Saturday, June 02, 2007

Rare Ethiopian lions at risk as forest cut

ADDIS ABABA - A thousand rare black-mane lions -- an Ethiopian national symbol -- and some 300 elephants are in danger after a swathe of forest in their sanctuary was cut down, a wildlife expert said on Thursday.

The land was cleared from a conservation area at Midiga Tola, adjacent to the Babile Elephant Sanctuary located 560 km (350 miles) east of Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Wildlife Association President Yirmed Demeke said.

Flora EcoPower Holding AG, a German biodiesel producer based in Munich, cleared the forest after it was granted 10,000 hectares of land by the government, Yirmed said.

"The company has continued to clear the forested land without any concern for the wild animals threatened by the destruction of an internationally recognised conservation area," Yirmed said.

Flora EcoPower's Chief Operations Officer for Ethiopia Alon Hovev said the company had met wildlife experts and government officials over the past few days to solve the problem.

"We are not touching one area where there are elephants," said Hovev, saying their work was 30 km from the elephants.

Hovev said the problem arose from a lack of communication between the company and conservation groups, but said it was resolved at the meetings.

"No one can tell us we are not taking care of animals. Anything they will tell us to do, we will do and we will contribute money," he said on Thursday.

Wildlife experts visiting the forest protested against the regional and federal governments, saying the company had not conducted the legally required environmental impact assessment before cutting the forest down.

Tadesse Hailu, head of the Ministry of Agriculture's Wildlife Protection Department, said local authorities must make sure investment did not harm conservation areas, wildlife or the environment.

The 7,000 sq km (4,350 sq mile) sanctuary is one of a kind in Ethiopia, and home to about 300 elephants, 1,000 black-mane lions and 250 bird and plant species endemic to the Horn of Africa nation.

The black-mane lions are revered in Ethiopia, where they are on the national currency and often depicted in statues.

Scores of the black-maned lions are kept in a zoo in the capital Addis Ababa. Wildlife experts estimate that only about 1,000 remain in the wild. (Additional reporting by Bryson Hull in Nairobi)

Story by Tsegaye Tadesse
Story Date: 1/6/2007 newsid/42288/story.htm

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