Ethiopian elephants under threat, satellite study shows

Illegal human settlements near the Babile Elephant Sanctuary pose a huge risk to an endangered elephant population, scientists have shown through a satellite analysis.

Researchers found through their observation that in the 11 years to 2017 the number of illegal houses in the sanctuary soared from 18,000 to more than 50,000. Of these, some 32,000 houses are in the area in which elephants range. Unless the integrity of the sanctuary is restored, the elephants of the Babile Elephant Sanctuary will be lost within a short time according the researchers.

The sanctuary is home to Africa’s north-easternmost population of African Savannah Elephants – one of only six populations recognised in Ethiopia. The country’s human population now stands at more than 110 million and there is a chronic shortage of land and a high demand for natural resources.

Previous studies¹ have found that, in Ethiopia, the integrity and effectiveness of many protected areas are being compromised by increasing human-related pressures, inadequate government support, and civil conflict.

There are now only around 250 elephants left and if adequate steps are not taken rapidly, to resolve many human issues putting pressure on these elephants, we would probably find these elephants extinct soon.

Human pressure on the elephant population comes from different directions. Between 2015 and 2019, the Born Free Foundation ran a field project in the sanctuary, mobilising Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority rangers to conduct daily monitoring of the elephant population. This helped researchers to understand better the elephant’s range and established that, in addition to poaching, human–elephant conflict is a significant cause of elephant mortality.

Within a context of a burgeoning rural human population dependent on scarce natural resources, chronic civil instability, poverty and food insecurity, the team believes that the environmental, poverty, and security challenges in the sanctuary need to be addressed jointly.