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Bale Mountains Conservation Project

Protecting one of Africa’s largest and most biodiverse mountain refuges

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The Ethiopian wolf is the rarest African canid. (Photo: Daniel Rosengren/FZS)
The Bale Mountains National Park, a protected area of approximately 2,200 square kilometres in the Ethiopian highlands, is a place of exceptional biodiversity. The plateau lying at around 4,000 metres above sea level is the largest remaining area of afro-alpine habitat. The grasslands to the north of the park and Ethiopia’s largest cloud forest to the south form two distinct vegetation zones with unique flora and fauna.

Many species of plants and animals occur only in the Bale Mountains ecosystem or are endemic to Ethiopia. Among them are the giant lobelia plants of the plateau, the highly endangered Ethiopian wolf, the mountain nyala and the Bale monkey. The park has one of the highest levels of animal endemism of any land habitat in the world.

It is also vital to humans: As a water catchment area, the Bale mountains supply perennial water to approximately 12 million people in the lowlands of southern Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya.

However, the human population and domestic animals around the park exert growing pressure on the ecosystem. Settlements and livestock grazing in the park are damaging the fragile habitat and people are using its natural resources such as timber and firewood and harvest coffee and honey unsustainably.

Within the Bale Mountains Conservation Project, Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) works inside and outside the protected area to address the drivers of ecosystem degradation.

WHAT WE DO

The challenges for the conservation of the Bale Mountains ecosystem are complex. We take a coordinated and multi-faceted approach and strive to empower local communities to be partners in natural resource management. We are embarking on a long-term strategy:

  • Park Management: We directly support the Bale Mountains National Park management by supplying field and office equipment, regular rations to the ranger force, fuel and maintenance for park vehicles, building up the scout horse core and by implementing ranger-based ecological and threat monitoring systems.
  • Empowering Communities: We are designing and implementing new community based systems for natural resource management, sustainable energy initiatives, and land use planning. These initiatives are underpinned by conservation covenants that outline what communities agree to do or not to do in response to the benefits they obtain. FZS has developed the first such agreement in the area.
  • Capacity Building: We support community based organisations engaged in participatory forest management around the park through building their management and governance capacity.
  • Community Development: We provide training and start up support for local handicraft producing artisans, beekeepers, highland fruit and forage producers to promote alternative livelihoods and we distribute fuel-efficient stoves and fuel briquettes to reduce demand for firewood.
  • Education: We work with the local communities to teach them about Bale’s natural and cultural diversity and to promote conservation.
  • Ecotourism Development: We promote ecologically and culturally sensitive tourism to support the local economy. We contribute to developing policies and guidelines for ecotourism in the park, as well as developing the capacity and opportunities of communities to deliver tourism services.
  • Habitat Conservation: We have helped to finalise the legal processes to officially gazette the park. Gazettement by the Ethiopian Council of Ministers has given the park a secure legal basis.