BOOKS: The Dogs of Bale, Ethiopia

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2001:
The dogs of Bale, Ethiopia
by Efrem Legesse, with Zegeye Kibret
Bale Mountains National Park, P.O. Box 107, Bale Goba, Ethiopia

Bale Mountains National Park in Ethiopia, where I now work,
is a majestic landscape of unique flora and animals, home of the
last viable population of highly endangered Ethiopian wolves.
I was born and raised, in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian
capital. It was not as big then. I lived in a wooded district. A
company made trophy mounts of wild animals and birds nearby. My
older friends hunted birds for sale to this company. I learned to do
the same.

When we were old enough to take regular jobs, I was hired by
the Ethiopia Wildlife, Conservation, & Parks department. Then I
learned that what we did was poaching.
Since then, I have worked in various Ethiopian national
parks. At first I was interested only in conservation as the source
of my own living. I believed that Ethiopians should protect our
natural resources, and hoped that wildlife could attract tourists,
but I never paid attention to animals other than wildlife.
After I began reading ANIMAL PEOPLE, my attitude changed. I
realized that every animal has a right to live, and that if an
animal must be killed, the killing must be done humanely.
I work with Zegeye Kibret, the education officer at Bale
National Park. ANIMAL PEOPLE has helped both of us to teach our
community about animal welfare. Park warden Hana Kifle, who has
been educated in wildlife conservation both in Ethiopia and abroad,
assists us in any possible way.
Zegeye frequently speaks to the students at six schools in
the nearby villages. He organizes writing and drawing contests,
fundraising raffles to buy trees for school nature clubs to plant,
and Wolf Day, when sporting events for primary school students are
held, such as footraces, horse races, and soccer and volleyball
games. This year will be the fourth Wolf Day.
We now have a crisis with a growing population of homeless
dogs. During the past month, assisted by Awel Adem of the park
staff, we have documented the problem with a series of interviews.
I have also mapped the locations of the dog packs, expressing,
cartoon-style, what I believe to be the dogs’ own view of their
The dog problem is caused by humans as well as dogs,
especially illegal settlers in the park, but the dogs take the brunt
of the blame.
Bale Zone Agricultural Department office veterinary team
leader Issayas Tessema, DVM, told us that, “Until 1996, homeless
dogs were killed by town councils and the health ministry. The
health ministry contributed poison. The councils provided meat for
bait. We vaccinated owned dogs. In 1996, hwever, the health
ministry told us that killing homeless dogs should be our work, and
quit the poisoning. The agriculture ministry has not accepted
poisoning dogs as part of our job. Now the number of homeless dogs
is too high throughout the country. They are causing serious
problems at Bale Mountains National Park in particular,” Dr. Tessema
“There are risks that disease could be transmitted to the
wolves. Rabies could cause their extinction. Vaccinating and
sterilizing owned dogs seems to have reduced the threat to the
wolves,” Dr. Tessema said, “but the homeless dogs are not treated.
This may undermine the project.
“I believe that the best solution will be to make homeless
dogs non-homeless,” Dr. Tessema ended. “To control rabies, we
believe the Debre Zeyit National Veterinary Laboratory should become
able to make the vaccine we need to immunize all of the dogs.”

No more rabies

Bale rabies control project chief Dr. Karen Laurenson left
the Bale region three days before we began our interviews. But we
did talk with wildlife research and veterinary team leader Fekadu
Shifer-aw, DVM, and Gedlu Tezera, the rabies control project data
“The growing number of homeless dogs is inversely
proportional to the decline of wildlife,” Dr. Fekadu said. “The aim
of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization,” supported by
the World Wildlife Fund, “is to protect the flora and fauna of the
national parks. Therefore, we vaccinate and sterilize the owned
dogs in the wolf range, including illegal settlers’ dogs. Homeless
dogs are shot, to remove the threat to the wolves from
hybridization, rabies, parvovirus, distemper, and canine
Added Mr. Gedlu, “At first our priorities were to vaccinate
the dogs inside the park, and then within the surrounding villages.
But this was unfair because a rabid dog can travel up to 70
kilometres per day. Now we include more distant districts. My job
is to collect data about dog demography, reproduction, and disease.
In late 2000, four children died from rabies. So far this year, we
have had no reports of rabies in either dogs or people.”
Homeless dogs are not vaccinated, according to Mr. Gedlu,
because they cannot be captured.
“In Ethiopia,” he said, “people like to have dogs, but
they do not treat them properly. They do not approach their dogs.
Even vaccinating dogs with owners is difficult, because the dogs are
not used to being handled. I think the main influences are poverty
and religion,” Mr. Gedlu continued. “Some dogs come to town from
villages by following their owners. Then they stay around the hotels
to find some bones and leftovers.” He estimated that two dogs per
week arrive this way in each town that has a hotel.
Mr. Gedlu agreed with Dr. Fekadu that homeless dogs should be shot.
But shooting the dogs could create further problems.
We once found a warthog dead from a spear wound near the
park headquarters. It was buried. Homeless dogs excavated the grave
and woke the park staff by barking at dawn. A park scout shot one
dog, but for the next four days the others returned to scavenge the
My thought was that if dogs were shot and only wounded, not
killed, they might escape into the forest to be scavenged by
warthogs and other carnivores. As the dogs were homeless, they were
not vaccinated. Wild animals could therefore catch diseases from
eating them as carrion.
Yoseph Lamessa, Nation-al Parks coordinating team expert for
the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization, confirmed my
concern. Anthrax is one disease that could be transmitted to
wildlife by the carrion of domestic animals, he said. In southern
Ethiopia, two recent anthrax outbreaks killed more than 2,400
lesser kudu.
Tourist Guides Associa-tion chair Hussien Adem pointed out
that dogs are not the only domestic animals who may be disease
vectors. He cited the presence in the park of sheep, horses, and
cattle, who also came with illegal settlers, and do a great deal
more habitat damage.
“Domestic animals should not wander inside the park, by
law,” agreed Hana Kifle. But she was more critical of the dogs:
“Apart from the problems they cause to workers, guests, and the
visitors’ kitchen, the dogs chase young wild-life,” she said, “and
when they form packs they kill large animals in what are supposed to
be safely protected areas. We recently found a female mountain nyala
whose belly the dogs had ripped open, killing her and her full-term
fetus,” Mrs. Hana told us. “The Bale rabies control project and
Ethiopian wolf conservation program have vaccinated and sterilized
90% of the owned dogs in and around the park since 1996, but the
homeless dog population has doubled.”
In fact, 90% of the dogs in Bale-Goba village are homeless,
resident Naji Mohammed told us.
While we were doing the interviews, shepherds in an area
east of the park called Ijadoke found the remains of a young mountain
nyala. They informed Zegeye that homeless dogs had separated the
nyala from her herd and chased her until she fell dead. Park scout
Shuba Gishu made the pelt of the nyala into a park museum display.
“This time of year there are many newborn mountain nyalas.
Dogs come to hunt them,” Worko Abda told Awel Adem. Mr. Worko is in
charge of Gayssa Camp, a park facility. “We are kept busy chasing
the dogs away on horseback,” Mr. Worko continued. “For now, there
is no big problem, because we are working hard,” chasing dogs and
shooting them when it is safe to do so. The dogs come from Dinsho
town, 10 kilometres away, and Tiyanta, a village at the edge of
the park boundary, Mr. Worko said.
“Bullets and chasing are not good longterm solutions,” Mr.
Worko emphasized. “Some of these dogs are the offspring of
unsterilized owned dogs, who have been discarded because the owners
cannot feed them. If these dogs grow up, they join the homeless
packs. Some belong to poor owners who do not keep them at home.
These dogs move from place to place with the homeless dogs to search
for food. Finally, the homeless dogs are not sterilized, so they
“The solution,” Mr. Worko said, “would be for the park to
dislodge the illegal settlers and educate the people around the park
to sterilize and confine their dogs, and to think about the homeless
dogs,” before doing anything that contributes to their numbers.

Guns or poison

Bale Mountains National Park lodge manager Abdela Hussien has
asked park scouts to shoot dogs who invade the lodge kitchen and camp
sites, but he too believes that shooting is not a good solution.
“Visitors often come in a group and kill sheep for their
meal,” he said. “For the dogs to steal food is routine. I remember
how once Ethiopian Wildlife, Conservation, and Parks coordinator
Dr. Claudio Sillero was vexed by a dog and shot her from long range.
The bullet made her lame. During the past two years she brought more
dogs, and always escaped from any shooting.”
Bale Mountains National Park storekeeper Girma Urgee also
described homeless dogs chasing wildlife and harassing tourists, and
complained that they menace his children outside their relatively
isolated home. Mr. Girma keeps a gun handy. Shooting dogs “may not
be a solution,” he told me, “but for the time being it decreases
the threat.”
Yeshi Shito, manager of the Genet Hotel in Dinsho,
complained that up to 20 dogs at a time forage at the hotel compound.
“Three days ago the dogs rushed into the kitchen,” Mrs. Yeshi said.
“A kitchen worker chased them, and one dog was run over while
crossing the road. She had six puppies in her belly. I will not
forget that horrible sight.” But Mrs. Yeshi thought poisoning the
dogs again would be “an incomparable solution. Anyone who is
interested in poisoning them can soon start,” she said.
“The biggest problem the dogs cause now is killing sheep and
goats,” said Dinsho town council chair Tessema Hailu. “This problem
is growing. The number of roadkilled dogs is also increasing. The
dogs also make dirt in the town, and we don’t have the budget to
clean it, so the people have health problems. We have repeatedly
requested poison,” he said. “If we still do not get it in the very
near future, we will discuss it with higher authorities.”
To photograph the rare Ethiopian wolf, whose conservation as
an endangered species occasions much of the concern about homeless
dogs, I traveled to a den site about 10 kilometres from the park
headquarters. I could see where a wolf had regurgitated to feed her
pups, but no wolves were present. I waited a long time, 50 metres
away, hoping the wolf family would return. They did not. This was
the only pack known to be in the area.
As I was completing this report, I heard a gunshot and
rushed outside. I photographed a man shooting a dog who had come
with a pack of seven each night to steal food from the park kitchen.
The rest were shot earlier, but this dog had always escaped. Again
he vanished into the brush and the darkness, but in the morning we
found him, with a missing eye and a broken leg, sniffling and
trying to drag himself back to the town he came from.

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