The origin of tourism is ancient. For the longest time,
wealthy people have travelled to distant parts of
the world to see great buildings or works of art, to
learn new languages, or to taste new cuisine.
The use of seaside resorts in imperial Rome was common and
pilgrimages to the Holy Land in medieval times
involved pleasure and sightseeing as well as
Tourism, one of the features of the 20th century, has
become the world’s largest industry and is
continuing to grow and looking to maintain that
status in the future.
In 2006, international tourist arrivals reached 846 million
with 6.5pc annual growth since 1950, according to
the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
International tourism is expected to continue to
show annual growth of four per cent to five per cent
and reach nearly 1.6 billion by 2020.
Many countries depend heavily on the travel expenditures of
foreigners for income. Historically, tourism has
carried the economy of many countries in times of
declining industrial activity and rising
These days, it is one of the world’s major socioeconomic
sectors that provide alternative forms of
enterprise, create jobs, and generates wealth for
Many countries are cashing in on this. Egypt earns about
700 million dollars a year from tourism, while
Ethiopia’s income from tourism has increased from
279 million Br in 1997 to 1.2 billion Br in 2005.
There are two types of tourist attractions: manmade and
natural. The natural world is one of the most
important resources and includes the physical
landscape, national parks, beaches, mountains,
rivers, lakes, glaciers, natural ecosystems like
rain forests and tropical grasslands, and weather
Of these, national parks constitute the major component.
The idea of establishing a national park dates back to the
idea that the native Americans in the United States
(US) may be preserved by “some great protecting
policy of government in a magnificent nation’s park,
containing man and beast, in all the wild and
freshness of their nature’s beauty,” which was
written by George Catlin in 1832.
Since then, more than 4,000 national parks have been
Serious attempts to delineate conservation areas started in
Ethiopia in 1966 with the establishment of the Awash
and Semien Mountains national parks. Currently, the
country has 11 national parks, 13 wildlife reserves
and sanctuaries, and 18 controlled hunting areas.
The Abijata-Shala Lakes National Park (ASLNP), located
200km South of Addis Abeba in Oromia Regional State,
was established in 1970 to conserve the aquatic
birds and biodiversity of the 887 square kilometre
area that includes two saline lakes and their
Maintaining the ecological process, generating economic
benefits, and promoting scientific research and
education were the secondary objectives of its
This park, which is endowed with a spectacular wealth of
avifauna, blue lakes, and flat-topped acacia trees,
is one of the most beautiful spots in Ethiopia. Its
possession of other natural resources like lava
caves, hot springs, and mammalian species adds to
It contains two of the 16 important bird areas in the Rift
Valley and over 436 bird species, six of which are
near endemic and one endemic to Ethiopia. The two
lakes are important destinations for thousands of
migratory birds from around the world. The park is
home to about 76 mammalian species representing nine
orders and 27 families.
Apart from maintaining the ecological process, the parks
have great potential to attract large numbers of
tourists whose stay and visit generate revenues for
the national economy.
While national parks are off-limits to hunting, grazing,
logging, mining, agriculture, and other human
activities, according to natural resources
literature, they have always been entangled in a
multitude of problems.
Many national parks around the world are subject to direct
and indirect human modifications because they are
considered to be ecological islands. This is
happening in the ASLNP. Most of the objectives in
establishing it have not been implemented or
With regard to the conservation of resources, stakeholders
have conflicting objectives. Two incompatible
systems of land use, consumptive and
non-consumptive, (or exploitation and conservation
of resources) are being implemented and the use of
resources by the local communities, which is not
integrated with nature conservation, far outweighs
the conservation activities and has jeopardised the
functioning of the ecosystem and its biodiversity.
Currently, population settlement, intensive farmland
expansion, overgrazing, fuel wood collection,
charcoal production, sand mining, mineral salt
extraction, overfishing, and water abstraction from
the lakes are the main challenges that the park
They have led to environmental destabilisation such as the
degradation of land and natural vegetation, decrease
in wildlife and bird populations, drop in the water
volume of the lakes, change in its chemical
composition, and subsequent decline of aquatic
The larger part of the park has been inhabited for the last
80 to 100 years and the increasing settlements have
intensively exploited the natural resources. Access
to sources of energy other than wood is limited or
does not exist at all. People just use what is
available in the park; the acacia trees and other
plants, which in turn affects the other resources in
The collection of woody sub-shrubs results in soil
degradation and in a drastic reduction of food for
wildlife. Between 1973 and 2000, agriculture and
animal husbandry were the main forces driving the
loss of more than 83pc of the natural vegetation.
The land degradation has led to a reduced return on local
resources and increased the demand on non-degraded
land in the park. Intensive hunting and poaching
combined with deforestation have also resulted in a
declining number and species of wildlife.
The abstraction of water from the lakes and the addition of
chemicals from industries and flower farms to them
have disturbed the aquatic ecosystem.
The use of mineral water by a soda factory and irrigation
along the feeder rivers has contributed to the
reduction in the volume of Lake Abijata. Between
January 2000 and 2006, the lake lost nearly 50pc of
its surface area.
The underlying causes for the challenges of nature
conservation and resource management in the park
include population pressure, land scarcity, poverty,
loose stakeholder coordination, and ill conservation
policies and approaches.
Management constraints, such as poor administration, a
shortage of human and financial resources,
inadequate visitors’ services, and poor resource and
infrastructure development, have aggravated the
The conservation policies that have been implemented for
years are of the protectionist type and do not
recognise indigenous resource management practices.
The protected area has been isolated from society, where
the local communities are not allowed to be
involved, participate, and comment on resource
management and conservation activities, and no
income from tourism trickles down to them.
Tourism in the national park neither mobilised the local
economy nor created jobs for the local people, which
could have relieved the pressure. The lack of proper
management made the community develop a negative
attitude towards the park and led to their
destruction of much of the park’s infrastructure
soon after the fall of the military regime in 1991.
Today, the national park exists only illegally.
An area of the park was selected and its establishment
carried out, but the delineation of its border in
the field and consultations with different
stakeholders did not take place. Field staff is
inadequate and the park administration does not
coordinate its conservation activities. The goals of
the park are often described in a general manner but
not given specific priorities.
It is indicative of poor planning and lacks legal
enforcement. The national park is not fully
established, and it is a lawless conservation zone,
according to some experts. Facing these challenges,
it may be termed a “paper park.”
This is not a problem of the ASLNP alone. Many of the
country’s conservation zones are going through
There is either a misunderstanding of the value and
benefits of biological diversity and its
conservation or a deliberate overlooking of
environmental resources at the state level, as
illustrated by the legal conservation instruments
and their implementation.
Little attention is paid to protected areas because the
concepts of conservation are not well understood by
most government administrations and biodiversity
conservation is not considered an immediate
contributor to the wellbeing of the state.
With natural attractions at the heart of nature tourism,
these challenges will eventually discourage the
sector. The national parks need a helping hand.