By Merry Walker and Chris Nyce
The illegal trade in lion and cheetah cubs is prevalent in the Horn of Africa. The Ethiopia-Djibouti-Somaliland shipping corridor offers an entry point into Gulf of Aden countries where felines are kept as pets but often discarded when they grow larger. In the early 2000s, Ambassador Larry André, in his former role as the regional environmental officer (REO) based at Embassy Addis Ababa, assisted a French veterinarian to create Djibouti’s only haven for trafficked animals—Décan Animal Refuge. In 2009, Ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Yamamoto, helped establish the Born Free Ethiopia animal sanctuary. These separate efforts were later combined to assist in the rescue of Djibouti’s last trafficked lion.
Since the Décan Animal Refuge was founded in 2003, it has saved dozens of trafficked animals including several African lions—a vulnerable species with fewer than 20,000 individuals in the wild. However, the Décan Animal Refuge is opposed by neighboring communities. By 2019, only one lion remained in the Décan Animal Refuge and Décan’s director sought assistance from embassies in Djibouti and Addis Ababa in order to find a suitable new home for Amalia, the last lioness.
Embassy Djibouti and the REO Hub at Embassy Addis Ababa collaborated to translocate Amalia to Born Free Ethiopia. The American embassies in Djibouti and Addis Ababa worked together to guide the complex process. The successful transfer of Amalia was a tangible example of sustained engagement and regional cooperation to combat conservation crimes.
Going forward, the REO Hub is working with the Horn of Africa Wildlife Enforcement Network to strengthen the implementation of the existing Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species procedures. Additionally, the REO Hub is convening a wildlife trafficking workshop in collaboration with the U.S. Mission to Somalia, where Yamamoto supports combating wildlife trafficking.
Merry Walker is a special assistant in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Chris Nyce is the regional environment officer at Embassy Addis Ababa.