The research was conducted in Gedeo zone, Southern Ethiopia. The main aim is to evaluate how indigenous knowledge practices and traditional beliefs have been used successfully to enhance tree biodiversity and environmental conservation. It further explores the environmentally friendly traditions of human-nature interactions. The research was a descriptive ecological study by using biodiversity inventory (tree count) supported with an ethnographic design. Focus group discussions (FGD), personal interviews, participatory observation, and key informant interviews were used to gather primary data. Local Elders, traditional leaders, rainmakers, a local elderly woman, traditional healers, natural resource experts and development agents were participates. The informants were purposively chosen from three woredaâ€™s (districts) based on their sex, age, position in traditional institutions and their length of stay. The determination of species diversity and tree inventory in the sacred forest and adjacent redeemed farm habitat was carried out by taking a representative sampling area. The quadrat with size (20 x 20) with a total of 400m2 was laid down in each habitat to enumerate targeted trees and other plants. The research showed that indigenous institutions, social sanctions (seera), taboos, worldviews and traditional beliefs were supporting the conservation of tree biodiversity and environmental resources. Protection of particular tree species in roadsides, setting aside songo totemic trees and leaving Baabbo in farming habitat and reverence of sacred forest patch were indigenously conceded tree conservation and management approaches in mores of the Gedeo community. Due to cultural devotions, traditionally protected areas (e.g., amba sacred forest) have highest tree species diversity and are well preserved compared to redeemed farming habitats (adjacent agroforestry). Because traditional sanctions (seera) limit local people from cutting down trees from sacred sites, and hunting or molesting wild animalâ€™s refuges in the sacred forest, there is considerable preservation of plants and wildlife. The biodiversity inventory confirmed this; sacred ecologies reclaim critical threatened indigenous tree species in redeemed farming. For instance, Aningeriaadolfi-friedeicii (Gudubo), Podocarpus falcatus (Bribirissa) and Syzygium guineense (Badessa) native tree spp were abundantly counted in the sacred forest; while they are critically threatened in farming habitats. As conservation tools the majority of the custodian members were compelled to obey social taboos to protect his/her families from misfortune and impending calamities (such as disease outbreak, pest-epidemic, war, drought, and early child death). In contrast, religious monotheism, changes in social norms and values, lack of proper documentation of indigenous knowledge, and population pressure are the main challenges and threats to indigenous beliefs and sacred sites. Thus, we need to consider the re-visitation and promotion of traditional ecological knowledge practices. Furthermore, there should be more preservation of cultural values and practices that can be used as conservation tools].
Keywords: Biodiversity; Cultural taboos; Gedeo community; Indigenous practices; Songo sacred place; Totemic trees