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Irked by the scramble for pieces of land at Babile Elephant Sanctuary under the guise of agricultural investment, wildlife conservationists made a desperate call for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to intervene and find a final solution.

For about a month now, a part of the Sanctuary has been sliced off by a company called Three Apples for an agricultural investment project supported by officials at the zonal administration. Heads of the Sanctuary claim that at least 200 hectares of its territory has been invaded.

Situated between the borders of the two regions in the eastern Ethiopia, Oromia and Somali, half the century-old Sanctuary that is home to about 300 elephants and several other animals has mostly faced intrusion by communities in pursuit of fertile land.

However, the latest intrusion came at a massive scale with support from a zonal administration in Oromia Regional State. The administration refused to answer for pleas from the concerned office, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA).

In a letter to the Prime Minister last Tuesday, September 26, 2023, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Think-Tank pleaded for his intervention to stop the intrusion. Members of the Think-Tank requested that the PM give the matter his “most considerable attention” and take measures.

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In their letter, members urged the PM to provide guidelines to “undertake an investigation process to determine how the illegal intrusion of the Sanctuary was allowed and revoke the decision.”

An environmental consultant and CEO of the Think-Tank, Mekbeb Tessema (PhD), explained the concerns members of his Think-Tank group have about problems occurring in wildlife areas across the country.

He told The Reporter, “The Babile Elephant Sanctuary issue is very concerning, but it is not the only one facing such problems. There have been repeated attempts to invade wildlife areas in the name of investment.” Performing well in its green legacy, along with its obligation to respect international treaties, protecting wildlife is the government’s duty, he explained.

Another letter addressed to the PM was from a group of three conservationists: Habte Jebessa (PhD), Adane Tsegaye (PhD), and Addisu Asefa (PhD), who appealed to the PM to take action against the “reckless action by irresponsible investors.”

Their letter reads, “We are not fanatical conservationists. We believe that Ethiopia must prosper in a way that does not endanger its ecology and economy. Any country that endangers its environment will never prosper.”

The sole federal government body responsible for protecting and administering national parks and sanctuaries in the country, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, is having its authority tested by the actions of the investors and zonal administration.

The investment permit was granted by the East Harage Zone Administration of the Oromia Regional State. Officials from the administration have firmly stood by their decision of not reversing it, according to heads of the Sanctuary.

“We had a meeting with the heads of the administration. They said they cannot even pause the investment for a second,” said Adem Mohammed, director of the Sanctuary. “Our main request was to stop the investment and hold discussions.”

As investors began invading the area in August, Sanctuary guards tried to intervene, resulting in the imprisonment of two guards. They were later released but warned they could face lawsuits if they continued defending against the investors, Adem said.

Sprawling over 6,982 square kilometers, the Sanctuary is home to approximately 36 mammalian species and several endemic birds, in addition to sheltering the elephants.

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