Travels in Ethiopia

By Dr. George Archibald, ICF Co-founder 

January 31 – February 18, 2012. Following a trail blazed by German crane colleagues and through transportation gratis ICF’s official Airline, Lufthansa, I spent nineteen memorable days in Ethiopian landscapes and sunshine. Ten of those days we shared with two members of ICF, Joe Branch (member if ICF’s Board of Directors and Chair of our Board for eight years) and Denny Geiler (ICF supporter and great birder from California). The visit perhaps will, with good fortune, result in the acceleration in the study and conservation of wetlands  vital to more than 1,368 Black Crowned Cranes and 213 Wattled Cranes and uncountable thousands (for me at least) of migrant Eurasian Cranes that we observed.
The Jimma wetland along the Little Blue Nile and that flows into the southwest corner of Lake Tana, together with a series of similar spreads of shallow water along that riparian complex, will perhaps be the primary focus for habitat conservation efforts after Shimelis determines the numbers and distribution of perhaps as many as 20 breeding pairs of Wattled Cranes (my guess), four pairs of which we located during our brief time at that complex.  Through the support of a generous private donation, ICF was able to provide adequate resources for the publication of Shimelis’ book, “The Bird of Lake Tana”.  This book is being developed to promote ecotourism that will improve the livelihood of local people living near and in the wetlands.  In addition ICF gave Simelis an excellent camera and a top-of-the-line telescope and tripod to enable him to secure better images for the book and for his continued and vital research.   Thanks to the efforts of German and Ethiopian colleagues, the Lake Tana Basin is on the cusp of being declared one of the UN’s Biosphere Reserves, a qualification that will open possibilities for financial support from the German government.On the  valley floor of the Rift Valley southwest of Addis, we visited four wetland complexes, three of which are seasonal and provide roosting habitat for thousands of Eurasian Cranes, and one of which, Boya, is a permanent wetland of fluctuating water levels and provides both breeding and dry season habitat for perhaps the majority of the nations Wattled Cranes.  We counted 163 in one day at Boya whose wide basin is surrounded by badly eroded and overpopulated hills.  When water levels rise during the wet season, the lake expands over thousands of areas of mudflats that undoubtedly come alive with a variety of aquatic vegetation and a concomitant plethora of nesting waterfowl. Once home to hundreds of hippos and famous as an area where one could hunt them, Boya is now devoid of that great mammals of the marshes but it is rife with birds. The challenge now is to protect the wetland against effects of erosion and  agricultural encroachment as facilitated by dikes and drainage ditches. A colleague, Yilma Dellelgen from the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society in Addis, will perhaps help address that challenge.

Finally, a sprinkling of lovely wetlands around Jimma in the southwest, provide breeding habitat for several pairs of Wattled Cranes, four of which we located and one pair had an almost-fledged juvenile.  This will perhaps be the focus for the efforts of two colleagues from the university there, Tariku and Tijima.


Learn about George’s winter visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and ICF’s work to return cranes to this country!

Visit George & Tex, our exhibit highlighting ICF’s pioneering work to save the Whooping Crane. The exhibit is on display through May 2012 at our world headquarters in Wisconsin. Click here for a preview.

The Indianapolis Prize was first awarded in 2006 to Dr. Archibald for his life-long dedication to crane conservation. View the award video to learn more about Dr. Archibald’s work as a global ambassador for cranes and their conservation.