We’re excited that our July Friend of the Month comes from Eritrea, whose elephant population is one of the least known in Africa. Teckeste Kiflemariam is the Head of Forestry and Wildlife in the Gash Barka region, some 200 kms west of Asmara, where he has been working for more than 25 years to conserve Eritrea’s only elephants.
How did you come to be involved in conservation?
I studied at Wondo Genet Forestry College in Ethiopia, and enjoyed the course on wildlife conservation. It had a great influence on me.
Outside of Eritrea and Ethiopia people know very little about the elephants of Gash Setit, so please tell us something about them; how many there are, their annual migration across the border, what is their protected status, whether their numbers are stable or increasing and what you consider to be the greatest threat to their conservation?
You are right that outside of Eritrea and Ethiopia these elephants are not well known. For the last 15 years whenever we’ve had the opportunity to meet international experts in workshops we’ve tried to tell people about elephant conservation in our country. In truth, the annual migration of the Gash Setit elephants has not been well studied. But the protected area is in good condition. We have not made a census of these elephants, but we estimate there are more than 200 of them, and there are encouraging signs their numbers are increasing.
The greatest threats to their conservation are;
- Lack of water. The only permanent river is the Setit (Tekeze) but when the elephants are further north they are obliged to use farmer's wells for water, and this leads to crop raiding and human-elephant conflict.
- Lack of public awareness.
- Disease transmitted from livestock.
Across Africa we hear a lot these days about human–elephant conflict; so how do you address this problem in Gash Setit?
Before the demarcation of the boundary of Gash Setit Elephant Sanctuary, the conflict between farmers and elephants was disastrous. But after the delineation of the protected area the conflict has been reduced. Our human-elephant conflict can be further addressed if the water issue was solved; the construction of dams or ponds could be critically important.
How much awareness do you think there is in Eritrea about nature conservation? Do you have many visitors from Asmara to see the elephants in Gash Setit?
Generally, Eritreans have a high awareness of nature conservation. But a lack of resources causes a bottle neck. We don’t have the infrastructure (hotels etc), so we don’t get many visitors.
You have such an interesting job looking after one of the most unique elephant populations in Africa, so do you feel optimistic about their future?
Taking into consideration the great government and public commitment to conservation, I am very optimistic about elephants in our country.