Our January Friend of the Month is Kumara Wakjira – Director General, Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority.
Who or what inspired you to work in wildlife conservation?
My initial plan was to study medicine at university, however I enrolled to study biological science instead. This opened the door for my recruitment by the then Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organisation to work as a wildlife biologist in Arba-Minch Crocodile Ranch. Following that assignment, I had the opportunity to visit Nechisar and Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Parks. For the first time in my life I got the chance to see diverse habitats and wild animals, which inspired me further in my conservation work.
You have worked extensively with crocodiles. Is that very different from working in elephant conservation?
Yes, working with both species is quite different, including the complexity of the challenges, the strategies put in place, the utilization policy, stakeholder engagement and so on.
Can you tell us about the elephants that live on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea?
Together with my fellow field surveyor, we confirmed the presence of elephants in Kafta-Sheraro National Park in 2002. Before that, no one was sure if there were any elephants on the Ethiopian side of the border. We found them during an extensive survey undertaken before the establishment of this park. However, adequate information is still lacking on their movement patterns between the two countries.
What is the attitude of young Ethiopians to wildlife conservation?
Although much effort is still required to change the attitude and awareness level of the public in general and young Ethiopians in particular, the progress made so far has been promising. Ethiopian young people have started to make their voices heard and take a stand against illegal activities threatening wildlife.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Ethiopia’s elephant population?
At this point of time, I would say I am optimistic, but there are difficult challenges ahead. So I feel that we cannot afford to take our eyes, our ears or our minds off this subject for even a moment if we are to ensure the survival of this iconic and giant terrestrial animal of our planet.