Pressure mounting for the home of wild coffee and Ethiopian wolves

For small-scale wild-coffee producers like Nurut, who rely almost entirely on the harvest for their livelihood, that’s bad news.

Just 100 meters (330 feet) from where Nurut works his coffee plantation, a herd of cows marches through the forest. It’s not illegal to bring livestock into the forest, but many believe grazing has an adverse impact on the forest.

The lowland residents of Bale Mountains National Park have access to fewer resources than those living near the forest. In fact, many herders bring their livestock into the highlands of the national park to graze for weeks at a time. Farm Africa, a nonprofit based in the U.K., is trying to improve the livelihoods of people living in the lowlands so they don’t make that journey. The work is being done in the context of a nearly 7 percent loss of forest annually, according to Farm Africa.

The wild coffee picked in Harenna Forest is often mixed with farmed coffee from nearby Delo Menna, to be roasted and exported. Locals say they can taste the difference between farmed and wild coffee. But if the global marketing machine shone a spotlight on wild coffee here and there was a boom in demand, pressure to clear away other plants to maximize the harvest of wild coffee could spike. That would hurt the forest, says Kadeem of the coffee association. A 2006 study published in Forest Ecology and Management seems to corroborate this, finding a 50 percent reduction in the number of species of lianas, small trees and shrubs in areas where plants were cleared to help the coffee grow.

Ethiopian wolves roam the mountains

High above Harenna Forest, where thousands are at work picking coffee, at an elevation of about 1,800 meters the rare Ethiopian wolf prowls the windswept plateaus. While there are only about 400 of the wolves left in the world, making them Africa’s rarest carnivore species, they roam freely on the Sanetti Plateau in Bale Mountains National Park. Home to the highest road in Africa, the park is one of the few Afromontane areas in Ethiopia. But the wolves are shy creatures, so it was particularly extraordinary to encounter one while hiking on the plateau. The wolf was hunting for rodents no more than 15 meters (50 feet) from us.

Access to food isn’t the biggest concern for the survival of the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), which is the size of a medium dog with a striking red coat. They wolves’ main source of food, rats, abound in the National Park; there are 3,000 kilograms of rats per square kilometer (10,500 pounds per square mile) in some meadows. The main threats come from domestic animals and pressure on the land where they hunt.

Disease outbreaks brought by dogs that accompany livestock herders in the highlands of the park are one of the most immediate threats to the wolves. There have been successive outbreaks of rabies and canine distemper virus in recent years in the park. Three out of four wolves die in such outbreaks.

But the wolves bounce back from each outbreak, suggesting they’ve developed some type of resilience, according to the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, which also helps vaccinate domestic dogs to avoid outbreaks. A more permanent threat to the wolves, according to the EWCP, is habitat loss.

As human populations move farther up the mountains in search of land for farming and grazing, the wolves are squeezed into smaller areas. Barley and potatoes are grown as high as 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) in some areas, and 60 percent of the habitat potentially suitable for the wolves has been converted to agriculture, according to the EWCP.

While the Ethiopian wolves are the most prominent endangered species in the park, the area is an endemic hotspot for both animals and plants. Bale Mountains National Park hosts a quarter of Ethiopia’s endemic mammal species, including the entire global population of the big-headed African mole-rat (Tachyoryctes macrocephalus) and largest global population of mountain nyala, as well as 6 percent of the country’s bird species. Almost half of the 1,000 known medicinal plant species in Ethiopia are found in the park.

More mammal species would go extinct with the loss of Bale Mountains National Park than with the loss of any other area of equivalent size on the planet, according to UNESCO.

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This story first appeared on Mongabay

South Africa Today – Environment


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