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Globally threatened dragon tree needs urgent help

Conserving endangered dragons

The Dracaena ombet tree, also known as the Gabal Elba Dragon tree, is an evergreen, long-lived tree and is globally endangered. It’s found in a few mountainous regions of northeastern Africa including Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti and is a flagship species of these dry ecoregions. Dracaena ombet provides substantial economic and ecological benefits in Ethiopia. It’s commonly harvested and various parts of the plant are used for making ropes, beehives, mats and other household utensils. It’s also used for livestock feed and medicine. But overexploitation and habitat degradation are threatening its survival which is particularly worrying not just for the trees themselves but also because – as a desert-adapted species – the trees are critical to help conserve water in arid areas for other plants to grow.

Regenerating deserts for dragons

gabal elba dragon tree
Mature gabal elba dragon trees in the Desa’a dry Afromontane forest, northern Ethiopia.

Community-based actions are crucially needed to reduce the overexploitation of the trees and also to improve the degraded habitats where they’re found so they can thrive in future. PTES is supporting project leader Assistant Professor Tesfay Bezabeh and his team to engage with local communities, forest rangers and local experts. They’ll be raising awareness about the species and providing training so the local community can lead the habitat restoration work that’s vitally needed.

gabal elba dragon tree
Measuring the size of the trunk of a Dracaena ombet tree in the Desa’a dry Afromontane forest, northern Ethiopia.

Tesfay’s team aims to regenerate 15 hectares of degraded habitat by improving the soil quality and water retention of the land. They’ll also protect the land from grazing by domestic livestock. When this work is complete, the dragon tree seedlings will have a much higher chance of surviving and thriving.

The team will also work with local women whose livelihoods are dependent on the species. Tesfay plans to provide them with the resources needed to establish alternative livelihoods, along with training and technical support to improve their income. Local women have chosen to become poultry farmers. Chickens will be provided as part of the project giving them a chance to sell eggs at the local market as well as providing food for their families.  

These special, long-lived trees need all the help we can give. Tesfay’s hopeful that Ethiopia’s dragons face a brighter future now his team and the local community have the support of PTES behind them.

We want to give gabal elba dragon trees the chance to thrive; with your help we can make a difference.

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