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The Great Ethiopian Run 2020 supports bird protection in Ethiopia

The Great Ethiopian Run (GER) is one of the most famous marathon initiatives in the world. Since its inception in 2000, GER has hosted over 100 races in different parts of Ethiopia with thousands of participants and an audience base of another five million. In 2013, GER became the first winner of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races Social Award. In addition, GER won the “Best International Running Event” award at the Challenge Awards in 2019.

In 2020, Egyptian Vulture’s New LIFE project began to support GER as part of the Mile for the Egyptian Vulture campaign to promote a bird-safe energy infrastructure in Ethiopia. The idea behind this support was to link the extreme efforts of marathon runners with the dangerous journey of migratory birds in order to generate public empathy and mitigate threats along the flight path. Electric shock and power line collisions have been identified as the leading causes of bird death, killing millions of people each year. In Ethiopia, many power lines have hazardous designs that are dangerous to birds. In 2019, 31 dead vultures were found under just two small power lines in eastern Ethiopia. Every year, more than 2,000 endangered Egyptian vultures gather in eastern Ethiopia to take up residence. As a result, the power line infrastructure in this region can have a devastating impact on the world’s population.

Egyptian Vulture, Ethiopia, Copyright Paul Donald, from the Surfbirds Galleries

Vultures provide vital ecosystem services by removing carcasses and other organic waste from the environment. This performance leads to significant health and economic benefits. In the absence of vultures, carcasses take much longer to decompose, and therefore they are likely to spread more diseases. However, Africa’s vultures are currently in sharp decline and are the most endangered group of birds on the continent. As part of the National Electrification Program, Ethiopia will build thousands of new power lines over the next five years that could wipe out the vultures in the country. However, the risk of electric shock can be completely eliminated if a bird-proof mast construction is used. Safe power lines inevitably lead to direct advantages for energy suppliers and consumers.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 20th edition of the GER planned for Sunday, November 15, 2020, has been postponed to January 10, 2021. However, the GER organizers held a smaller event on November 15th for the 20th anniversary of the GER. Around 200 people, including 120 bikers, gathered in the newly opened Entoto Nature Park in Addis Ababa for the first run-bike relay race, in which 29 teams with 4 team members and a total distance of 20 km took part. Three government ministers attended the event, including the Head of Tourism in Ethiopia, the Minister of Transport and the Minister of State for Culture and Tourism. They were accompanied by three of Ethiopia’s top athletes including recently crowned London Marathon winner Shura Kitata, Mosinet Geremew and Ababel Yeshana.

BirdLife International, through its partnership with the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society (EWNHS), was one of the sponsors and VIP participants of the event as part of the “Egyptian Vulture New LIFE” project. The invited ministers generously honored the winners of the race. Overall, the event was very lively with music and extraordinary stage organizers who engaged and energized the racing drivers and gave them a good sense of sportiness. The main event in January 2021 is expected to have more than 12,000 participants running 10 km in green, yellow or red T-shirts with messages on bird protection.

“It is really very good and unique for Ethiopia to hold an event in an ideal nature conservation and recreation center in the Entoto Nature Park. It is also a great opportunity to further increase our commitment to the green heritage that Ethiopia began a few years ago to cover deforested areas with trees. Various BirdLife partners in Africa are now involved in a project to preserve the Egyptian vulture. The project is carried out in 14 different countries in Europe and Africa. We will raise awareness through various platforms over the next two months, ”concludes Samson Cellke from EWNHS.

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