Three years and some days ago, I recorded this story told to me by a friend in Kafa.
Ydenek Kabeda raised his rifle. His fifty-year-old eyes glistened a reflection of the wild coffee trees that surrounded his small house in Kafa forest. From the cover of their mossy trunks, he took aim at the raggedy king of forest felines, an Ethiopian lion.
“They are very smart. They don’t like guns, and they don’t forget,” says Tadele Abrha, Managing Director of Green Coffee Agro-Industry, a leading exporter of coffee from Kafa forest. “I have no fear of lions. I don’t point guns at them.”
The lion Mr. Kabeda shot that day didn’t die, but it remembered. A few days later, many lions came to feast on one of the shooter’s cows. They would later return to devour one of his horses. Mr. Kabeda shot one of the cubs and hung the hide on his wall.
For six years, the battle between man and big cats roared on. In the end, Mr. Kabeda was the final casualty. Having been forced to move his home some miles away, the lions still found him. Crouched down ready to shoot outside of his new house, he would die committing the same misdeed that started the conflict. As he aimed at one, he was pounced on by another. The lions made a small meal of Ydenek Kabeda, leaving only his hands and feet as evidence of their breakfast.
It could be our deep-rooted fear of wildness that causes us to mow nature down. Fortunately, in the Kaficho zone of western Ethiopia, coffee’s birthplace, there are remaining tracts of forest diverse enough to remind of Amazonia, and the world’s second most widely traded commodity grows naturally and in abundance in the forest understory.