Earth Island Reports
Planetary Health through Veterinary Care
A glint of sunlight shone through the clouds as Getahun, my translator, led me across the verdant landscape of Aleta Wondo. The subsistence farming community, nestled in southern Ethiopia, unfolded before us in a mosaic of green hillsides, coffee trees, and the distinctive fronds of enset, the regional food staple. I found myself in this bucolic countryside last year after Common River, a small Ethiopian-based nonprofit, invited Ecovet Global to assist the community in launching an animal health and wildlife conservation initiative. On that rain-kissed morning, I was venturing out on foot to gain a better understanding of local human-animal-environment relationships.
Midway through our walk, a middle-aged woman invited us inside her hut. Next to a modest cooking and sleeping area stood two cows tethered to the hut wall. Chickens wandered in and out freely, while several Hadada ibis chattered from the treetops outside. Families in Aleta Wondo rarely consume animal products. More often, they sell what little their animals produce – mainly eggs and milk – to help pay for daily necessities.
Before departing, I asked the woman what her main concerns were for her animals. She replied, “theft, illness, and predation by hyenas.” Ironically, not far from the hut, I narrowly avoided a pile of white-colored scat, indicative of the bone meals consumed by hyenas. Getahun chuckled and said, “The hyenas came by last night. See, we all must live together here.”
Similar to many subsistence communities in Ethiopia and globally, the agro-pastoral community of Aleta Wondo remains intimately tied to nature. Every aspect of life – procurement of fuel and water, cultivation and preparation of food, and maintenance of health – rests on the interconnection of land, water, animals, and people. Amidst this delicate balance, small-holder livestock ownership is an integral part of life. However, disease, lack of veterinary care, inadequate access to quality feed, and poor biosecurity practices can impair animal health and production in this region.
People in Aleta Wondo also face widespread environmental pressures resulting from overpopulation, land degradation, and food insecurity. Further compounding the situation, a legacy of civil war and human encroachment on local forests has led to sigificant declines in endemic wildlife and depletion of natural resources. These regional conservation challenges threaten traditional agro-pastoral livelihoods that depend on healthy landscapes and resilient ecosystems.
Ecovet Global approaches these complex issues from a veterinary perspective, in partnership with Ethiopian veterinarians and a cross-sectoral team that brings expertise in ecoagriculture, education, public health, and gender equity. The primary veterinary aim of our initiative is to improve local capacity to manage common animal health issues and incorporate eco-friendly animal production practices – such as rotational grazing and efficient use of fodder to supplement animal nutrition. In conjunction with the primary school run by Common River, Ecovet Global is also launching a conservation stewardship program that aims to increase community valuation of local wildlife as a cornerstone of livelihood security, health, and economic growth.
Ecovet Global is part of a growing coalition of health, policy, and environmental organizations that are coming together to address how anthropogenic change is affecting the health and resilience of natural systems. As veterinarians, we are accustomed to working across species and landscapes, so leaving our proverbial silos to develop collective, realistic solutions that aid people and the planet makes sense to us. This approach also resonates with our partner communities, like Aleta Wondo, where the connections between humans, animals, and ecosystems are a tangible, daily reality.
Learn more about this Earth Island Institute project at: www.ecovetglobal.org