Ethiopia encompasses a broad spectrum of ecosystems from swamps, forests and lakes through to grasslands, deserts and high mountain plateaus. It's home to 625 endemic species of plants, 16 endemic bird species and 35 endemic mammal species. That means these species have to be conserved in Ethiopia, because they're found nowhere else in the world.
Ethiopia has a number of charismatic and endemic flagship species, most notably the gelada baboon, or "mountain monkey" (the world’s only grazing primate), the mountain nyala, the Ethiopian wolf, the walia ibex, the dibatag, and the giant lobelia. In the Gambella region, the country shares with South Sudan the second largest mammal migration in Africa—that of the white-eared Kob, which involves approximately one million individual animals.
The wildlife and ecosystems of Ethiopia also have huge value to people locally, nationally, and internationally through the ecosystem services they provide. These include direct goods and services such as honey, coffee and grazing land, as well as indirect services such as climate stabilization, carbon sequestration, erosion control, flood protection and water table regulation. For example, over 20 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Egypt are dependant on water flowing from Ethiopia's highlands.
Ethiopia’s natural heritage is under severe threat. Eighty-five percent of Ethiopia’s 85 million people are almost entirely dependent on natural resources such as soil, grazing land, timber, and fuel wood for their livelihoods. However, the ever increasing human population is causing environmental degradation throughout the country and an accelerated rate of habitat loss. The last remnants of Ethiopia’s natural ecosystems, including many globally unique species, face an uncertain future, as do those people dependant on natural resources. Ethiopia desperately requires solutions to conserve its remaining biodiversity and ecosystem services, whilst striving to ensure sustainable livelihoods and reducing the vulnerability of resource-dependent communities.
In 2007, the formation of a new government authority, the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, increased government and donor support, and the development of new partnerships has begun to address conservation through community involvement. Communities are seen as key partners for conservation in Ethiopia and a strong network of participatory forest and wildlife management areas is currently being developed throughout the country, with considerable success.
There are also a number of non-governmental conservation organisations working to protect Ethiopia's unique biodiversity. The oldest most prominent of these is The Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS), which has been promoting conservation of biodiversity, natural resources and the environment since its establishment in 1966. EWNHS is also the designated BirdLife Partner in Ethiopia, making it part of the world’s largest international network dedicated to the conservation of the planet’s birds. Accordingly, it shares and is striving to meet the four core conservation objectives of BirdLife International: Saving species, protecting sites, conserving habitats and empowering and improving the livelihoods of people.
The development of tourism is seen as a key initiative to assist communities in benefiting more from their natural resources. Not only does tourism provide additional income for the management authorities of national protected areas but it also helps communities understand the additional value of their natural resources. Through tourism, communities can gain additional benefits from their natural resources. Both government and non-governmental conservation organisations are therefore involved in developing tourism and ensuring revenue flows to communities.