New $9.8 Million Commitment to Conservation in East Africa, Arabia

An Ethiopian conservationist identifies plants on the Sanetti Plateau of the Bale Mountains in south-central Ethiopia — part of the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot. (© Robin Moore)

How many environmentalists does it take to develop a regional conservation strategy? Quite a lot! Recently more than 200 of them worked together to design a plan for protecting essential ecosystems in an area known as the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot.

The hotspot covers more than 9,650 kilometers (6,000 miles) from the mountains of Arabia to the Chimanimani Massif on the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, to the Ethiopian highlands and the lakes of the Albertine Rift. To develop an ecosystem profile — a strategic plan to guide conservation investment in the region — the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) engaged conservationists, researchers, government officials and local stakeholders from across the 17-country region.

This diverse group’s 14-month effort to obtain and analyze mountains of data has paid off. Their more than 300-page report (PDF) filled with information on the species, ecosystems, socioeconomics, policies and current environmental investments has resulted in CEPF committing $9.8 million to help protect the Eastern Afromontane’s most critical natural areas.

Its widely scattered mountains contain incredibly diverse and unique natural worlds that are the lifeline to the 475 million people living there. Local species include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • An estimated 2,350 plant species found nowhere else;
  • 500 mammal species, including the iconic mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) and the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis);
  • Approximately 620 freshwater fish species that are unique to the region; and
  • An untold number of as-yet undiscovered species.

    Gelada baboon. These Old World monkeys are found only in the Ethiopian highlands, which are part of the Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot. (© Robin Moore)

The profile highlights both the incredible biological richness of the hotspot and its importance to the well-being and development of countries that depend upon its natural resources, particularly fresh water and ecosystem support to agriculture and food security. It also details the terrible threats to the remaining natural areas in the region, which is experiencing an unprecedented population boom coupled with enduring poverty.

The profiling team, led by BirdLife International and supported by CEPF and Conservation International scientists, worked with colleagues via five national workshops, two regional workshops, and countless exchanges of letters.

This was not an easy endeavor. The team had to work around geopolitical turmoil such as the Arab Spring, which led to cancellation of the workshop in Yemen, and the appearance of a new country on our maps: South Sudan, which became independent in July 2011. But, with great skill, they compiled and distilled a vast amount of data and ideas, culminating in a comprehensive conservation strategy for the region, and a specific strategy that CEPF will pursue in up to 36 priority sites over the next five years.

CEPF’s funds will go to local nongovernmental organizations and others working in the hotspot to support these valuable ecosystems for the benefit of people and nature — in short, initiatives that recognize and act on the links between the need for sustainable development and the imperative to preserve the natural wealth of these countries. The profile also provides a roadmap for others interested in joining strategic conservation efforts in the region.

With the profile completed, and the investment strategy set, CEPF has begun searching for the regional implementation team that will support us in reaching out to local civil society groups and shepherding this promising strategy. We expect to begin grant-making before the end of 2012.

Patricia Zurita is the executive director of CEPF, which is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, the government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. Learn more about CEPF.

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