Fifty years ago, in June 1966, a group of 32 environmentalists and nature lovers founded an environmental social club whose patron was the late Emperor Haile Selassie. In September 1966, this social club eventually evolved to become the first indigenous environmental non-governmental organization in Ethiopia. In 1993, EWNHS formally opened to the public with enormous support from key lecturers in the Biology Department of the Addis Ababa University. With EWNHS’s appearance as a conservation NGO, this year marked an important era in Ethiopian conservation, as this sector was the realm of the state up to this date.
What started as a social club has transformed over the years into a national conservation organization known today as the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS). Fifty years on and the organization set up by a small group of nature lovers has made tremendous achievements in the areas of environmental education, biodiversity conservation, monitoring and research as well as community outreach and awareness campaigns.
An event to mark EWNHS’s Golden Jubilee was organized at Desalegn hotel, in the capital Addis Ababa on 26 August 2017 to celebrate the organisation’s achievements and commitment to environmental and wildlife conservation. It brought together conservation stakeholders, representatives of government and diplomatic institutions, actors in the development sector, the media and business community, as well as current and past board members, volunteers and supporters of EWNHS.
During a presentation, the Executive Director of EWNHS, Mengistu Wondafrash revisited the five decades journey of the organization in nature conservation and highlighted major achievements and some challenges – that included policy constraints, noting that collaborative efforts have been crucial in their work all these years.
“Environmental conservation is not solely the responsibility of any particular entity. It is a collective responsibility of all working hand in hand to harmonize development with conservation,” said Mengistu. He also said that stakeholders need to work closer than ever before at national and global levels to tackle the many unprecedented environmental challenges that are negatively affecting the world’s natural resources.
EWNHS has pioneered a number of activities in Ethiopia that include nature conservation, public awareness campaigns, establishing of school nature clubs, production of various promotional publications, celebration of World Environment Day (WED), conservation of the country’s avifauna with special focus on threatened and endemic species, monitoring of aquatic ecosystems, rehabilitation of degraded lands and the improvement of livelihoods of communities, to mention just a few.
The gathering applauded the achievements of EWNHS thus far and supported the organization’sfuture plans to focus on environmental education, avifaunal conservation (continue as center of excellence for bird species in Ethiopia), restoration of degraded areas and promotion of indigenous plant species.
EWNHS continues to face many challenges that range from difficult working environment to the global financial recessions that have affected funding for their programmes.
“After accumulating a wealth of experience in conservation for the last 50 years, there is no room now for complacency, frustration or withdrawal. The way out from the prevailing policy constraints would be intensive engagement and dialogue with government stakeholders to bring about attitudinal changes towards conservation,” said Negash Teklu, Director of Population, Health and Environment Consortium Ethiopia, which EWNHS is a founding member.
Prof Shibru Tedla, a prominent former Board Chairperson of EWNHS said “it is necessary to organize activities in the future that engage the youth and focus on schools to influence behavioral and cultural changes towards nature conservation”. He also emphasized the need to initiate national campaigns on the restoration of natural resources, the rehabilitation of degraded sites, the greening of cities and the establishment of cultural and recreational centers.
“We have to invest on cultural and behavioral transformation through mainstreaming of environmental education in schools and engagement of the youth in order to achieve positive and thriving change in the status of conservation in Ethiopia,” said Prof Shibru.
Some achievements of EWNHS:
- Promotion of environmental education within Ethiopia, working through Nature Clubs established in over 400 elementary and secondary schools, teacher training colleges and communities
- Organized 21 regional environmental education workshops for 345 teachers and other experts.
- Published over 40 assorted thematic environmental support publications, including brochures, posters, factsheets, resource materials, club guides, booklets, books and magazines for various target audiences.
- Promoted the transfer of environmental knowledge and awareness via two of its publications, “WALIA”, a quasi-scientific journal, and “AGAZEN”, which features short reading materials on environment for students and the youth.
- Conducted an intensive assessment and identified 69 key sites within Ethiopia high in biodiversity including the publication of a book on the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) of Ethiopia, a first inventory of its kind in Africa.
- Raised and distributed over 3.5 million seedlings of assorted indigenous and exotic plant species to be planted in school and sacred grounds, and highly degraded landscapes.
- Played decisive roles in improving the conservation status of the White-winged Flufftail, a globally Endangered bird species.
- Carried out intensive monitoring of 23 wetlands as integral part of African Waterfowl Census for 12 years.
- As a member of BirdLife International, took the lead role in conservation and research of endemic and threatened birds of Ethiopia, including Northern Bald Ibis, White-winged Flufftail, Liben Lark, Abyssinian Bush- crow, White-tailed Swallow, Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco among others.
- Developed quite a number of Management Action Plans for Conservation of threatened bird Species – White-winged Flufftail, Liben Lark, etc.
- Celebration of World Environment Day (WED) with school Nature Clubs.
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