Endangered Species Handbook

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Grasslands, Shrublands, Deserts

Drylands of the World: AFRICA: Page 3

     To the east lie the now desertified lands of the Horn of Africa, bordering the Red Sea.  The countries of Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia occupy this region.  Ancient civilizations have risen and fallen here.  The Axumites, a Semitic people who conquered the natives of Ethiopia in the 5th century A.D., became a major trading partner with the Greeks and Romans, exporting elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn and Hippopotamus hides.  This trade and land abuse may have been responsible for the disappearance of these animals from this area by an early date. 
     Highland savannahs covered much of the Horn of Africa until the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  This region is noted for the high number of highly unusual, endemic species, especially large mammals.  Antelope and wild goats, unlike any in the world, and a beautiful fox-like canid, the Ethiopian or Simien Wolf (Canis simensis), are native.  During the 1880s and 1890s, the large herds of hartebeest, oryx, antelope, gazelles and zebra that grazed these grasslands were devastated by disease brought by the influx of millions of livestock.  Rinderpest, a cattle disease, killed 90 percent of the cattle and then spread to wildlife.  In a rampant epidemic in the first years of the 20th century, millions of wild ungulates native to the Eritrean region were decimated (Simon 1995).  Even today, the wildlife has not recovered because cattle, sheep and goats have replaced them, turning grasslands into shrub and desert.  Many of these unique animals now teeter on the brink of extinction.

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