Ethiopia has been very forward-looking in its provision of national park areas and there are at present a dozen regions within the country that have been designated as protected areas for wildlife.
Semien Mountains National Park
The Semien Mountains are a must for all those interested in wildlife, scenery and spectacular landscapes; the Park has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Semien Mountains constitute one of the major mountain massifs in Africa. The region includes many summits above 4000 meters and culminates in the highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dejen, at 4620 meters, the fourth highest mountain in Africa. Maximum temperatures during the day are about 15o Centigrade (60o Fahrenheit). At night the temperature usually drops to 3 – 5 o C (35o -40o F). It is home to the endemic mammals of Walia Ibex, Semien Fox, Gelada Baboons and many species of birds and plants apart from its spectacular scenic beauty.
Simien Mountain National Park is the home of the agile Walia Ibex, the symbol of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization. Rivaled only by the klipspringer, the Ibex was thought to be heading for extinction, but it appears to be surviving with the protection it is now given.
The walia ibex, a member of the goat family, weighs 80 – 125 kg (180 – 280 lb). It dwells on steep cliffs between 2500 – 4500 m (8200 – 14,750′) in regions characterized by Rocky Mountains, gorges, outcrops and loose stony screes. It depends on undisturbed juniper and other mountain forest, subalpine grasslands and scrub, and a year-round supply of water. The walia ibex eats bushes, herbs, lichens, shrubs, grass, and creepers. It is mainly crepuscular. Males tend to form larger groups than females (except during the rut). Females form nursery groups during the birth season, rather than becoming solitary as do many ungulates. It has been suggested that this may be due to the risk of attack from large birds of prey (e.g. eagles and vultures).
As far as is known, the walia ibex has always had a restricted range in Ethiopia. It has been found only in the Simien Mountains in northern Ethiopia in recent times. It formerly was distributed throughout these mountains, but it underwent a significant decline between 1920 and 1970. The greatest concentration now occurs within the Simien Mountains National Park, mainly along 25 km (16 mi) of the northern escarpment.
Reasons for its decline include hunting by local people for meat and hides and for horns for drinking vessels. Its inaccessible habitat provided protection until the advent of modern firearms, which led to a significant reduction in the population. In addition, habitat loss due to increasing use of land for cultivation and development has occurred. With the creation of the Simien Mountains National Park around 1970, poaching appeared to be brought under control. A major conservation problem is that the remaining natural habitat is extremely limited.
It is common to see troop of Gelada baboons in the Simien Mountains. Found only in Ethiopia’s high country, their ‘sacred heart’ a patch of bare skin on the chest distinguishes them from any other species of baboon.
The stately and beautiful mountain Nyala, another of Ethiopia’s endemic species, is best seen at Dinsho, the Park’s Headquarters. Male Mountain Nyala are a sepia brown color that slowly gets darker with age, while females are of a pale liver color with a scattering of spots and stripes. The mountain Nyala weighs up to 300 kg (660 lb) and stands approximately 135 cm (53″) at the shoulder. It is found in a mosaic of high-altitude woodland, bush, heath, and moorland and valley-bottom grassland, from 3000 m (9800′) up to 4200 m (13,800′). The mountain Nyala eats herbs and shrubs and occasionally grass, lichens, ferns and fallen leaves. Seasonal movement occurs, but it is not extensive. It consists mainly of change in altitude – to lower ground in the rainy season and to higher moorlands in the dry season. Mountain Nyala living in forest may emerge into more open areas to feed at night. During the dry season, between January and March, most mountain Nyala live above the forest edge in the heath. Females accompanied by one or two generations of young form frequent but impermanent associations with other mother-young groups. These are regularly joined or monitored by adult males.
The mountain Nyala is endemic to Ethiopia and is limited in its distribution to Ethiopia’s Bale and Arussi provinces. Reasons for the mountain Nyala’s decline include habitat loss and poaching. Natives of the area hunt it for meat and purported medicinal purposes. The lower reaches of its range are more suited to the species than the upper less-vegetated areas, but in most parts of its range, the more suitable habitat has been taken over for cultivation and pastoralism.
Simien wolf, endemic to Ethiopia, also known as the Simien jackal of Abyssinian wolf, is found in greater numbers in the Bale mountains than semien. The animal is the size and colour of a European Red Fox, but with long legs, longer muzzle, and a striking black and white tail. The male and female are similar in appearance. Semien Fox feed on rodents, and as a result are mainly found at the higher altitudes where rodents abound. The Sanetti Plateau is an especially good area to see them, but they do occur in higher parts of the mountains, as well as down at Gaysay on rare occasions. They are usually seen hunting alone, but can be seen in pairs, and after the breeding season as many as eight adults and cubs have been seen together. The Semien Fox hunts their prey by standing still over the rodent holes, patiently listening, turning their head and ears from side to side, and suddenly pouncing when a rat emerges. They will also dig to reach rats on occasions. They give a high yelping bark. To keep contact with other foxes, and when apprehensive about anything such as your close proximity. They are well camouflaged amongst the lichen – covered rocks of the plateau and can be very hard to see, despite their striking orange-red color.
Omo National Park
Omo National Park, the largest in the country, with an area of 4,068 square kilometers Located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region on the west bank of the Omo River , the park covers approximately 4,068 square kilometers. About 870 kilometers southeast of Addis Ababa, this park is not easily reachable, although an airstrip was recently built near the park headquarters on the Mui River. 306 species of birds have been identified here, while large herds of Eland, some Buffalo, Elephants, Giraffe, Cheetah, Lion, Leopard, Burchell’s Zebra are not uncommon.
It is a vast expanse of true wilderness, adjacent to the Omo River, which flows southwards into Lake Turkana and is one of the richest and least-visited wildlife sanctuaries in eastern Africa. Eland, oryx, Burchell’s zebra, Lelwel hartebeest, buffalo, giraffe, elephant, waterbuck, kudu, lion, leopard and cheetah roam within the park’s boundaries.
The Omo Valley is virtually free of human habitation but is rich in palaeo-anthro-pological remains. According to scientific research done in 1982 by the University of California at Berkeley, hominid remains from the Omo Valley probably date back more than four million years.
Much of Africa’s volcanic activity is concentrated along the immense 5,000 kilometer crack in the earth’s surface known as the Rift Valley. It is the result of two roughly parallel faults, between which, in distant geological time, the crust was weakened and the land subsided. The valley walls – daunting blue-grey ridges of volcanic basalt and granite – rise sheer on either side to towering heights of 4,000 meters. The valley floor, 50 kilometers or more across, encompasses some of the world’s last true wildernesses.
Ethiopia is often referred to as the ‘water tower’ of eastern Africa because of the many rivers that pour off its high tableland, and a visit to this part of the Rift Valley, studded with lakes, volcanoes and savannah grassland, offers the visitor a true safari experience. The Omo River tumbles its 350 kilometer way through a steep inaccessible valley before slowing its pace as it nears the lowlands and then meanders through flat, semi-desert bush, eventually running into Lake Turkana. Since 1973, the river has proved a major attraction for white-water rafters. The season for rafting is between September and October, when the river is still high from the June to September rains but the weather is drier.
The river passes varied scenery, including an open gallery forest of tamarinds and figs, alive with colobus monkeys. Under the canopy along the riverbanks may be seen many colorful birds. Goliath herons, blue-breasted kingfishers, white-cheeked turacos, emerald-spotted wood doves and red-fronted bee-eaters are all rewarding sights, while monitor lizards may be glimpsed scuttling into the undergrowth. Beyond the forest, hippos graze on the savannah slopes against the mountain walls, and waterbuck, bushbuck and Abyssinian ground hornbills are sometimes to be seen.
Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park
Situated in the Great Rift Valley, only 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Addis Ababa . Using Lake Langano as your base, it is an easy side trip to visit Abijatta-Shalla Lakes National Park, which is 887 square kilometers (550 square miles) in size, 482 (300) of these being water.
The altitude of the park ranges from 1,540 to 2,075 meters (5,051 to 6,806 feet), the highest peak being Mount Fike , situated between the two lakes. The temperatures can be high, reaching 45°C (113°F) at maximum and 5°C (41°F) at minimum. Rain falls between March and April and June and September, averaging 500 mm (19.5 inches). The surrounding area is mainly acacia woodland, some of which is very degraded by man.
Abijatta and Shalla are both terminal lakes but very different in nature. Lake Abijatta is 14 meters (46 feet) deep as opposed to Lake Shalla which has a depth of 260 meters (853 feet). The Park was created for the many aquatic bird species that use the lakes, especially great white pelicans and greater and lesser flamingo. The birds use Lake Abijatta as a feeding center while using Lake Shalla’s island as breeding site. White-necked cormorant, African fish eagle, Egyptian geese and others are in abundance in the park.
Lake Abijatta Two different lakes in one park, the two lakes are both terminal lakes and their beaches are unstable and saline, but they are very different in character. Abijatta is shallow at about 14 meters with a mysterious fluctuating water level. Fresh water flows into it trough the small Horakello stream. The steam mouth is a source of relatively fresh water, much frequented by water birds for drinking and bathing. The Lake is surrounded by gentle, grass covered slopes and acacia woodlands. Lake Abijatta by contrast, surrounded as it is by steep, black cliffs and peaks that reflect in its waters, is the deepest lake of the Rift Valley (260 meters (853 feet)., It is exceptionally beautiful, with shores that give a scent of mystery with their hot sulphurous springs that bubble up and flow into the lake.
There are over 400 bird species recorded here, almost half the number recorded for the whole country. Although the islands in Lake Shalla are a real birds paradise, the birds fly to Lake Abijatta to feed. Abijatta itself is very alkaline but shallow, so flamingoes can be seen scattered over most of its surface, and especially along the windward edge where their algal food source concentrates. You can approach quite closely, but beware of treacherous deep and mud if the lake is low. Large numbers of flamingos gather here, together with great white pelicans and a wide variety of other water birds.
Besides of the rich Bird life, some mammals can be spotted at the Lake Abijatta-Shalla National Park, especially Grant ‘ s gazelle, Oribi warthog and the Golden Jackal. Hot springs: The headquarters houses a small museum, which gives an excellent idea of the wealth of bird life in the park. A further track leads on from Dole to the shores of Lake Shalla where hot steam, mud and water bubble to the earth’s surface. Revered locally for their medicinal properties, the hot springs have a sense of primeval mystery about hem, especially in the cooler early mornings. They are relics of the massive volcanic activity that has formed this amazing country and landscape. Other Attraction in the region, in association with the Abijatta Shalla Lakes National Park is Senkello Swayne ‘ s hartebeest Sanctuary, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the town of Shashemene , and close to the Chitu entrance of the park. The sanctuary was established for this endemic subspecies of the hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus swaynei) which once roamed the plans of Somalia and Ethiopia in thousands, but is now restricted to four small localities in Ethiopia. The sanctuary is small but well worth a visit. Set beneath a small rounded hill, over 2,000 of these rich, chocolate colored hartebeest are packed into this area of wooded grassland, along with bohor reedbuck (Redunca Redunca), Oribi Warthog and many different species of birds.
Accommodation There is no Hotel accommodation in the park but Lake Langano, which lies just over the main road marking the boundary, has two reasonable hotels on its shores, the Wabe Shebelle and the Bekelle Mola, from which all parts of the park are easily reached. It is possible to camp inside the Abijatta-Shalla National Park at the hot springs and further south of the track east of Shalla, leading to be the Dedaba River and outpost. Camping in the Langano park is more advisable due to the better Camping accommodations.
Awash National Park
Lying in the lowlands east of Addis Ababa, and striding the Awash River, the Awash National Park is one of the finest reserves in Ethiopia. The Awash River, one of the major rivers of the Horn of Africa, waters important agricultural lands in the north- eastern part of Ethiopia and eventually flows into the wilderness of Danakil Depression. The dramatic Awash Falls as the river tumbles into its gorge, is the site not to be missed in the national park. A special attraction is the beautiful clear pools of the hot springs (Filwoha).
Awash National Park, surrounding the dormant volcano of Fantale, is a reserve of arid and semi-arid woodland and Savannah, with riverine forests along the Awash River. Forty-six species of animals have been identified here, including Beisa Oryx and Swayne’s Hartebeest. The bird life is prolific especially along the river and in amongst the 392 species recorded.
Access to the park is the best from the main Addis-Assab highway, and there is a caravan lodge called Kereyu Lodge at the edge of the gorge. One or two days rafting trips can be organized on the Awash river, with its spirited rapids, wildlife, and impressive rugged cliffs and side canyons The wildlife of Awash reflects its dry nature, at all places and all times it is possible to see its population of mammals such as the Beisa Oryx, Soemmerrings Gazelle and Wild Pigs are common. Slightly less frequent are the furry waterbuck which tend to appear near the river in the late afternoon. The tiny Salts Dik-Dik, not easy to spot in the speckled shade of the acacia thorn, Zebra grazing the plains to the west of Fantale, Cheetah, Serval and Leopard are also there but it is not easy to spot them; Baboons, both Anubis and Hamadryas, Kudus, lesser and greater, the Giant Tortoise, Reedbuck, Aardvark and Caracal are also represented. Klipspringers inhabit the higher slopes of the mountain and curious Hyrax peer at you curiously from behind their rocks. In the bottom of the gorge you can spot the black and white Colobus Monkey. Crocodile and Hippopotamus are seen both in the Awash river and in the cooler parts of the hot springs and rivers in the north.The birds of Awash are numerous, over 350 species are recorded for the park: (The check list is available at the museum at park Head quarters). They range from the great ostrich, frequently and easily observed, and the less common Secretary Bird and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, to the flashes of brilliant pink which are the Carmine Bee-eaters, and the Abyssinian Roller with turquoise and purple, wings. And between these two extremes, birds of the riverine forest, Coucal, Turaco, Go-away Birds; birds of prey; and birds of the savannah.
Temperatures in the park are hot and can reach as high as 42 degrees Celsius. Nights are cooler with temperatures between 10 and 22 degrees Celsius. Rain falls between February and August with an average of 619 mm. The terrain is mainly acacia woodland and grassland.
Accommodation In Awash National Park Camping is far out the best alternative, camping sites are located on the edge of the river above the falls, Large spreading trees provide not only shade but also they shelter a wonderful collection of birds. A museum is near the camping site.
Dallol is the world’s only below sea level land volcano. Dallol is in the Danakil depression is the lowest point and the hottest place on earth. Between 1960 and 1966 the annual mean temperature at Dallol was 34 deg. One of the most important features of this region of Africa resulted from faulting and cracking on its eastern side. This has caused the Great Rift Valley, which extends from the Middle East to Mozambique, passing in a north-south direction right through Ethiopia. This shearing of the earth’s surface occurred at the same time that the Arabian Peninsula, geologically a part of Africa, was sundered from the rest of the continent. Volcanic activity, which has continued until today, finds expression in volcanoes in Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, as well as in the hot springs in many parts of the country.
Earth tremors are often felt, and exposed cones of old volcanic plugs are seen throughout the plateau. After the Rift opened, much of this area was flooded by the inrushing waters of the red Sea, a flood that was subsequently stemmed by fresh volcanic activity that raised barriers of basaltic lava. Behind these barriers the trapped inland sea that had formed began to evaporate under the fierce heat of the tropical sun – a process that is almost complete today. Only a few scattered, highly saline lakes – Gamarri, Affambo, Bario, and Abbe remain. Elsewhere, there are huge beds of natural salt – which, at points, are calculated to be several thousands of meters thick.
Sof Omar is Situated 510km south of Addis near the town of Arba Minch , in between Lakes Abaya and Chamo. A wide variety of plains game roams freely amongst 514m2 of savannah, dry bush and groundwater forest, which are also the habitat of 188 recorded species of birds. Animals to be seen are Bushbuck, Swayne’s Hartebeest, Burchell’s Zebra, Grant’s Gazelle, Guenther’s Dik-dik, Greater Kudu, Crocodile, Anubis Baboon, Grey Duiker. Birds seen include Red-billed Hornbill, Grey Hornbil,l Fish Eagle, Kori Bustard, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill.
Sof Omar, a tiny Muslim village in Bale, is the site of an amazing complex of natural caves, cut by the Weyb River as it found its way into the nearby mountains. The settlement, which is a religious site, is named after a local Sheikh. Visitors to Sof Omar make their way-armed with torches and official map underground, far into the bowels of the earth, beside a subterranean stream, and there one can see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high, eroded ceilings and deep, echoing chambers.
Mago National Park
Mago National Park is 2,162 sq km, 770km southwest of Addis Ababa, on east bank of Omo River. The highest point is Mount Mago. Mainly grass savannah, some forested areas around rivers. Conservation area for plains animals, 56 species of mammals: buffalo, giraffe, elephant, lelwel hartebeest, lion, cheetah, leopard, zebra, gerenuk, oryx.
The park is not easily accessible. The park HQ is 75km from Kibish settlement. However, a new airstrip is available close to the HQ and to a pleasant campsite on the Mui River.
Visitors to Sof Omar make their way-armed with torches and official map underground, far into the bowels of the earth, beside a subterranean stream, and there one can see an extraordinary number of arched portals, high, eroded ceilings and deep, echoing chambers.