Ethiopia’s Church Forests

Biodiversity thrives in Ethiopia’s church forests. Ecologists are working with the nation’s Tewahedo churches to preserve pockets of lush, wild habitat

If you see a forest in Ethiopia, you know there is very likely to be a church in the middle, says Alemayehu Wassie. Wassie, a forest ecologist, has spent the past decade on a mission: preserving, documenting and protecting the unique biodiversity in pockets of forest that surround Ethiopia’s orthodox churches.

These small but fertile oases — which number around 35,000 and are dotted across the country — are some of the last remaining scraps of the tall, lush natural forests that once covered Ethiopia, and which, along with their biodiversity, have all but disappeared.

The church, to which more than half of Ethiopians belong, views the natural forest as a symbol of heaven on Earth, where every creature is a gift from God and needs its habitat.

“It’s a remote part of the world, where the natural environment has become part of the spiritual environment,” says Christof Mauch, director of the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the University of Munich, Germany. “It is culturally, as well as scientifically, important to save these pockets of forests,” he says.

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