Bird Conservation promoted through the Great Ethiopian Run
By Bruktawit Abdu and Samson Zelleke
In January 2021, the Great Ethiopian Run (GER) organized a successful event to commemorate its 20th anniversary. The event held on January 10, 2021, attracted 12,500 participants, including 200 elite athletes and 4 million people audience. See the GER 2020 event documentary.
The Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project was the message sponsor of the GER under the Mile for the Egyptian Vulture campaign, supported by Ethiopia Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS), and BirdLife Africa. A few days before the event, major stakeholders in energy infrastructure and wildlife conservation (EEU, EEP and EWCA and EWNHS), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to work together on bird safe energy infrastructure.
The 10km run was held in the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions were made on the number of participants with just over 9000 people finishing the race. Further, COVID-19 protocols were observed including provision of masks, hand sanitizers and temperature check points. The race had three departure points with 15-minute intervals for participants wearing green, yellow and red t-shirts – colors of the Ethiopian flag.
Flagging off the race Mrs Adanech Abiebe, Mayoress of Addis Ababa said, “Age, gender or nationality are not a barrier to be part of this colorful run and that it has become the beauty of the city”.
All the participants adorned T-shirts with the message “Bird-safe Energy Infrastructure”, supporting the EWNHS campaign to save hundreds of vultures and other raptors that die every year from collision with power transmission lines and electrocution from dangerous pylons all over Ethiopia, and across the world.
Additionally, the “Egyptian Vulture Team” participated in the race, and raised awareness on bird safe energy infrastructure through engaging in conversations with various participants of the race, and showcasing the Bird-safe Energy Infrastructure banner throughout the race.
The GER is famed for its entertainment, winning the “Best International Running Event” and often referred to as Ethiopia’s biggest street party. At the run, different stations including the Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project station were colorfully decorated with banners and flags, in addition to music and professional dancers who kept the participants entertained.
Abe Gashaw (28:19 finishing time) and Tsige Gebreselama (32:32 finishing time) were crowned champions for the male and female elite athletes category. The race had massive media coverage – both locally and internationally. International media such as Africanews, Euronews, CGTN, ICARUS Sport and Athletics Weekly covered the event. National media such as Fana Broadcasting Cooperate, Ethiopian News Agency and Nahoo TV gave it a priority on their weekly programs. Over four million people were reached through radio, TV, and numerous print media. This was a great success in creating awareness about the conservation of the Egyptian Vulture in the wintering grounds by minimizing loss of individuals and other migrating and soaring birds.
One of the team members, Samson Zelleke from EWNHS featured at the event, finishing first place on the 10km barefooted category. Speaking to Fana Broadcasting Corporate (the official live broadcaster of the event), Samson reiterated the importance of the wellbeing of vultures to humanity, noting, “The future is blink without this magnificent guild” a short bird conservation ad prepared by EWNHS was also aired after the interview.
Following the successful 2021 GER, and the awareness raised on bird conservation, GER organizers decided to incorporate bird conservation theme into their upcoming events, organizing monthly 5 km runs, with each km named after a bird.
1st km – Liben Lark: preserve your effort – we need to preserve these birds as they are Critically Endangered endemic birds.
2nd km – Falcon: fly fast downhill like a falcon
3rd km – Ostrich: go steady on the flat
4th km – Eagle: gather your strength for the steep hills
5th km – Vulture: swoop downhill to clean up at the finish and not leave any garbage behind
The first run took place on March 6, 2021 where more than 200 participants took part in the race. Through these efforts, it is hoped that more awareness will be raised, to ramp up bird conservation across the country.
GER is not only a running event, but also a way of giving back to the communities through various ways including assisting vulnerable groups in the society. This year two local NGOs were recognized for their relentless effort to help women and children (Omo Child Foundation and Tikuret lesetoch Ena Lehitsanat). GER together with its senior sponsors gave 400,000 birr on March 11, 2021 to strengthen their cause and ensure the continuity of community engagement. Egyptian Vulture New LIFE project has got additional recognition for being part of the effort, which was an unanticipated added value. Representatives from the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs attended the event.