Free parking for rich farmers?

Whenever I hear of a new protected area being created I always worry about which local communities maybe losing their land. Fines-and-fences conservationists with strong connections to donors may regrettably outweigh remote indigenous communities in the considerations of central government elites.

Whether or not that was the case when Gambella National Park was created in Ethiopia in 1974 I have no idea – it is the site of the second largest mammal migration in Africa! – but it now appears that global agricultural investors trump the conservationists. If a national park’s boundaries are to be compromised for sensible concessions with local residents then I will happily applaud (the rigidity of interpretation around protected area regulations is one reason I am ambiguous about their benefits), but selling a park out to international agribusiness doesn’t even come close.

Unlike the countries further south, my guess is that wildlife-based tourism is pretty low in Ethiopia, so the government doesn’t think its losing much. All of which just goes to show that getting biodiversity to pay for itself can yield better protection than some piece of paper.

How much global condemnation will the Ethiopian government face for this decision only time will tell, but it looks like facts are being created on the ground quicker than a conservation campaign can mobilise. I feel sad for the White-eared Kob, and the likely loss of one of the few remaining great plains spectacles left in the world.

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