Travel: Swayne’s Hartebeest: an indigenous beauty saved by indigenous system

Abba Gada Qabeto Edemo

By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb

Addis Abeba December 04/2020 – “Senkelle is the wealth of the Oromo as it is conserved by the Gada System. If the system was extended as it should have been the world would have benefited, let alone the region. The Hartebeest is counted now as one of us and thereby protected by the Geda,” says Abba Gada Qabeto Edemo, the current leader of Oda Roba of West Arsi, Arsi Asella, and Bale.

Senkelle Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary located between Oromia and South Nations and Nationalities region, on the way from Shashemene to Arbaminch nearby the small town called Aje, 305 Km from Addis Abeba. The Sanctuary was established in 1974, dedicated to conserving the endemic Swayne’s Hartebeest. Currently, Swayne’s Hartebeest is found in Maze National Park and Senkelle only.  Saved by the indigenous democratic socio-political system of the Oromo people that was inscribed by UNESCO, as the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2016, the Geda system is still the guardian for the Hartebeest and other wild animals found in Senkelle.

Swayne’s Hartebeest

Senkelle sanctuary, with its spectacular scenery and unique reserve of wildlife it could be a magnificent site of choice to tourists, photojournalists, and wanderers of nature. Uniquely breathtaking grassland scenery embeds the majestic Sweyne’s Hartebeest along with scattered acacia trees depicts iconic African wildlife scenery. Senkelle is also known for an excellent bird watching site seeing.

Desta Bedhaso, Chief Warden of the sanctuary, said that the sanctuary is well conserved by local communities for its natural and environmental habitat, but he disclosed his concern even its existence is not well advertised.  Desta added that he has been working on the sanctuary for the last seven years and he witnesses how the local community conserved the sanctuary throughout the standard they set by their own endogenous knowledge.

“As you see the sanctuary is circled by the community which does have a shortage of farming land but because it is guided by the Gada system they didn’t even settle in the sanctuary or nor did something which harms the sanctuary, not even cutting trees.” According to the chief warden, the Sanctuary contains more than 191 bird species of three endemics and two near-endemic to Ethiopia and 36 mammals including the Sweyne’s Hartebeest.

Teshita Sameto, the winner of African Rangers Awards in 2018 also a community chief told Addis Standard that the Hartebeest has been a member of their tribe with Abba Gada’s decision. “I have been serving the sanctuary as a scout since 1994, after the downfall of the Dergue regime, the local community started to kill the Hartebeest in between the time of the late Abba Gada. Later Abba Gada Jara, succeeding Abba Gada, gathered all the elders and leaders of the community to make the Hartebeest as one of us,” said Teshita.

According to Teshita, the nearby community is concerned about the lack of hospitality service for tourists. Additionally, he urged the government to carry out infrastructural development especially to solve the problem related to drinking water. “We are all worried about the shortage of water not only for us but also for the Hartebeests because they are being hunted by other communities while they are searching for water outside the sanctuary,” said Teshita in his final message for the government.

What is new?

Last month the Chairman of the Ethiopian Tourism Board, the former PM HaileMariam Desalegn, inaugurated an eco-friendly entrance for Senkelle Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary which was built by a local Non-governmental Consortium called Population, Health and Environment Ethiopia Consortium – PHEEC.

“The history of Senkelle is not only for Ethiopia it also works for all. This model will be a lesson for others to conserve natural, ecological, and wildlife with the help of indigenous knowledge. I do have a respect for Oromo culture and Abba Gada’s contribution to their successful intervention to keep the reserve protected.” said the chairman.

Former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn with Abba Gadas

In his speech, HaileMariam reflected a new norm of concept for tourism and conservation. He said, “The concept of conservation should be ‘Conservation based tourism’ not ‘Tourism based conservation’.” The former PM is currently working on his foundation ‘The HaileMariam and Roman Foundation’ on the health and sustainable environment sector.

Seleshi Girma, CEO of Tourism Ethiopia, said at the event that most Ethiopian National parks don’t have official entrances so the Senkelle entrance will be an ice breaking for others. “We know the pressure in which regional Parks are in but by using the indigenous knowledge and culture you give us a successful lesson how to conserve without science” Seleshi thanked the Abba Gedas. He further explained the importance of destination development and promotion in which his organization is working on.

Seleshi Girma, Tourism Ethiopia CEO

At the event, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and Tourism Ethiopia signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together on destination development and promotion.

Seleshi Girma said that Ethiopia is one of the leading countries in the world with having a huge tourism potential without using it properly. Seleshi in his speech also added that they are adopting the World Travel and Tourism Council Safe Travel protocols.

In the interview, Seleshi added that they have planned to develop 50 new destinations in the coming ten years currently they developed seven new tourist destinations. According to the CEO they planned to have a Tourism fund that would solve the problems related to financial problems to promote the country’s tourism potential throughout the world by opening tourist information centers in different parts of the world. AS

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