New conservation economies: pioneering conservation tourism in Ethiopia’s national parks


Context: Ethiopia’s protected area system covers 14% of its landmass. Bale Mountains National Park (BMP) hosts the world’s largest Afro-alpine habitat, 17 endemic mammal species, 57% of Ethiopia’s endemic bird species and 60% of the remaining Ethiopian wolf population – the world’s rarest canid. It is also the water catchment for 12 million people. Simien Mountains National Park (SMP) provides some of the world’s most dramatic high-altitude scenery and is a designated world heritage site. It hosts 21 endangered species and 16 species of birds endemic to Ethiopia and Eritrea, and is also a critical water catchment. However, despite the latent value of this natural capital, Ethiopia’s national park system has not been developed or managed as a significant social and economic asset. In practice only two national parks have been formally gazetted, and encroachment has become a considerable threat in a country with a population approaching 90 million people. 

The Investment: African Wildlife Capital invested more than US$ 2.5 million to develop the first two eco-lodges in the country’s national park system – Bale Mountain Lodge in BMP and Limalimo Lodge in SMP. AWC also financed the development of the award winning Village Ways community based tourism concept, originally developed in India. We also supported the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Agency (EWCA) to ensure that global best practices in private sector tourism concessioning for national park contexts were built into the process. At Limalimo, US$ 200K of AWC funding was used to acquire a revenue based royalty to generate an on-going revenue stream for a new ‘conservation school’ that is being constructed by the African Wildlife Foundation on the edge of the national park.  Bale Mountain Lodge opened in early 2014, employs nearly 50 people and generated 50%+ occupancies in its first full year, following extensive international media interest. Limalimo Lodge is under construction with a planned opening in Q1 2016 together with five new Village Ways sites in local community villages surrounding SMP.