Urgent help is needed to contain the fires, which have devastated 400 hectares of natural forest, grass and farmland in a world biodiversity hotspot
By Dagim Terefe
Uncontrolled wildfire is devastating Simien Mountains National Park in northern Ethiopia, killing threatened species and destroying hundreds of hectares of natural forest.
The fires, both natural wildfires and alleged arson, have raged for five days, endangering the fourth largest mountain in Africa that is located in Amhara Regional State about 800 kilometers from the capital, Addis Ababa.
Plumes of smoke were first seen rising from the park on Monday at 3 p.m. with large flames visible among the ‘Guassa’ grass and ‘lobelia gibberoa’ flowering plants. The wildfire has been destroyed more than 400 hectares of the grass and forest land that is critical to fighting climate change through storing carbon from the atmosphere.
A video showing the burned body of the Walia ibex and Chilada baboons has gone viral on social media, shocking and saddening many Ethiopians.
The fire started from the eastern area of the park and is expanding even to grass and farm land. Farmers from surrounding areas, park scouts and wardens are fighting the fire, but it is not yet under control.
Windy conditions are complicating efforts to put out the fire, which authorities blame on a heat wave sweeping across the gorge and farmlands.
“The strong winds are our biggest problem at the moment, and the difficult landscape of the mountain is also causing more problems,” Getinet said.
Yesterday, thousands of fans of the Ethiopian Premier League’s Fasil Kenema Sport Club also joined the firefighting efforts.
Cause still unknown
Many people blamed the federal government for failing to immediately deploy wildfire control helicopters and trained firefighters to respond to the crisis.
However, according to state media, the Ethiopian government has now requested the South African government to bring six wildfire control helicopters to help contain the situation.
A committee composed of federal and regional government officials was sent to the area yesterday to investigate the cause of the wildfires and help control the fire. The delegation is led by Dr. Hirut Kassew , a minister in Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Wildfire also erupted in the Park last month, destroying 342 hectares of grass and forestland before it was eventually controlled.
Some reports have questioned whether the fires could be linked to arson since they have occurred twice within weeks. However, authorities have not yet concluded the causes of the fires.
“We have not traced yet exactly how the fire has been occurred. The investigation is under way by the regional security forces,” said Getinet Yigzaw, Head of the Seimien Mountain National Park Coordination Office in his interview with Amhara Mass Media Agency.
A biodiversity hotspot
Simien Mountains National Park is of global significance for biodiversity conservation because it is home to globally threatened species, including the iconic Walia ibex, a rare wild mountain goat, the gelada baboon and the Ethiopian wolf.
The park is also important in terms of carbon stock and carbon dioxide sequestration, according to a study financed by the UK-SCIP fund on Determination of Conservation Benefits and Carbon Sequestration Potential of the Simien Mountains National Park. It has a carbon stock of 4,239,804 tons, which means it stores 15.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, which is worth $62.1 million USD in carbon finance.
With an elevation of 4,533 meters, the park is the fourth highest mountain in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and Mount Stanly.
The park was inscribed as a Natural World Heritage site in 1979, when UNESCO lauded it as “one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, with jagged mountain parks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500 meters.”
Sine the park has splendid scenery, endemic animals and plants, hiking opportunities and is an important biodiversity hotspot, it is a main source of income in tourism for the federal government.
Editing by Annika McGinnis