic Birds of Ethiopia

Harwood's Francolin Francolinus harwoodi

Spot-breasted Plover Vanellus melanocephalus

Yellow-fronted parrot poicephalus flavifrons

Prince Ruspoli's Turaco Tauraco ruspolii

Abyssinian Bush Crow Zavattariornis stresemanni

White-tailed Swallow Hirundo megaensis

Salvadori's Seedeater Serinus xantholaema

Abyssinian Woodpecker Dendropicos abyssinicus

Degodi Lark Mirafra degodiensis

Nechisar Nightjar Capimulgus Solala

Black-headed Siskin Serinus nigriceps

Ankober Serin Serinus ankoberensis

Yellow-throated Serin Seriuns flavigula

Abyssinian Catbird Parophasma falinieri

Abyssinian Longclaw Macronyx flavicollis

Sidamo Lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis

However, the growing threats have made destruction of their habitats and extinction of the species itself. Accordingly, these days, the threatened bird fauna of Ethiopia are categorised as Critical (2 species), Endangered (5 species including 4 endemics), Vulnerable (12 species) and Near Threatened (14 species with 2 endemics) (Collar et al., 1994), and NWNHS (1996). In general, 32 bird species are 'globally threatened'. Of these, no fewer than ten are Palearctic migrants.

Globally Threatened Species:

White -winged Flufftail Sarothrura ayresi (CR)

Nechisar Nightjar Caprimulgus solala (E)

Sidamo Lark Heteromirafra sidamoensis (E)

Great Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga (V)

Taita Falcon Falco fasciinucha (V)

Wattled Crane Grus carunculatus (V)

White0tailed Swallow Hirundo megaensis (V)

Harwood's Francolin Francolinus harwoodi (V)

Abyssinian Bush Crow Zavattariornis stresemanni (V)

Ferruginous Duck Aythyanyroca (V)

Yellow-throated Serin Serius flavigula (E)

Prince Ruspoli's Turaco Tauraco ruspolii (E)

Anokober Serin Serinus ankoberensis (E)

Corn Crake Crex crex (V)

Lesser Kestel Falco naumanni (V)

Degodi Lark Mirafra degodiensis (V)

Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca (V)

Salvadori's Serin Serinus xantholaema (V)

Note: CR-Critical, E-Endangered, V-Vulnerable

Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor

Rouget's Rail Rougetius rougetti Little brown Bustard Eupodotis humilis

Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni

White-winged Collared dove Streptopelia reichenowi

Abyssinian Longclaw Macronyx flavicollis

Somali Short-billed Crombee sylvietta philippae

Pallid Harrier circus macrourus

Shoebil Balaeniceps rex

Great Snipe Gallinago media

Friedmann's Lark Mirafra pulpa

Sombre Rock Chat Cercomela dubia

Basra Reed-warbler Acrocephalus grieseldis

Cinereous Bunting Emberiza cineracea

Many species traditionally viewed as common are also showing dramatic falls in their numbers and habitats have become shrunk. Declines in common species indicate the widespread deterioration of our environment. Professor Shibru Tedla, Chairman of Ethiopian Wildlife & Natural History Society remarks: 'In Ethiopia, the various ecosystems of high biological importance are threatened and need strong conservation action supported by undesirable plant species following flooding, shrinkage of lakes and wetlands due to industrial and agricultural development, the expansion of seasonal cultivation, and the negative attitude of people in some areas towards birds particularly Cranes and Goose for the damage they cause to crops and burning to control long grasses.' The birds are telling us that our current practices on agriculture, forestry, fishery, water management are not sustainable for the environment and biodiversity. We need a dramatic change in outlook and policy to reverse this dramatic change in our countryside.

The Ethiopian Wildlife & Natural History Society (EWNHS)

The Ethiopian Wildlife & Natural History Society is an active organization working on conservation of biodiversity and environmental education in the country. It is the oldest national non-governmental Society established in 1966. The major aims of the Society are: the conservation and wise use of Ethiopia's natural resources and the protection of the environment through the dissemination of information to create awareness, and through conducting and supporting research concerning Ethiopia's flora and fauna. To achieve its objectives, the Society undertakes five projects within the framework of the Conservation for Survival agenda. Currently, one of the Society's works focuses on Important Bird Areas (IBAs) of the country.

IBAs Project in Ethiopia , a component of the Important Bird Areas Programme for Africa, is currently carried by EWNHS, a partner of BirdLife International. The project is also implemented in collaboration with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organisation (a government institution). In April 1995, the Society was provided with technical advice and on the job training by expatriate ornithologists to enable it carry out a study and identify major biodivesity sites in the county. Since then, this national programme has been able to identify major biodivesity sites in the county. Since then, this national programme has been able to identify a list of sites (visited 52 sites and further compiled a description of 17 sites from the available literature) and published them in a national directory of Important Bird areas (IBAs). The published book is the first Important Bird Areas book for any African country, and by any standards, constitutes an extraordinary achievement. Beyond the publication of the Important Bird Areas Inventory, species and site conservation initiatives are being promoted through a continuing phase of the progrmme.

Bird Life International

Bird Life International is a global partnership of conservation organisation that focuses on birds and their habitats and through that, works for the sustainability of all life on earth. Bird Life has 66 national Partner organisations and programmes in 105 countries.

The Bird Life World Conference, held once every 4-5 years, took place in Kulaa Lumpur, Malyasia, from 13-17 October 1999, organized by the Malaysian Nature Society, the Bird Life Partner in Malaysia. Nature conservation organizations from 100 countries gathered at the Bird Life World Conference in Malaysia to launch their joint plan for action, Bird Life 2000.

A new report released on 7 October 1999 by BirdLife International shows that 1,200 bird species (one in eight or 12% of the world's birds) are facing a real risk of becoming extinct in the next 100 years. BirdLife International also reports that a further 600-900 species) are close to begin added to the threatened list. Queen Noor, Honorary president of BirdLife International, said: "The prospect of one in eight of our birds disappearing forever is unthinkable. But these figures are the signs of an even greater tragedy. Environmental degradation is now having a very real effect on the lives of millions of people,. especially the poor and disadvantaged. Protecting the environment must become a top priority for governments and industry everywhere, to prevent these birds disappearing forever, and even more people suffering from the destruction of the environment."

The IUCN criteria have different categories according to the severity of extinction threat currently facing the species. There are species facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future (next 10 years). Of the 185 Critically Endangered species, c.60% are known to be benefiting from some conservation action, which means 74 species are not receiving any help with their plight.

Birds are strong red light indicators of environmental degradation. Birds are barometers of our environment. Dr Jerry Bertrand, Chairman of BirdLife International commented: "Birds are major indicators of the state of our environment as they are highly sensitive to change, so they give us early warning signs of future environmental crises. Importantly our findings are showing up a wider problem beyond birds because places that are rich in birds are generally also rich for other forms of biodiversity."

Why threatened?

Habitat loss of degradation is the major threat. The majority of birds are threatened by deforestation of the burning of vegetation, commercial logging, subsistence farming, plantations, arable farming and mining. A decline in the quality of the habitat can be as detrimental as the loss of the habitat itself, for example through grazing by livestock and selective logging. Introduced species are a particularly important factor for island birds where indigenous species lack natural defenses. Hunting for food and trade also take their toll.

Habitat destruction is the greatest problem. Although threatened birds occur in many different habitats, nearly 900 species (75% of all threatened bird species) live in forests. With the tropical rain-forests being extremely rich in bird species, the report highlights Asia and the Americas as particularly important regions. The top countries with the most birds at risk are Brazil (111 species), Indonesia (91 species) and China (82 species), while the highest densities of threatened species in the world occur in the island nation of the Philippines. In Malaysia there are 35 threatened bird species. At least 74 species, including the Passenger Pigeon, have become extinct since 1800. Although extinction is a natural process, the fossil record shows that on average only one-bird species dies out every 100 years. During the last 200 years the rate of extinction has been at least 40 times greater than this. This recent rapid loss of species can be attributed directly to people's destructive and non-sustainable impact on the world. Countries with the most threatened birds are: Brazil (111); Indonesia (94); China (82); Colombia (81); Peru (79); India (70); Philippines (69); Ecuador (65); New Zealand (65); United states (65); Mexico (49); Australia (46); Argentina (42); Thailand (42); Myammar (41); Vietnam (38); Russian Federation (35); Japan (34); Papua New Guinea (32); Madagascar (30); Tanzania (30).


Actions that have been taken:

20,000 Important Bird Areas, sites critically important for the conservation of the world's birds, are beining identified by BirdLife world-wide on the basis of threatened species and other factors. Sixty-nine sites, which account for 0.35% of the world's Important Bird Areas, have been identified so far in Ethiopia. Less than 20% of the world sites are currently protected.

BirdLife International Partnership launches BirdLife 2000, a strategy that will be implemented by all BirdLife partner organisations. With 66 Partners, programmes in 105 countries, 2,150,000 members, over 3,000 staff and a budget of US$170 million. BirdLife is one of the largest global conservation networks.

Dr. Michael Rands, Director and Chief Executive, comments: "BirdLife 2000 is the future direction of the whole BirdLife International partnership. It is a strategy, to conserve the world's birds and to look at the contribution birds can make to wider environmental matters."

BirdLife 2000 plan of action includes:

* Rescue from extinction all globally threatened species: face the challenge of the extinction of 12% of world's birds.

* Keep common birds common and protect the wider environment: prevent future crisis by influencing policies and practices affecting the wider environment. It means working with governments, producers and consumers to improve the way we exploit vital natural resources (crops, timber, fish, water)

* Action for sites: identify and protect "Important Bird Areas", the sites critical for the conservation of the world's birds..

* Action for habitats: maintain and restore the quality and extent of natural habitats in the wider environment.

* Raise awareness and people's support: Increase the number of people who value biodiversity.

* Benefit people's quality of life through birds: integrate birds and people's needs. People depend on biodiversity and natural resources. The sustainable use of these resources is crucial to many people's quality of life. Poverty alleviation  and environmental care are strictly connected.

BirdLife 2000 places a strong emphasis on the human dimension, recognizing that birds and biodiversity conservation will be achieved only through involving people.

BirdLife international is responsible for compiling the bird section of the internationally recognized IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the official list of plants and animals at risk of extinction. In November 2000, BirdLife will publish Threatened birds of the world, the most comprehensive and detailed publication ever on threatened birds.