Na­ture Di­aries: Ethiopia

A jour­ney to the beau­ti­ful Bale Moun­tains Na­tional Park throws the spot­light on lion con­ser­va­tion in the Ethiopian High­lands

World of Animals - - What’s Inside... - Words Daniel Allen

Daniel allen jour­neys to East africa in search of lions

“Lions have dis­ap­peared from much of Ethiopia, mir­ror­ing a re­treat

across Africa”

In Ethiopia’s Harenna For­est, track­ing down big cats fre­quently in­volves a bit of im­pro­vi­sa­tion. As the late af­ter­noon sun throws shad­ows across the for­est floor, De­miss Mamo lifts a length of plas­tic pipe to his mouth and blows. The sound that echoes through the dense veg­e­ta­tion is a cross be­tween an in­cip­i­ent roar and a deep-throated woof, and it sets a fam­ily of squeal­ing gi­ant for­est hogs dash­ing for the near­est bushes, while birds and mon­keys be­gin a cho­rus of squawks, howls and in­dig­nant chat­ter­ing.

Mamo’s sur­pris­ingly life-like calls may be fab­ri­cated, but the ef­fect they gen­er­ate is all too real. Be­cause noth­ing raises the adren­a­line lev­els of the Harenna For­est’s an­i­mal com­mu­nity like the sound of an itin­er­ant black-maned lion.

“We of­ten hear lions call­ing far away, and we some­times see their tracks in the mud, but we hardly ever see them,” Mamo, who works as a guide in the nearby Bale Moun­tain Lodge, tells me. “There’s only one road and a few paths run­ning through the for­est, so it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult to reach the places where the lions usu­ally stay.”

De­spite Mamo’s per­sis­tent fe­line fak­ery, it seems as though Harenna’s lions are ei­ther un­in­ter­ested or sim­ply out of range. With dark­ness fall­ing, we re­turn to our 4x4 and drive back to the lodge. Mamo, a de­vout Mus­lim, breaks his fast, hand­ing around a bag of suc­cu­lent dates.

“You never know when lions are go­ing to ap­pear,” he says philo­soph­i­cally. “Last year they took a don­key that was teth­ered next to the lodge and sat there eat­ing it in plain view. They come and go as they please.”

The fact that Harenna’s lions gen­er­ally shy away from hu­mans is hardly sur­pris­ing. To­day, they have dis­ap­peared from much of Ethiopia, mir­ror­ing a re­treat across much of Africa. Over the course of the last cen­tury Africa’s lion pop­u­la­tion has de­clined by as much as 85 per cent, and these majestic an­i­mals have now van­ished from 26 coun­tries al­to­gether.

The 4,000-square-kilo­me­tre (1,544-square-mile) Harenna For­est is one

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