Blessed with a variety of landscapes as well as abundant bird and wildlife Ethiopia offers astonishing travel opportunities. The land features fall into three main categories, the mountainous, fertile highlands, the lowlands and the Great Rift Valley. While on the highland the climate is moderate, the lowlands are hot and dry. The Rift Valley region, with its occasional hot springs, offers everything from hot to moderate climate. From the peak of Mount Ras Dashen to the depths of the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia is a land of enormous natural beauty.
Bale Mountains National Park
400 km south-west of Addis lays the Bale Mountains National Park with its highest peak, Mount Tullu Deemto. The park is renowned for its distincticeflora and its superb fishing possibilities. With its afro-alpine vegetation, tropical forests and wide grasslands it offers great riding and trekking possibilities. The many diverse biotopes attract a variety of bird- and wildlife and the rivers are teeming with trout, perfect for fly-fishing.
SIMIEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
NAME Simen Mountain National Park
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
II (National Park)
Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria iii, iv
BIOGEOGRAPHICAL PROVINCE 3.18.12 (Ethiopian Highlands)
GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION In the western Simen Mountains, 120km north-east of Gondar in Begemder Province, north-west Ethiopia. The town of Adi Ark'ay lies to the north, Debark to the south-west and Deresge to the south east. 13° 11'N, 38° 04'E
DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT 31 October 1969 by Order No. 59 in the Negarit Gazeta 29(4): 6-8. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978. Boundary changes were proposed in 1983 to exclude some cultivated land in Wazla Valley and to include Bwahit Mountain summit. Placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1996.
The first sites to be inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978.
AREA It was used to be 22,000ha/179 sq KM: Recently it has 225 sq KM area.
LAND TENURE Government
ALTITUDE 1,900m to 4,430m
PHYSICAL FEATURES The Park occupies a broad, undulating plateau of vast, grassy plains bordering the northern edge of the Ethiopian Amhara plateau. The area is part of the Simen Massif which includes the highest peak in Ethiopia, Ras Dashan Terara (4,620m). The massif was formed some 25 million years ago and the igneous basalts have since been eroded to form precipitous cliffs and deep gorges. Some cliffs reach 1,500m in height and extend for long distances (the north scarp extends 35km). The plateau is bounded on the south and north-east by the deep valleys of the Tacazze River and its tributaries. It is bisected from north to south by the Mayshasha River, for which it is the principal catchment area.
CLIMATE There are two wet seasons, from February to March, and July to September; mean annual rainfall is 1550mm. Temperatures range from a minimum of -2.5° C-4° C to a maximum of 11° C-18° C. There are often drying winds during the day; frosts may occur at night, and snow sometimes settles on the summit of Ras Dashan.
VEGETATION This is a mixture of Afro-Alpine woods, heath forest, high montane vegetation, montane savanna and montane moorland with tree heath Erica arborea, giant lobelia Lobelia rhynchopetalum, Solanum sp., Rosa abyssinica, yellow primrose Primula verticillata, everlastings Helichrysum spp., lady's mantle Alchemilla, Thymus, Urtica, and mosses (Grimmiaceae). Lichen Usnea spp. drape the high altitude forest trees. The alpine moss originated in the Pleistocene epoch. Ridge tops and gorge sides support coarse grassland with herbs Thymus spp., Trifolium spp., Geranium arabicum, thickets of Rumex nervosus, scattered Otostegia minucci, and creepers Clematis simensis and Galium spurium. Forests of St. John's wort Hypericum spp. once flourished at 3,000-3,800m, but few still remain. There are high, but unquantified, levels of endemism.
FAUNA Walia ibex Capra walie (EN) on the north scarp of the massif is endemic to Simen Mountain, with most of the population occurring in the park. Numbers in 1989 were estimated at 400 individuals, decreasing to 250 in 1996 (Shackleton, 1997, Nievergelt, 1996). Simen fox Canis simensis (EN) is endemic to Ethiopia, and other mammals include gelada baboon Theropithecus gelada (R), hamadryas baboon Papio hamadryas, colobus monkey Colobus sp., serval Felis serval, leopard Panthera pardus, caracal Felis caracal, wild cat F. silvestris, spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, jackal Canis aureus, and several large herbivores including bushbuck Tragelaphus scriptus, common duiker Sylvicapra grimmia, and klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus. The 400 bird species include lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus, Verreaux's eagle Aquila verreauxii, kestrel Falco tinnunculus, lanner falcon F. biarmicus, and augur buzzard Buteo rufofuscus. A total of 21 mammals have been recorded, with three endemics and 63 bird species, including seven endemics.
CULTURAL HERITAGE The Simen region, being surrounded by old cultural centres like Aksum, Lalibela and Gonder, was inhabited by human settlers and cultivators for at least 2,000 years (Kirwan, 1972). Erosion indicates that cultivation first started on the gentler slopes of the highland valleys but later extended onto steeper slopes. Simen is at the crossing of old trade routes and records of various local features were made in the 18th and 19th centuries (Hurni, 1986).
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION Originally some 2,500 people inhabited the park, although this was reduced with forced relocation of approximately 1,800 inhabitants from the lower slopes of the northern escarpment in 1979. However, following civil unrest in the 1980's villages have developed within the park boundaries (Nievergelt, 1996).
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES There were 100-200 international visitors annually and three simple camps, although access routes and facilities were reported to be poor. The area was closed to foreigners due to military conflict. According to Nievergelt (1996), a road has been built to the park from Debark which is expected to facilitate tourism development. There is nice but expensive loge in the beginning of the park. They offer accommodation and meal service. But this loge is not advisable for budgeted travelers.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES Studies have been made of Walia ibex, habitat conservation, and the ecology of gelada baboon. A bibliography of research is given in Schaerer (1979) and Hurni (1986). A study on flora and fauna was conducted in 1996 (Nievergelt, 1996).
CONSERVATION VALUE The park is valued particularly for its flora and fauna, which, due to extreme topography and altitudinal range, remain relatively intact. The park is the refuge for threatened animals such as gelada baboon, Simen fox and Walia ibex, a goat species endemic to Simen Mountains. The Simen Mountains also form an important part of the Tekeze River Basin which is used downstream for irrigation.
CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT A management plan was prepared in 1986 (Hurni, 1986) with five specific objectives, viz. to preserve the scenic beauty and habitat diversity of a representative sample of the Ethiopian Tropical Seasonal Highland Biome; to give particular emphasis to the preservation of Walia ibex and other endemic plant and animal populations; to restore and rehabilitate disturbed areas and to undertake measures to conserve watershed values within the park, protected by improvements around the park; to encourage and provide for educational, scientific and touristic uses of the park; and to manage the park in recognition of its status as a World Heritage site. However, it was not implemented at the time due to civil unrest (EWCO, 1991), and it is now out of date as it does not take into account increased human utilization of the park (Nievergelt, 1996).
MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS Ethiopia's highlands are among the most densely populated agricultural areas in Africa, and wildlife populations in the park are isolated due to extensive deforestation and grass burning in the surrounding region. Several species are expected to become locally extinct even if the park is fully protected. Species most likely to be affected will be the carnivores, notably serval, leopard and Simen fox, and larger ungulates of the 'lower' afromontane areas that are not extensively represented in the park, notably bushbuck and bushpig. A further risk is that of hybridisation between Walia ibex and free-ranging domestic goats (Hurni, 1986; Shackleton, 1997). After the years of civil unrest during the 1980s, the park infrastructure was completely destroyed and the park management were severely constrained by lack of finances (EWCO, 1991). Subsequently, human utilization has increased significantly, and the park has come under pressure from cultivation, wood and grass cutting and livestock grazing. Grazing around streamside areas has affected water quality and increased sediment load. Some 60% of grassland habitats surveyed in 1996 were considered to be heavily grazed, 25% seriously overgrazed, and only 15% is in a natural state. This has lead to erosion and ecosystem change. As a result of human activities, Simen fox observations have become increasingly rare. The range of the Walia ibex population has decreased. Large areas of former habitat have been abandoned, and sightings have been made only in the most remote and inaccessible areas. Bush buck and bush pig populations have also become extremely sparse due to trapping. A road is currently being built to the park from Debark, which runs along the park border. It is feared that this will cause erosion and ecological damage in the highland areas (Nievergelt, 1996). The park was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1996 due to agricultural encroachment, loss of biodiversity and the impacts of road construction (UNESCO, 1996).
STAFF In 1991 staff numbered 21, comprising one Assistant warden, 17 Wildlife Scouts, one store man, one cashier and one driver, all based at Debarak.
BUDGET Approximately US$15,000 (1979/1980). No recent information.
Chief Park Warden, Simen Mountains National Park, Debark, Gondar
The roof of Africa, 1,900-4,430m. Located near Gondar, 760km North of Addis Ababa.
The Simien Mountain massif dominates and divides the country into distinctly contrasting highland and lowland regions. With over twenty peaks towering to heights above 4000 metres this massif can rightfully lay claim as the “Roof Of Africa” even though its highest peak, Ras Dashen at 4543 metres, is only the fourth highest peak on the African continent.
The mountains high lands constitute on of the major mountain massif in Africa. The region includes many summits above 4000 meters and culminates in the highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dejen, at 4543 meters, the fourth highest mountain in Africa. As this place is secluded there are various species of Endemic mammals like Walia Ibex, Semien Fox and Gelada Baboon. In addition, there are lots of endemic bird and plant species.
There are few places in Africa where snow regularly falls, but one of those is the extraordinary Simien mountain range in the far north of the Ethiopia. This is part of the Abyssinian Highlands, one of Africa's largest mountain ranges, with many peaks rising above 13,000 feet.
Massive erosion over the years on the Ethiopian plateau has created one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, with jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500 m, the views at the pinnacles make the landscape breathtaking.
The dramatic landscape of the Simien Mountains is the result of massive seismic activity in the area about 40 million years ago. Molten lava poured out of the Earth's core reaching a thickness of 3000m. Subsequent erosion over the millennia has left behind the jagged landscape of the Simien Mountains: the gorges, chasms and precipices. The famous pinnacles - the sharp spires that rise abruptly from the surrounding land - are volcanic necks: the solidified lava and last remnant of ancient volcanoes.
The Simien National Park of 179 sq KM lies at an altitude between 1900 and 4500 M.
A World Heritage Site and a national park, hiking into the soaring plateau-topped range makes for a dramatic side-trip
Ethiopia's high central plateau mostly rises and falls between 1,800m and 3,000m (6,000-10,000ft), with its highest peak of Ras Dashen reaching 4,620m (15,158ft).
The Simien Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is easily accessible for walkers, although taking a guide and 'scout' (armed park ranger) is compulsory.
The national park has three general botanical regions. The lower slopes have been cultivated and grazed, while the alpine regions (up to 3600m) were forested, although much has now disappeared. The higher lands are mountain grasslands with fescue grasses as well as heathers, splendid Red Hot Pokers and Giant Lobelia.
The Simien Range is a fascinating area for trekking, where the scenery is dramatic and exhilarating.
The mountains are lush and green: your former conception of Ethiopia is also likely to be turned on its head:
The Simien Mountains have the best scenery in Ethiopia, which is quite an accomplishment in this marvelously endowed country.
The trekking component of this trip is unusual in many ways. The trek will be fully supported by a team including guides, armed scouts, camp assistants and a cook, whilst mules and their handlers provide porter services. Further, the trek takes place in a National Park that provides a habitat for some of Ethiopia’s endemic wildlife and birdlife species. Whilst trekking it is not unusual to walk among troops of Gelada baboons, to see Wyala ibex on the rocky edges of cliffs and to sight or hear Ethiopia’s many endemic birds and, if very fortunate, the highly endangered Ethiopian wolf. Combined with this is the interaction with the rural villages and the insight gained into their lives as they struggle to survive with little natural resources. As you follow the paths trodden over the ages by the highland people you will often be joined by young herdboys as they tend to their cattle and sheep. Add to this the incredible mountain scenery of the World Heritage listed Simien Mountains and you have an incredible and unusual trekking adventure.
You can either go only for a short one day trip or as many days as you like. There are several routes and mountains to discover as well as Africa`s 4th highest Peak Ras Dashen.
The best parts of the Simien to me were the views and the canyons. And also its quietness:
To fully enjoy the Simien Mountains, I did a day trek here. From the town of Debark they bring you deep inside the park, and in the company of a guide and a scout (with gun) you can go hiking. The narrow paths circle around the mountain ridges, through grasslands.
The Simien Mountain massif is a broad plateau, cut off to the north and west by an enormous single crag over 60 kilometers long. To the south, the tableland slopes gently down to 2,200 meters, divided by gorges 1,000 meters deep which can take more than two days to cross. Insufficient geological time has elapsed to smooth the contours of the crags and buttresses of hardened basalt.
Twenty kilometers north-east of Gondar, the Simien Mountains National Park covers 225 square kilometers of highland area at an average elevation of 3,300 meters. Ras Dashen, at 4,620 meters the highest peak in Ethiopia, stands adjacent to the park.
The Simien escarpments, which are often compared to the Grand Canyon in the United States of America, have been adopted by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Within this spectacular splendor live the Walia (Abyssinian) ibex, Simien red fox and Gelada baboon - all endemic to Ethiopia -
The park was created primarily to protect the Walia Ibex, a type of wild goat, and over 1000 are said to live in the park.
The mountains are home to three of Ethiopia's larger endemic mammals: the walia ibex, the more common gelada baboons, and the very rarely seen Ethiopian wolvess.
One of the most delightful experiences of a trek in the Simiens is happening across a group of gelada baboons.
The endemic creatures are known for the bright pink skin displayed on the chests of adult males – a sign of fertility.
Geladas spent most of their time sitting down, as they are the only primates who feed on grass.
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 Simien fox, although named after the mountains, is rarely seen by the visitor.
Simien wolf, endemic to Ethiopia, also known as the Simien jackal of Abyssinian wolf, is found in greater numbers in the Bale Mountains then in the Simiens, between 3,000 and 4,500 meters high.
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.
Other mammals’ characteristics of the site include klipspringer, bushbuck and the bush pig.
Over 50 species of birds have been reported in the Simien Mountains. Birds such as the Lammergeyer, augur buzzard, Verreaux's eagle, kestrel and falcon are commonly seen and soar above this mountain retreat.
The first sites to be inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1978.
I was not only interested in the fauna of the Simien Mountains, like the walia ibex and the gelada baboon, but also in the flora. The most striking for me at the plateau were the heather trees. In my home country I live in an area with a lot of heather fields. You can walk on the heather there, but here in the Simien Mountains you can walk under the heather. I experienced this before on Madeira island and the Canaries islands, but it's still amazing. I didn't see the Abyssinian rose, an ivory-coloured endemic flower, you can find along the way in the park.
Road construction and human population increase within the site represent further threats to the values of the Park
Awash National Park
In the lowlands east of Addis Ababa, astride the Awash River, lies the Awash National Park. The arid and semi-arid woodland and savannah surrounding the dormant volcano Fantale, are home of 46 mammals and 392 bird species, some of them endemic. Beisa Oryx, Swayne's Hartebeest, Lions, Grivet Monkeys, Hamadryas Baboons, Kudus and more can be spottet here along with many birds like Green Wood Hoopoe, Emerald-spotted Dove, Chanting Goshawk, Lesser Flamingo and so on. The dramatic Awash Falls give not a hint that the river will later flow into the wilderness of the Danakil Depression, never reaching the sea. A special attraction are the clear pools of the Filwoha hot springs.
Nechisar National Park
Nechisar National Park is situated on a strikingly beautiful setting between two of the Rift Valley lakes, Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo on one side and high mountain ranges on the other side. The wide savannah grasslands are home of Burchell's Zebra, Grant's Gazelle, Greater Kudu, Klipspringer, Dikdik, Waterbuck and Warthog as well as the rare Swayne's Hartebeest.
A boat trip on Lake Chamo brings you close to hippos and spectacular congregations of Giant Crocodiles. The lakes attract a variety of water birds as well as many locals who fish in their traditional boats for Nile Perch and other fish species. Also other bird species like Nightjars, White-tailed Bush Lark, Kori Bustard, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Crowned Crane and many more can be seen.
Omo National Park
With its 4068 km2 of wilderness bordered by the Omo River, the Omo National Park is one of the most beautiful and unsurpassed parks in Ethiopia. The park is not easily accessible. Two days of trekking are required to reach the park from Maji or Kibish. Large herds of Eland, Buffalo and Elephant as well as 306 species of birds live along the river and the wide savannah grassland. If lucky you might see also Giraffe, Cheetah or Lions. Another highlight of the park is a visit of the Surma people, who still live in a very traditional way at the border of the national park. The semi-nomadic Surma tribe is known for cattle rearing and stick-fighting events, with which young men are welcomed into adulthood.
Mago National Park
North of Mount Mago (2,528 m), along the Omo River lays the 2612 km2 areal of the Mago National Park. The broad grassland teems with herds of Buffalo, Giraffe, Elephant and Kudu. Sometimes even Lions, Leopards and Burchell's Zebras can be seen. The riverbanks attract a variety of birds like Kori Bustard, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Sparrow Weavers, Wattled Starling, Kingfishers and Goliath Heron. Due to its remoteness the park attracts relatively few tourists and therefore there are hardly any facilities.
A visit of the Mursi people who live at the border of the park is possible. From the rest of the world forgotten, they could develop and keep their traditional way of life. Mursi women wear big ear and lip plates as a sign of wealth and beauty.
Gambella National Park
In the western part of Ethiopia, well off the beaten track, lies the Gambella National Park along the Baro River. With its large area of swamps and wetlands the park creates unique biotopes which attract large quantities of birdlife, many of them migratory visitors. Egyptian Goose, Sacred Ibis, Egrets, Kingfishers and Pelicans are here plentiful. Also mammals like Sable Antelopes, Elephants, Giraffes, Topi and White-eared Kobs can be found in the park. A visit of the nearby villages of the Nuer and Anuake people is possible.
Yangudi-Rassa National Park
This seldom visited park along the Assab road consists of 4730 km2 of semi desert and dry scrub. The dry grassland is home to herds of the endangered Somali Wild Ass, Grevy's Zebra, Hamadryras Baboon and Beisa Oryx as well as different bird species. There are no tourist facilities in the park.