Thanks for all the comments and donations following the previous Blogs.
The days have zipped by since my last Blog with more torrential rain and even a massive hail storm. Very disconcerting to drive slushy, icy streets in sub Saharan Africa! The photo below shows the slush, but within minutes the ice had melted.
The last week was spent at more meetings to try and get the 80 hectare (197 ½ acre) site of land officially transferred to Born Free Foundation so we can start building the Wildlife Rescue, Conservation and Education Centre.
In case any reader thinks establishing a wildlife centre in a country like Ethiopia is an easy task, I thought I’d share the background to date….
The need for a wildlife centre was brought to the attention of Born Free Foundation in December 2006 following a meeting to discuss captive wild animals in Ethiopia. At that time there were various orphaned big cats being looked after in private gardens in Addis Abeba. Two cheetah in two gardens and two lion cubs in another… I still don’t know exactly how many baboons, owls and other wild animals are being kept in captivity in Addis, but I know of animals kept in several private homes or hotels in small cages. In addition to these ‘pet’ wild animals, there is a ‘Lion Zoo’ in Addis. (I won’t go into all the details here. If you are interested to learn more about the Lion Zoo, try looking it up on the web. Below there is one of the eight main enclosures. Each has walls, ceiling and floor made of cement and the public are encouraged to pose for photos sitting against the front wire mesh.
Many people have raised concerns about the conditions - you can see below, a mother and small child posing or a photo. The President’s Palace also keeps three lions.
Ethiopia’s lions are ‘black-maned’ lions. The photo below shows just how magnificent these animals are. The late Emperor Haile Selassie was known as the ‘Lion of Judah’ and Ethiopians have taken the lion to their hearts. Addis Abeba has sculptures and paintings of lions at every turn.
The Captive Wild Animal meeting was organised by Ethiopian Wildlife Association, Wildlife Conservation Department, US Agency for International Development, African Parks Foundation, Regional Office for East Africa at US Department of State in Ethiopia and the Italian Development Cooperation. The interest of sponsors and attendees was very encouraging in a country where animal welfare standards are generally low. (It is not unusual throughout the country to see over laden and incredibly lame donkeys being beaten or dogs being stoned). Speeches were made by Ministers of Tourism and Agriculture and Development, Ambassador to the United States to Ethiopia, head of the Wildlife Department, the adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister and guest speakers Dr Laurie Marker (the Namibia-based Cheetah Conservation Fund founder and CEO) and Vanessa Bouwer (the South African-based De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust Trustee and Deputy Director). The meeting participants discussed the issues and made several recommendations including establishing a wildlife centre to care for orphaned, confiscated and injured animals that can be released back into the wild wherever possible. The centre would also provide spacious, naturalistic enclosures for animals that cannot be released back into the wild.
Apologies for rather a long-winded explanation, but it shows that in a country where wild animals are kept chained or in small cages, there is the will to change things.
Two of the animals being kept in captivity were nicknamed the ‘Italian’ lion cubs because they were being cared for by a truly dedicated Italian couple. And in case any of you think a lion cub would make a cute pet, think again. Firstly, lions belong in the wild. Secondly, they may be cute when they are small, but they very soon get big, very strong and have very sharp teeth! Below shows me watching one cub just before the second cub sneaked up at me from behind and sank its teeth into my hip!
And here they are exploring the garden.
The problem was that the Italian lion cubs were getting big and needed a home, but where could they go? The Ethiopian Government refused to allow the cats to be taken out of the country, the Lion Zoo as the photos show does not offer good conditions , and no other facility existed to care for orphaned, injured or confiscated wildlife.
Born Free Foundation was asked to help find a solution, and the President of Ethiopia, His Excellency Girma Wolde Giorgis, pledged to help wherever he could. A short term solution was needed urgently, so an enclosure was enlarged and strengthened in the grounds of the Presidential Palace, and the lion cubs moved to their new temporary home. See below which shows the two Italian lions at around two years old and as playful as ever in their temporary home.
At the same time as the temporary enclosure was built, following the recommendations of the Captive Wildlife meeting, Born Free Foundation presented the Government of Ethiopia with a proposal to establish a Wildlife Rescue, Conservation and Education Centre within 25 kilometres of Addis. Along with creating a facility for orphaned, confiscated and injured animals the Centre would provide a long term home for the Italian lions and aim to give some (if not all) of the Lion Zoo cats a spacious home.
The fact that even with the President’s help I have spent the last year working on various proposals and agreements with the authorities shows just how long it can take to get such projects up and running.!
However, we have made progress. Born Free Foundation is now registered as a non-profit organisation in Ethiopia with a bank account. The land has been surveyed and promised, but I am still chasing the formal land agreement.
I am lucky enough to have a Pass to the Presidential Palace grounds so that I can check on the Italian lions. I go as often as I can and, as I’m sure you can imagine, seeing the lions in their temporary enclosure is a good motivation to keep on going until we get the land agreement and can build a spacious home for the lions with grass and trees. The proposed site for the new Centre is shown below.
I know I end every Blog with a call to action, but please do help if you can.
The Wildlife Rescue, Conservation and Education Centre will cost around UK£ 1 million (US$ 2 million) to build and equip, and it will cost UK£ 250,000 (US$ 500,000) per year to fund the Centre and its conservation and education programmes.
We must get the Italian lions, Dolo and other wildlife in captivity in Ethiopia into spacious enclosures.
And if anyone wants to help pay for the care of the Italian lions, they cost £10 (US$20) each per day to keep.
More news in a few days,