The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Tuesday 6th September 2011

Ensessakotteh, Ethiopian Wolves - A heritage to cherish

Given by - Will Travers

Reviewed by - Ann Chapman


Will Travers, Chief Executive Officer of the Born Free Foundation, is the son of actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers. Will told us that the Born Free organisation began in 1964 with the film Born Free made in Kenya, about the story of Elsa the lion. This was a turning point in the Travers' lives and they became involved in rescuing other animals to reintroduce them to the wild. They set up Zoo Check with £6, to consider the question of animals in zoos. Will reminded us that the situation is still not good in many zoos; a review recently conducted showed poor results. Following on from Zoo Check, they started Born Free, with its vision of placing animals back into the wild. They currently have several campaigns around the world.

Born Free is the biggest organisation in the world working on the Ethiopian Wolf. This animal is the only wolf in Africa, and unique to Ethiopia. It is found only in the wild, and currently numbers around 450 animals. It was once thought of as a jackal or fox, but it has been proved that it belongs to the wolf family. They are solitary hunters and not aggressive and have evolved to live in the afro/alpine areas, adapting to feed off rodents. They are restricted to a few pockets of existence: the Bale Mountains and the Simiens. There is huge pressure on their environment from human settlement. One of the big problems is the very serious threat of rabies. Many of the people living in and on the edge of the Bale Mountains National Park have dogs which frequently develop rabies, with devastating impacts on the wolf population. Twenty percent of animals were lost in the last outbreak three years ago as the disease spreads very quickly.

Will suggested that there were different ways of dealing with the problem. One would be to remove all the dogs, but dogs are very important to the communities as they chase away hyenas from the livestock and remove waste matter which would otherwise contaminate other animals. Born Free has started a programme to vaccinate dogs against rabies. With the co-operation of the villagers they are vaccinating 2,500 dogs a year and each householder has a certificate for each dog. These vaccinations last one year and are very expensive so Born Free has made applications to the Ethiopian Government to be allowed to spread oral vaccines in the area, which would be much less expensive and would be effective. They have been given permission to run a pilot scheme, which is being headed up by the head of conservation at Born Free. This scheme benefits the local communities as well, because if a dog has rabies, it will attack people and even their cows, which will die as a result. Vaccination will also begin in the Simien Mountains once further research has been done.

An alternative scheme is to vaccinate the wolves, but this creates a stress load on the animals and if they are suffering latent canine distemper, they become vulnerable. So this method is only used infrequently, when an outbreak occurs.

Will pointed out that the wolf is becoming iconic in the community, with a Born Free 'Wolf Sports Stadium' and a 'Wolf Café' set up in Dinsho. These help promote the wolf and help the local population understand how important the animal is to their own lives. There is a big ecological significance to protecting the Bale Mountains National Park as it is a watershed for several streams which flow down into the mighty Juba or Wabe Shebelle rivers, which are important to Somalia. The Park authorities try to limit heavy settlement and agriculture in the area. It is critical to keep unsettled around 9,000-11,000 square feet for the wolves and the protection of the waters.

Will told us of Graham Norton's involvement in their Ethiopian Wolf programme and how he is working hard to promote their protection and conservation.

Dolo in 2007
Dolo in 2007, on a 1-metre chain, with his mane worn away.
Photo - © Sisay Taye

Dolo in 2011
Dolo in 2011 in his new enclosure at Ensessakotteh - proudly sporting a new mane.
Photo - © George Logan

We were shown slides of the new animal sanctuary which Born Free has opened 25km from Addis Ababa. This has been named Ensessakotteh, meaning 'wild animal footprint', in Amharic. Lion rescues began in 2006 with two orphaned lion cubs which had been kept at the Italian Embassy, eventually being moved to the grounds of the President's Palace. At the time many lion cubs were still being killed for taxidermy. Another lion was discovered on the Somali border on a one-metre chain. This lion, named Dolo, was mute and had lost his mane but was rescued. In 2006 a consultative meeting on captive wild animals in Ethiopia was held and the government agreed to donate a redundant military camp of 200 acres near Addis, and this was inaugurated in February 2010 by the President. Dolo was brought in; we saw pictures of him with a new shaggy mane and looking content. Other animals have also been gathered there. The enclosures cost £20,000 to build; food and care for one year costs £3,000 and the calculation has been made that one rescued lion's care for twenty years, including veterinary attention, would be around £85,000.

Another campaign is to protect lions which they do by helping the local communities to modify the construction of their corrals which keep the livestock contained at night. Normally these are made of thorn bushes, but with the help of wire and fence posts, more sturdy corrals have been built, which deter lions from attacking the livestock. It is too soon to judge whether this has had an impact on lion numbers, but it is believed to be worthwhile. Several have been built so far, mainly in Kenya, but it is hoped to expand into Ethiopia. Farmers do occasionally lay down poisoned carcases to kill the lions, but if their animals are protected at night, they are less likely to resort to these methods.

There is concern about the demand for ivory and bone parts by the Chinese to replace the tigers they can no longer obtain. Now many more Chinese are becoming middle class and with money to spend, they want to buy traditional Chinese medicines. It is probably difficult to monitor the poaching of animals, particularly now there is a good infrastructure built by the Chinese road builders. But even in China there is awareness of this problem and some celebrities and film stars are promoting protection of the animals. Trophy hunting is also a serious problem, with around 600 lions shot each year, mainly going to the USA, Germany and other European countries. The attrition rate for adult male lions is huge. Born Free petitioned the Secretary of the Interior this year to list the African lion as endangered, which would mean they couldn't be imported into the USA. Twenty three years ago there were 79,000 lions in Africa, and now there are around 38,000 (a decline of 48%).

Born Free is committed to spend its money on animals, but also wants to enlighten others by changing attitudes, and this happening at Ensessakotteh by bringing in the people of Addis, particularly school children, to see the animals and learn about them. Born Free is involved in many countries in Africa and about forty countries worldwide. It believes that compassion for animals brings compassion to people.

STOP PRESS. Four further adult male lions have just been rehomed in Ensessakotteh. 'Major' and 'General' have moved from an army barracks in Harar together with 'Andrea' and 'Janu', the two Italian Embassy lions cubs who were moved from their temporary refuge at the Presidential Palace in Addis. Please look at the Born Free Foundation website for further information about all the wonderful work that the charity carries out.

First Published in News File Winter 2011

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