web valley banner

Field Diary from Delanta

20th September 2022
Back to news

 

By Dr Jorgelina Marino

 

I’m back from an exciting (and wet) field trip to the Delanta mountains of North Wollo; until recently, one of the epicentres of the war. 

I saw signs of the fighting everywhere. We drove past Gashena, a strategic location at the crossroads to three main cities, taken and recovered three times at the cost of many lives. That evening at the campsite, everyone shared stories of how they coped with insecurity and their concerns for the safety of family and friends. 

I am full of admiration for our team’s determination to resume work as soon as this was safe to do so. For the last few months the Amhara team has been working at full throttle. With the rainy reason well advanced, there is urgency to implement the sustainable livelihoods project, as the window of time for planting guassa and transferring bee colonies is very short. 

 

Three people plant evenly spaced grass tussocks on muddy slope

 

In the nearby Abuna Yosef range, a few weeks ago, many local farmers planted guassa in plots bordering the wolf range no longer suitable for agriculture. Cultivation of the native guassa grass (Festuca spp.) stops soil erosion and restores Afroalpine habitats. Two years from now they will harvest the grass, and once their own needs are covered sell the rest at high price in local markets. Guassa is used for roof thatching, to make ropes and mattresses, for the coffee ceremony, and as fodder. 

In Delanta the rain was so plentiful and the fields were so waterlogged that planting had to be postponed. Luckily, during a window of more benign weather, I was able to help Mareg Kasaye plant guassa in their family plot. I felt that I was doing something really important!

 

Three people crouch on a grassy hillside planting seedlings

 

Mareg’s father has planted guassa in this plot for 14 years. As a result, soil quality is excellent, but the old tussocks were dying off. He has now planted new propagates in between the old tussocks. We have now established this as an experimental long-term plot for guassa cultivation. 

Soon several families in Delanta will start producing honey in the high altitude Erica forests bordering wolf range. We walked down the escarpment to meet some of the beneficiaries of this scheme, and checked the future location of the beehives. EWCP will provide modern beehives, technical training and supervision for this initiative. Erica honey is highly valued locally, commanding high prices in local markets. The communities are developing their own bylaws to protect these forests, linked to the production of Erica honey. 

 

Delanta has an outstanding Afroalpine area, where the Addis Tesfa (New Hope in Amharic) pack has settled following a locally extinction six years ago. The pack has bred for three consecutive years and, during this trip, we confirmed the presence of at least seven wolves. To add to the excitement, we heard reports of a pair of wolves seen in a habitat patch to the south. Are these Addis Tesfa dispersers starting a new family? We hope so! Our monitors will soon check this out soon and collect samples to elucidate the origins of this new population from genetics. 

I am now in Bahir Dar city, our headquarters in the Amhara region in the shores of Lake Tana (the source of the Blue Nile), meeting with wildlife authorities and partners. We are discussing the perilous condition faced by the Delanta wolves, cornered by new encroachment, some of it illegal, which perpetuates a loop of unsustainable agriculture and poverty. We are seeking their support and funding for our two-prong strategy: a) to expand the sustainable use of guassa and Erica, while also studying their genetic variation, restoration capacity and carbon sequestration potential; and b) to support the creation of a Community Conservation Area in Delanta, the only Afroalpine range with Ethiopian wolves not yet under legal protection. The time is ripe and there is some urgency. Unless the current rate of habitat lost is halted this budding wolf population may will again go extinct.

 

View over lush grass and healthland

 

During this expedition I worked alongside many of our Amhara team, including Misrak Seyum, Girma Eshete, Fekadu Lema, Dessiew Gelaw, Sindew Zewdu, Mengistu Birhan and Getachew Assefa. Their hard work and commitment to our goals is admirable.

My deep appreciation goes to you for your continued support. Hopefully the news from the field will bring you closer to the wolves and the Ethiopian mountains, and make you feel proud of the work that we are doing together. We could not do this without you. Thank you.

Hope to see you soon,

Jorgelina

 

Back to news