National Geographic : 2017 Apr
ethiopia’s Monkeys 79 cows and 47 million sheep and goats, Ethiopia has more livestock than any other African country. That upends a delicate balance between native flora and rodents, reducing food for everything from Abyssinian hares to wattled ibises. This pattern plays out across Ethiopia—almost everywhere, it seems, except here. In Guassa the grass is high and wavy, the torch lilies and giant lobelia left to grow for years. It’s not a park. Local villagers run this place. A complex communal system determines where livestock grazes, who cuts grass, and when. As a result this landscape one-sixth the size of Nairobi is among East Africa’s healthiest. Nearly a quarter of the country’s en- demic mammal species live here. There are about two dozen of one of the world’s most endangered canids, the ginger-furred Ethiopian wolf. Guas- sa is a hot spot for klipspringers, civets, African wolves, and hyenas. And unlike elsewhere in Ethi- opia, its 800 or so chattering geladas live much as they have for thousands of years. This small but spectacular wildlife success story is, in other words, a happy accident. I came to Ethiopia to see whether Guassa could serve as a model for conservation. What I found was a region changing so quickly that I had to wonder, Can Guassa’s monkeys and farmers navigate the pressures to come? Weeks BeFore Meeting getaneh, we fled the crowds and dust of the capital, Addis Ababa, and corkscrewed into the clouds toward Guassa. Scientist and photographer Jeffrey Kerby and I passed dry farms and rock huts. We saw women trailing donkeys stacked with hay. Men prodded goats with long staffs. Ethiopia may evoke im- ages of camels and harsh salt pans, but it’s mostly mountains. The first trickles of the Blue Nile start in the highlands. We were headed to Africa’s roof, where Kerby is part of a decade-long gelada re- search project founded and run by Peter Fashing and Nga Nguyen, anthropologists at California State University, Fullerton. We crested one last rise. The parched earth and trees gave way to a lush, vivid carpet of green. Almost immediately, our hosts appeared. Three Geladas eat well in the Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area because the vegetation is diverse. Admassu Getaneh, a former soldier who manages the area, known as Guassa, patrols for farmers illegally grazing their livestock or for poachers harvesting grass.