Sometimes conservation solutions are far simpler than they initially appear.
Ethiopian wolves live at a relatively high elevation where they eat rodents, their primary food source, that live in charranfe bushes and heath. These plants are important to wolves and humans alike. For the wolves, they help maintain soil structure and provide an important source of habitat and food for the rodents they depend upon; for humans, the charranfe bushes and heath plants are the only source of firewood available in that area. Unfortunately, overharvesting of these plants is changing the very structure of the surrounding vegetation where wolves live. It’s a difficult problem- the wolves’ habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented, but people also require warmth and an ability to cook their food.
Fortunately, Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program (EWCP) has found an innovative, simple solution. Working with local craftsmen, they helped to produce two fuel saving stoves for people in two different alpine regions. The main benefit of the stoves is that they use half the traditional amount of firewood. Not only does this reduce de-vegetation, but it also decreases the amount of smoke in the air, keeping the atmosphere cleaner and respiratory systems healthier. As another added benefit, women and children may have more free time; their roles have traditionally been to gather firewood, and with only half the amount needed, there are a few more hours in the day that they can spend in school or creating alternate forms of income.
Following a trial period within local communities and a series of demonstrations, the idea of the stoves truly took off. Not only did EWCP move into a third area, but the stove producers have now made a combined total of close to 200 stoves, with sales going strong. Providing an alternative use for these plants, especially heath, has also been a tremendous boon; EWCP has introduced honey farming as a means to produce both food and another source of income. Bees love the native heath plants, showing that they have a high value to locals if they remain in their native soil.
Using less firewood is key to maintaining the biodiversity of the unique Afro-alpine ecosystem, home to so many plants and animals that can be found nowhere else. By saving the plants, you save the soil. By saving the soil, you save the rodents, and by saving the rodents, you save the Ethiopian wolf.