Ethiopian wolves are holding on in Delanta, but still need our helping hand. At the peak of the rainy season, the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program (EWCP) team has been busy in the highlands of Delanta in North Wollo. Until recently, this region was one of the epicenters of the recent Tigray war and signs of fighting are still evident, particularly in the nearby town of Gashena, a strategic location at the crossroads to three main cities. This town was taken and recovered three times at the cost of many lives.
Due to this war, everyone on the team faced insecurity and concerns for the safety of their family and friends over the past year. Their determination to resume work as soon as it was safe to do so is admirable. With just a short window of time to both plant guassa, a native species of grass where the prey for Ethiopian wolves thrive, and to transfer bee colonies for our Highland Honey program before the end of the rainy season, the team was eager to kick start EWCP’s sustainable livelihoods projects in Delanta.
Guassa grass is also used for roof thatching, to make ropes and mattresses, and as fodder. In August, our team helped many local farmers plant guassa in eroded agriculture plots bordering the wolf range in the nearby Abuna Yosef region. Cultivation of guassa stops soil erosion and restores Afroalpine habitats. Two years from now, these farmers will harvest the grass, and once their own needs are covered, they will sell the rest at a high price in local markets.
But when the team arrived in Delanta, the rain was so copious that most fields were waterlogged, and sadly, planting had to be postponed. Luckily, during a window of benign weather, our team helped Mareg Kasaye plant guassa in their family plot. Mareg’s father first planted guassa in this plot 14 years ago. As a result, soil quality was excellent but the old tussocks were dying off. We decided to plant new grass between the old tussocks and establish an experimental plot for long-term cultivation of guassa.
Another product that commands high prices in local markets is Erica honey. Several families in Delanta will soon deploy new beehives for honey in the high altitude Erica forests bordering wolf range. Our team met some of these future honey producers and together selected an ideal location for their beehives. Next, EWCP will provide them with modern beehives, technical training, and supervision during the whole process. These communities are now developing their own bylaws to protect the forests linked to the production of Erica honey, which will secure their new livelihoods as well as key habitat for the wolves.
Delanta’s outstanding meadows are home to the Addis Tesfa wolf pack—”Addis Tesfa” means “new hope” in the Amharic language. This is a fitting name for these wolves because, following a local extinction six years ago, a pair of wolves made a new home in this area and has bred for three consecutive years. During this trip, the team confirmed that at least seven wolves are alive in this pack and, to add to the excitement, we heard reports of another pair of wolves in a nearby patch of habitat. Are these Addis Tesfa dispersers starting a new family? The monitors will be investigating them soon.
But Delanta itself is not yet safeguarded for the pack. After the trip, the team discussed at length the perilous condition of the Delanta wolves, cornered by new encroachment (some of it illegal), which sadly perpetuates a loop of unsustainable agriculture and poverty. To help these wolves reign in Delanta for many more years, EWCP has a plan. This includes scaling up these sustainable livelihood opportunities, researching the restoration and carbon sequestration potential of guassa cultivation, and helping with the creation of a Community Conservation Area in Delanta, the only Afroalpine range not yet under legal protection. With support from key members of the local community, the time is ripe and the urgency is real. Unless the current rate of habitat lost is halted, this budding wolf population may again go extinct.
Thank you to all WCN supporters and to the members of our team: Misrak Seyum, Girma Eshete, Fekadu Lema, Dessiew Gelaw, Sindew Zewdu, Mengistu Birhan, and Getachew Assefa for their hard work under the rain.