Wildlife of Eritrea
Just 60 years ago, Eritrea could boast all the large game species of the East African savannah. Unfortunately, farming methods, war, population increase and deforestation have all taken a toll on the large mammal species in Eritrea. Today only a few of these species remain:
Between 50 and 100 Elephants survive in the southern part of Gash Barka. Professor Jiskel Shoshany completed several detailed studies on this relic population.
The crtically endangered Abyssinian Wild Ass survives in small numbers (less than 500) on the coastal plains, and is often sighted in the area of Gel’alo. Many mistaken sightings are made of hybrid or even domestic donkeys, which look very similar, and have the same distinctive markings on the back legs and body.
Reports of Lion come sporadically from Sandachina in south western Gash Barka, including reports by local villagers of males roaring, but no confirmed sightings have been made for 20 years.
Leopard are widespread, but local and largely nocturnal. They are rarely seen, but often reported by villagers who lose livestock to leopards. The more common Caracoul is probably responsible for many of these reported leopard killings. ‘Leopard’ in Tigrinya is ‘nebri’, which is often mistranslated as ‘tiger’!
Wildlife of Eritrea (wiki)
Eritrea formerly supported a large population of elephants. The Ptolemaic kings of Egypt used the country as a source of war elephants in the third century BC. Between 1955 and 2001 there were no reported sightings of elephant herds, and they are thought to have fallen victim to the war of independence. In December 2001 a herd of about 30, including 10 juveniles, was observed in the vicinity of the Gash River. The elephants seemed to have formed a symbiotic relationship with olive baboons. It is estimated that there are around 100 elephants left in Eritrea, the most northerly of East Africa’s elephants. The endangered Painted Hunting Dog (lycaon pictus) was previously found in Eritrea, but is now deemed extirpated from the entire country.
In 2006, Eritrea announced it would become the first country in the world to turn its entire coast into an environmentally protected zone. The 1,347 km (837 mile) coastline, along with another 1,946 km (1,209-miles) of coast around its more than 350 islands, will come under governmental protection.
I had the most amazing experience last Saturday – definitely one of the best flights of my life. I have been involved over the past months in starting up a conservation effort here in Eritrea for elephants – Africa’s most northern wild herd. There is very little research on these animals, and local legend has it that this herd inter-bred with some Indian elephants from an 1878 British invasion of Abyssinia, by the British India Regiments, led by a General Napier.
Just a little over 60 years ago, Eritrea was home to an abundant amount of big game species. However, do to several decades of war with Ethiopia, poor farming methods, and deforestation, their numbers have drastically declined. As a result, new government polices were implemented at the start of Eritrea’s independence in 1991. These government enforced regulations have helped in steadily increasing their numbers through out Eritrea.
The Eritrean Coastal Desert ecoregion runs along the southern coast of the Red Sea from Balfair Assoli in Eritrea to Ras Bir near Obock in Djibouti. It thus forms the southern shore of the Bab-el-Mandeb straits, which form the entrance to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden. Here, the shores of Yemen and Djibouti funnel a huge bird migration each autumn (MacKinnon and MacKinnon 1986). In almost all other ways the flora and fauna of the ecoregion is unremarkable although populations of the Dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas), Soemmerring’s gazelle (Gazella soemmerringii) and Salt’s dikdik (Madoqua saltiana) occur, and the area is located within the Somali-Masai regional center of plant endemism.
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