The eastern and western highlands of Ethiopia, separated by a part of the African Great Rift Valley, comprise a diverse mixture of alpine grasslands and heathlands, deserts and rich woodlands and as a result is home to a rich small mammal assemblage of 84 species, many of which are endemic to the region. What is distinctive about this fauna is the family-level diversity, and with 12 rodent and eulipotyphlan families occurring here, it tops the list of SMSG Key Regions. In terms of numbers, it is dominated by murid rodents and shrews from the genus Crocidura, but it is also home to representatives of some unusual families that don’t occur in the other SMSG Key Regions. These include Speke's Gundi (or Speke's Pectinator Pectinator spekei) - the Gundi family is a group of small, stocky African desert-dwelling rodents - and the Lesser Egyptian Jerboa Jaculus jaculus, from the Jerboa family.
Nine globally threatened small mammal species occur in Ethiopia, of which four are Crocidura shrews. Four AZE-trigger small mammal species occur here. The Critically Endangered Harenna Shrew Crocidura harenna, Yalden's Desmomys Desmomys yaldeni, the Giant Mole Rat Tachyoryctes macrocephalus and, one of the SMSG’s Lost Species, the Critically Endangered Ethiopian Water Mouse Nilopegamys plumbeus which has not been seen since the 1920s.
Ethiopia's highlands form a densely populated rural area, resulting in great pressure on remaining natural habitats from expanding and shifting agriculture, fires, and overgrazing.
Barley cultivation and grazing at high elevations threaten grasslands and erinaceous heathlands.
Less than 5% of the original forest cover of the Ethiopian highlands remains today and this is highly fragmented.
The Harenna forest is increasingly being utilized to supply construction material, fuel and charcoal for the expanding urban population in this region.
Finally, this region’s small mammals are extremely under-surveyed.
Over 18% of Ethiopian land is legally protected for nature. However, while areas like the Bale Mountains National Park protect some of this region, they are used heavily by local people and their livestock. Meanwhile, controlled hunting areas and wildlife reserves offer very little, if any, protection for native flora and fauna. The proposed Termaber-Wufwasha-Ankober conservation area in the western highlands would protect much of the ecoregion's biodiversity, as would the proposed areas for protecting the forests further to the southwest.
All of Ethiopia’s globally threatened species plus five Data Deficient species need basic surveys of distribution and habitat associations.
Ethiopia is one of the SMSG Key Regions in which we plan to fill international knowledge gaps and develop a regional initiative to support and coordinate in-country research and conservation efforts to protect this unique assemblage of small mammals.
At present, the SMSG is working to organise knowledge-gathering and network-building workshops in two of our three highest priority Key Regions, through which we seek to forge links and recruit local members to spearhead our efforts to galvanise research and conservation focussed on each region’s small mammal species. Our work in these regions will be used to perfect our methodology for achieving similar goals in all our Key Regions. Eventually, we hope to nurture collaborative networks of local and international conservation professionals in every Key Region, which are committed to the study and protection of each region’s small mammal diversity.
While the SMSG is not currently active in Ethiopia, it is our third top priority Key Region and is therefore the next place to which we will turn our attention. For now, we will continue to monitor the state of this region’s small mammals through the international scientific literature and IUCN Red List.
If you are a professional small mammal ecologist, taxonomist or conservationist working in Ethiopia, please do Contact Us to discuss your work and how the SMSG might help.