Wildlife in Ethiopia

By Helen Kennedy

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Wildlife in Ethiopia

Wildlife in Ethiopia

Africa Travel Expert, Helen Kennedy, shares why she believes that Ethiopia is a fantastic destination for wildlife-lovers. 

For me, wildlife was what first drew me to Ethiopia. When I told friends where I was going though, I soon realised that wasn’t their first thought. Some of the more travelled ones knew it for its historical and religious attractions (which are deservedly famous), whilst others imagined an empty arid desert and starving people. In fact, in my month travelling around Ethiopia I saw everything from lush green mountains to lakes teaming with wildlife. I also learnt much about the way of life in these different environments, including how food can be prepared, wrapped in leaves and buried, preserving it for several months. Ethiopia is certainly varied and has plenty to interest travellers, so it can be hard to know where to start!


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High on the list to see are the endemic Ethiopian Wolves. With around 400 left in the wild, they are the world’s rarest canid, and Bale Mountains is the place to see them. My days in the park had very different weather, so it’s always best to be prepared. The first day was blue skies and entering the park with the forest around Dinsho we saw Mountain Nyala. Heading further up to the Sanetti Plateau you could really appreciate the vistas, similar to the Scottish highlands in places. By the next day, thick mist came in and I could barely see a metre away. Despite this, we had some excellent sightings of Ethiopian Wolves, and so close that great photos were possible even in the conditions. There were also plenty of giant mole-rats, the prey of the Ethiopian wolves, running around and numerous species of birds.


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Ethiopia is also deservedly popular with birders. Not being one myself, I hadn’t realised before my trip, but with such a range of habitats, altitudes and the African migration routes its not surprising. During my travels I met several couples where one half was a keen birder and the other much less so, but Ethiopia really caters well for this and has something for everyone. I came back with photos that you don’t need to be a birder to appreciate, including Blue-winged Geese in the Bale Mountains, a Malachite Kingfisher by the lake at Ziway, and even Ostrich from Awash National Park.


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The Bale Mountains also gave me the opportunity to spot Mountain nyala. Critically endangered – there are less than 2,500 estimated left in the world – these nyala are found only in Ethiopia and are easily spotted at Dinsho. I only walked for five minutes or so with my guide in Dinsho before spotting my first group of them, and they didn't appear skittish or unnerved by our presence, which is often unnusual when tracking an endangered animal! 


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Heading further north and seeing the Gelada baboons in the Simien Mountains was a personal wildlife highlight for me. The setting of the Simien Mountains is dramatic in itself, with pillar like mountains, sometimes called ‘chess pieces of the gods’ and then huge drops into gorges. The highest point in Ethiopia is Ras Dashen, and keen hikers can tackle the ascent. In general trekking here is not technical, but you need a reasonable level of fitness. I found myself to be out of breath more easily than normal – so be aware of the altitude, (at least that’s my excuse!) – but with a private guide you can take your time. The views are certainly impressive enough throughout the area, even just driving on the windy dirt roads to get there. There is also a good chance of seeing the endemic Walia Ibex here.


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I stumbled upon my first group of Gelada baboons without even going looking for them! They were sat in the fields near my campsite, quite peacefully grazing on the grass. My previous experience working with primates had taught me that Geladas can be amongst the most noisy of all primates, but not here. They didn’t seem at all bothered by people, and were easy to photograph at close range. I had always hoped of getting the iconic photo of a large male and the famous ‘bleeding heart’ although its often concealed when they are foraging. However, when they sit and look up you can really see the vivid colours on the chest and with a little breeze blowing through the long mane – just perfect! Its also fascinating to watch the social dynamics of the group, often with young running around.


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