Wildlife Conservation expert and passionate environmentalist Greta Francesca Iori (@TheItaliopian) recently partnered with British painter, sculptor, illustrator and street artist perhaps best known for his murals of endangered species, Louis Masai (@LouisMasai), to raise funds for a project to save Africa’s last and most northern Elephant populations in her home country of Ethiopia.

100% of raised funds from the Limited Edition “WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD” print generously created by Louis Masai, of an African and Asian Elephant sitting side by side, in his unique patch-work style will benefit Greta’s and Born Free Foundation’s work in Ethiopia’s Babile Elephant Sanctuary. Babille is a town in eastern Ethiopia located in the Oromia Region, 30 kilometers east of Harar.The national park established in 1970 faces a myriad of challenges from poaching, conflict, drought and inadequate enforcement, threatening all wildlife within its borders – especially its’ elephants.


The Born Free Foundation is a dynamic international wildlife charity, founded in 1984 by the actors Bill Travers MBE and Virginia McKenna OBE, stars of the iconic film Born Free, and their son, Will Travers OBE, the charity’s President.  Born Free takes action worldwide to save lives, stop suffering and protect species in the wild.  Born Free never forgets the individual.


Elephants used to be widespread in the Horn of Africa but in the early 20th century – almost certainly driven by poaching – their range began to shrink and their numbers decline. In northern Somalia, the last elephant was killed in 1928. Babile Elephant Sanctuary, a national park established in 1970 to specifically to protect the most northeasterly ranging population of elephants on the continent,  is over 7,000 km2; plenty of room, one would think to effectively safe-guard such a wide-ranging species.


But Babile Elephant Sanctuary faces a myriad challenges. There might be a lot of land for elephants but this means a lot of land to protect from outside pressures and over the last few decades, conflict, famine and inadequate enforcement have led to human in-migration and settlement, land conversion, some hunting and elephant poaching. The issue of human pressure on a protected area, in a country ranked 13th in the world for its human population, is a significant one. Most importantly there is no quick fix.


Areas of this size, with this magnitude of threat require an annual budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars – even millions – and a generous time frame in which to gain the trust of the local communities so that the authorities can work together with them to reduce pressure on wildlife and the habitat on which they depend. Support from the local communities is vital but tragically as in-migration has spiraled out of control and the settled human population within the Babile sanctuary has soared, so have incidents of human-elephant conflict.


Farms are constructed in the path of the elephants’ migratory routes. Crops and livelihood are destroyed; sometimes human lives too; elephants that are persecuted see humans as the enemy and are, all too often, aggressive.  Their traditional migratory routes out of the sanctuary are becoming increasingly blocked, shrinking their range. In the long-term, the challenge will be how elephants can persist in human-dominated environments, where human actions erode deeper into the African wilderness.


There will be little point considering long-term threats to elephants if the short-term threats are not addressed first. The number one cause of their decline is poaching for the illegal ivory trade. The last official population estimate of 325 elephants is over a decade old, but at least 100 of these have been poached within the last three years, although the true extent of the killing will only be known with time.


Until recently, prior to raising funds, the work of rangers at the sanctuary was chronically underfunded and as a result management was weak, offering little or no deterrent to elephant poachers. Born Free is focusing its support on monitoring and protection efforts.  In partnership with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, and with the support of Save the Elephants, the rangers have received badly needed training, the elephants are being monitored and poaching incidents are starting to be investigated.


On a day-to-day basis, it is these actions that we believe will reduce poaching pressure. Most importantly, the migration of elephants up the valleys during the rains has enabled the now more mobile rangers to count them and therefore gather critical information on their population status.


There are always deep-rooted causes of ivory poaching – poverty in rural society and increased global demand and international trade – but these are challenging issues to address, and at least in the former case, arguably impossible to eradicate entirely. Therefore, unless steps are taken on the ground to protect elephants, the impetus to poach will remain.


In the near future, Born Free is planning to engage the local government and communities in the management of the sanctuary and develop solutions to address human-elephant conflict. In the meantime, law enforcement remains a vital component – even the backbone of efforts – to safe-guard wildlife populations in the short and long-term.