Nature Diaries: Ethiopia
A journey to the beautiful Bale Mountains National Park throws the spotlight on lion conservation in the Ethiopian Highlands
Daniel allen journeys to East africa in search of lions
“Lions have disappeared from much of Ethiopia, mirroring a retreat
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