New research reveals carnivore range extension in Ethiopia’s Somali region
Little has been documented about large carnivore distribution in Ethiopia to date. A new study led by Fedlu Abdella with WildCRU co-authors Hans Bauer and Paul Johnson helps address this for six districts in the country’s Somali Region. Low densities of carnivores and their prey species as well as inaccessible terrain mean that camera trapping is not a viable option across much of this area, so the study asked local people about their knowledge and experience of wild carnivores. 108 interviews and 12 focus group discussions were conducted exploring local knowledge of carnivore distribution, the status of human carnivore conflict and information related to the cheetah cub trade.
While the region is not currently listed as resident range for big cats, excitingly, the study’s results overturn this – indicating widespread presence of cheetah and remnants of lion and leopard occurrence. Spotted hyaena and black-backed jackals are also understood to be abundant while wild dog have been present but are now exceedingly rare.
Negative attitudes towards carnivores are commonly held due to injuries and deaths of people and livestock, while attitudes towards wild grazers are generally positive. Over half of the respondents said they had killed a predator at some point – most often spotted hyaenas. Capture of lion cubs for the wildlife trade may have contributed to this species’ population decline across the region, and it is possible this is a contributing factor in the perceived increase of less dominant predators – namely cheetah, hyaena and jackals. Cheetah cubs are still regularly caught and smuggled to Somaliland from where they enter the pet trade, and the study mapped key trafficking locations and routes.
In addition to providing convincing evidence to extend the range of several species, this study highlights the major importance of this region for the conservation of several carnivore and prey species. The authors note that further research and conservation effort is urgently needed to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and reduce wildlife trafficking.
Large carnivore distribution, conflicts and threats in the east of the Somali region, Ethiopia.
Fedlu Abdella, Abiot Hailu, Shibru Tilahun, Paul J. Johnson, Hans Bauer
First published: 10 November 2023 https://doi.org/10.1111/aje.13230
Infographics by Sarah Markes