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Bush-crow diaries: Reflecting on Ethiopia

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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A view over the Borana zone

A view over the Borana zone

Having now returned and back into the busy schedule of postgraduate life and the write-up, I would be lying to say that daydreams of Ethiopia skies haven’t been regularly crossing my mind. Since returning into the leafy suburbs of Berkshire, work on the Bush-crows has taken the rapid transition from fieldwork to data entry, tidying and analysis before the main period of write-up ensues.

Hopefully now the numerous theories that I have been formulating, questioning (and regularly disproving!) will either be given credence through the data, or give me even more to think about to explain the peculiarities of the bush-crows behaviour.

Early inklings

In line with the remarkable recent discovery of the tiny climatic envelope that limits the bush-crows distribution, facets of the species biology, as may be expected, appear heavily influenced by the micro-climate that exists within this area. Much of my behavioural work investigated the relationship between temperature and foraging and movement ecology. There appears to be a number of trends indicating that behaviour is significantly influenced by daily variation in heat and, although the full analyses are still being run, it appears likely that this will support the theory that an internal factor of the birds biology is highly specific to its tiny, climatically controlled distribution, rather than a limiting external factor such as diet or an unseen habitat stringency.

Impressions of Ethiopia

I would be lying to say that I didn’t have high expectations of Ethiopia before leaving and despite knowing this is never a good predisposition to truly objective travel, my expectations were exceeded. In recent years I have had the wonderful privilege to travel widely, experiencing a great variety of places in many remote and relatively untravelled regions of the world, but something about this country took hold of me and never let go, quite unlike anywhere I have ever been. Pride is a word that I will now associate with Ethiopia probably more than any other. The Borana people are oozing with enthusiasm to tell you about their world and way of life and were even keener to share it with me as an outsider.

Ethiopia is widely known for the past and ever-present turmoils to its people; poverty, drought, famine and war have all had sincere impacts on the country. In the Borana zone, the residuals of heavy droughts in recent years and a history of poverty, grafting a hard living in a largely hot and arid climate are widely known and evident, a trend that is illustrated by the high density of aid work conducted in the region. What shines through from the people though could not paint a different picture. Barely anything but smiles and laughter came from the faces of young and old, everyone with a unique beaming expression, but the same curiosity at the foreigner in the bush looking at the birds.

Future of conservation in the Borana zone

Making friends with the Bush-crow

Making friends with the Bush-crow

Concern for the natural environment and threatened species is often cast aside when confronted with the sincerity of humanitarian issues such as those faced by many of the rural people of the Borana zone. On numerous occasions, old village elders, as much as children, looked on quizzically as we explained the global rarity of the bush-crow, compared to their understanding of the species as an abundant and familiar resident of the rangelands. The dichotomy of this sense of scale is stark but not uncommon in such work. Fortunately, at least from the angle of the bush-crow, the maintenance of the rangelands is intrinsic to the pastoralist livelihoods of the Borana and its greatest short-term threat is a change in these traditional land-use practices, of which many are in a state of flux.
The area in which we conducted our work is currently undergoing a shift to national park status, with the Ethiopian Bush-crow as a flagship species. As this shift takes shape, a new influx of funding, effort and staffing should ensue. I am consistently reminded, however, of something my guide, Galgallo, said on one of the first mornings of our time together in response to us talking about the state of conservation in the Borana zone. ‘I don’t need money’ he said, looking serious, ‘what I need is the knowledge’, he then grinned, the ivory-whites of his teeth gleaming in the early morning sun.

There is a need for further steps to be taken, but it appears that there is everything in place culturally, combined with the willingness of a number of dedicated individuals, for a bright future for environmental and cultural conservation in the Borana zone.

I can’t really describe through words how remarkable Ethiopia is as a country, but as the saying goes, they say that you can never shake the ancient dust of Africa from your boots.

Without wishing to perpetuate clichés, I know that the next time I take a look at my soles, there will be more than just a few grains of the ancient brick-red sands of Abyssinia clinging on.

Previously in this series:

Bush-crow diaries: The mystery of the Abyssinian Pie
Bush-crow diaries: Up close and personal with the qaqa
Bush-crow diaries: Settling in with the Borana
Bush-crow diaries: The African night
Bush-crow diaries – Sights and sounds of the bush

Samuel Jones About the Author: Samuel Jones is an early-career ornithologist and conservation scientist. An avid naturalist and field ornithologist since childhood, he has been involved in a wide variety of work worldwide, particularly in expedition environments throughout the new and old world tropics. He is currently completing postgraduate study at Imperial College London. Follow on Twitter @samuel_ei_jones.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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