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Education and opportunities: Motivating local communities to protect wildlife in Ethiopia


In 2017, in collaboration with Gambella National Regional Park Office and Gambella Regional Culture and Tourism Bureau, the Gambella Children and Community Development Organisation (GCCDO) entered into an agreement with the Horn of Africa, Regional Environment Center (HoA-REC) on a project that aimed to combat wildlife crime around Gambella National Park. The project aims to reduce human-wildlife conflict and poaching by enhancing community awareness of conservation and in particular how to manage and benefit from wildlife. Results have been very positive with high participation from communities and a positive change of behaviour amongst the woredas (districts) involved.


Logo of Gambella Children and Community Development Organization


Gambella National Park is Ethiopia’s largest protected area, located to the far west of Addis Ababa, near the border with South Sudan. It was established in 1973 to conserve a diverse number of species and unique habitats. The park lies along the river Baro near the town of Gambella. It is one of Ethiopia’s least developed parks but contains many species not found anywhere else in the country.

The three woreda’s (districts) initially targeted for awareness raising sessions are located near Gambella NP; Makuey to the north, Wanthoa to the northwest and Jor to the south. A fourth woreda, Akobo, is the only woreda not accessible by road and is a destination for South Sudanese migrants.

The poaching and wildlife trade problem

Species affected African Elephant Loxodonta africana , Hippos Hippopotamus amphibious , Leopard Panthera pardus , Lion Panthera leo

Products in trade

Ivory, skins, hides, meat

Overview of the problem

Men from communities surrounding Gambella NP regularly hunt wildlife for meat, as well as ivory, pelts and hides. Poachers may travel from further afield, including South Sudan, to poach high-value species.

In addition, communities around Gambella NP rear livestock in the same habitat as wild animals, leading to frequent incidents of human-wildlife conflict due to predation on domestic livestock and retaliatory killings are a common response.

The anti-IWT initiative

The project began in August 2017.

Specific objectives of the project include:

- To prevent illegal trans-boundary trade of wildlife products such as ivory and animal hides

- To combat illegal trade in wildlife products by local communities in or surrounding Gambella NP

- To prevent wildlife poaching and hunting activities by the local communities around Gambella NP

- To work to reduce human-wildlife conflict by educating the local communities on the economic value of wild animals

- To educate the local communities of the ecological value of wild animals including their effect on ecosystems and climate change

Community consultations

GCCOD, in collaboration with Gambella NP and the Cultural and Tourism Bureau, consulted three woredas to enable the host communities to become familiar with all the organisations. Scouts, religious and community leaders, and woreda administrations were bought together during these consultations. Collectively, they discussed how to reduce wildlife crime and protect existing wildlife in the region. It was noted that there are many wildlife species in Gambella that could attract tourists, however, a lack of effective protection was allowing many species to escape to neighbouring countries and consequently Gambella is missing out on tourist revenue.

Community awareness sessions

After the community consultations, awareness training was initiated in three woredas around Gambella NP. These woredas were selected as they have community members who repeatedly commit wildlife crimes by poaching in the area. These sessions were important because they enabled the local community to be educated on the value of wildlife in the area and enhanced their knowledge on management and protection, as well as how to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

Training included:

- Enhancing community awareness of wildlife crime prevention

- Enhancing knowledge of the economic and social benefits from wildlife protection

Community scouts

Community scouts have been trained in the three woredas, increasing their knowledge of wildlife protection, management, and conservation in Gambella NP. Most of the scouts are male.

GCCDO purchased two motorcycles for two woredas, with the purpose of supporting the work of the community scouts. The remaining woreda will receive a motorcycle in the future. 

Community scouts help the project objectives by educating their community on how to protect domestic animals and reported crimes committed and incidents of human-wildlife conflict.

Throughout the project’s duration, a coordinator monitored activities and traveled to confirm reports of wildlife crime committed in Gambella NP, supervising the community scouts.

Additionally, In May 2018 community awareness sessions were also conducted in another woreda, called Akobo. Akobo is one of the most vulnerable of all woredas, and due to its inaccessibility by road has not benefitted from other development initiatives. The woreda also faces problems due to the continued influx of migrants from South Sudan.

GCCDO also collaborated with EWCA, the Culture and Tourism Bureau and the local government to discuss the role of the security and police sectors in wildlife crime prevention.

The strategy

Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

Paid in money community scouts
Un-paid (voluntary) community scouts
Paid in-kind community scouts
Monetary incentives for community intelligence
Non-monetary, in-kind incentives for community intelligence
Raising community awareness about wildlife crime penalties and sanctions
Strengthening and supporting traditional norms and sanctions against IWT
Further detail

18 community scouts, selected by communities in the three woredas, are working to combat illegal wildlife poaching and trafficking. Community scouts are volunteers, although they are paid an allowance as an incentive. GCCDO has also purchased shoes, uniforms and water canes for scouts, and provided them with three cameras.

Alongside this, three community intelligence information collectors are present within each community.

Community scouts underwent training with a purpose to increase their knowledge of wildlife management and conservation in Gambella. From the three woredas 40 male and 7 females were trained. Specifically, scouts were trained in:

- The definition of wildlife hunting and poaching

- Identification and the types of species in Gambella

- How they should behave and their relationship with the community

- How to plan programs to prevent wildlife crime

Ongoing activities include ensuring accountability for these who commit wildlife crime, working in continued collaboration with all stakeholders and sharing information in relation to illegal activities.

Community scouts from Gambella have also been able to share their experiences with wildlife crime in Kenya.

Improving education and awareness

Further detail

Awareness training was aimed at improving knowledge in the local communities on the issue of wildlife poaching and trafficking in the area. In each woreda, 100 participants - including community and religious leaders, woreda and sector office representatives, and youth and women - were involved in training over two days. Participants were invited on the basis they were locally respected and keen to disseminate knowledge to other people in their communities.

To facilitate effective dialogue and discussion, GCCDO hired a consultant on a voluntary basis. He encouraged the participants to play an active role in the community’s involvement in wildlife crime prevention so that future generations would still be able to find healthy populations of species in Gambella NP.

GCCDO also shared a document outlining the framework in order to build accountability and transparency at all levels.

In May 2018, GCCDO conducted community awareness sessions on wildlife crime prevention in Akobo woreda at the Kan-kan Rehabilitation point. 53 participants were involved including members of the police and the youth as well as a local community living temporarily at the cattle camp, known as the Lou-Nuer. In particular, local residents who are known to engage in wildlife crime were chosen to participate in the sessions.

Has the initiative made a difference?

Overall, awareness raising sessions successfully increased participants knowledge of the value of wildlife and the importance of preventing wildlife crime, as well as the economic benefits wildlife can bring. They enhanced community knowledge of wildlife management in addition to how to reduce human-wildlife conflict, which is common in the region.

Changes in behaviour have been observed as a result of community awareness campaigns and a commitment has been seen from all levels of leadership. Religious and community leaders have begun to address other members of the community on how to combat wildlife crime, leading to increased awareness amongst locals. In addition, community scouts have begun to disseminate information to concerned bodies.

In response to the awareness raising sessions in the three woredas the following agreements were made:

- In collaboration with woreda police, the chief of security in each woreda will take responsibility for preventing illegal trade in ivory and skins.

- Police will arrest any people involved in illegal activities who have been reported by community scouts.

- The government of each woreda will supervise all activities to do with protecting wildlife.

- Continued awareness-raising sessions within the communities and other stakeholders will take place.

- Rules and regulations regarding wildlife will be made available to all stakeholders.

In addition, participants from Akoba woreda agreed to the following to help prevent future illegal activities:

- The formation of a committee to share information with the woreda’s Culture and Tourism Office regarding wildlife crimes.

- Reporting any crimes and to hand poachers over to the local police.

- Spread awareness to those community members who did not attend the sessions, including people from the Lou-Nuer community.

- Spread awareness to South Sudanese communities across the river, recommending that GCCDO should lead the intervention.

- Recommend that the local government at Akobo establish laws to prevent crime against wildlife.

What works and why

The participation of the community was probably the most important factor of success and resulted in whole community motivated and eager to protect wildlife in the area, and commitment to engage in the prevention of wildlife crime. This response has also motivated external facilitators to continue to educate the communities on these topics, and it is recommended that all woredas in the region receive awareness raising sessions.

Collaboration and networking were also important for ensuring the effectiveness of the project - the impact would not have been so great if implemented by a single institution.

Finally, commitment at the highest level of leadership was vital for effective implementation, and in particular, the involvement of religious leaders was essential for success.

Factors for success

Supportive, multi-stakeholder partnerships with a shared vision

Sufficient time investment in building relationships and trust between the initiative and local communities

Effective and trusted community leaders

What doesn’t work and why

The inaccessibility of some locations around Gambella meant that some communities were hard to reach. Despite campaigns, there remains inadequate awareness among some community members about the necessity of protecting wildlife.

Communities continue to cut down trees and burn the forest for charcoal and construction materials. Hunting is also still undertaken by soldiers and local militants. Human-wildlife conflict remains an issue.

The movement of people from North Sudan and South Sudan towards Gambella NP remains a problem in Akobo.

These issues can hopefully be overcome with the continued involvement of the police in law enforcement as well as increasing the number of scouts in the area and extending the area under protection.

Organisers, donors and partners

Save the Children

American Embassy in Ethiopia

Civil Society Support Program (CSSP) under British Council

Center for Development Initiative (CDI)

Consortium of Christians Relief and Development Association (CCRDA)

UNICEF Office in Gambella

Horn of Africa, Regional Environment Center (HoA-REC)

For further information contact Nhial Jeing (