GOBA, Ethiopia — Abdul Mohamed has an unenviable job. He’s a park ranger tasked with protecting Harenna Forest in southern Ethiopia from illegalbe activities like logging and charcoal production. Mohamed realizes the importance of preserving it for his, and his neighbors’, livelihoods. The problem is that Mohamed and his eight colleagues are in charge of protecting an area that’s about 100 square kilometers (40 square miles). “We need more people,” he says.
Patrolling for shenanigans can be dirty work. On the off chance that they catch someone red-handed burning charcoal or cutting trees for firewood or furniture, there are sometimes aggressive confrontations.
“People are ready to fight,” Mohamed says. Communities that want to clear land for crops don’t understand the position of the rangers, and often start arguing or threaten violence, he says. “I get very scared!” he adds, a shocking statement from a man with his job and physical stature.
Mohamed is on the front lines in a mounting battle to preserve Harenna Forest, part of a crucial ecosystem in southern Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park. Economic development, climate change and population growth threaten the health of the park. The region is vital to the survival of endemic flora and fauna, like the mountain nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni), a large antelope, and some of the planet’s last wild coffee, as well as ancient forms of livelihood such as beekeeping. The park serves as a watershed for 12 million people, many of whom live in the arid lowlands and rely on the park’s rivers for survival.