Friday, 6 November 2015

Best of Ethiopia - Autumn 2015

Male Gelada
I have just returned from leading the "Best of Ethiopia" tour for Naturetrek for the second time this year. We began with a week in the north, visiting Lake Tana, the old capital of Gondar and the stunning Simien Mountains, home to thousands of Gelada. These mountain apes are endemic to Ethiopia and the majority live on the high plateau of the Simien range, feeding entirely on grass and other plants. They spend the nights clinging to the sheer face of a 1000m high escarpment, in order to avoid predators like Leopard and Hyena. We spent several hours sitting amongst them; they were largely oblivious to our presence and continued to feed and to groom one another as the youingsters played.

Gelada gather near the escarpment as the sun sets

The Simiens are also home to the endemic Walia Ibex; we found a family group close to the only road through the mountains, at an altitude of approximately 3,700 metres. It included two young males, who repeatedly butted horns as they indulged in mock rutting behaviour.

Young male Walia Ibex

The second part of the tour took us south to the Rift Valley and then to the Bale Mountains. The lakes were teeming with wildfowl, herons, storks and kingfishers etc. The woodlands held an even greater variety of birds; over the duration of the tour (18 days), we saw a total of 362 bird species.

Pied Kingfisher

Speckled Mousebird
The Bale Mountains are the best place to see another endemic mammal, the Ethiopian Wolf. We found 11 wolves in total, at an altitude of  4000m. We were very lucky to watch one as it caught and ate a Giant Mole Rat (yet another endemic species!) More unexpectedly, we saw a Giant Forest Hog when it crossed the road in the nearby Harenna Forest; not many travelers see this animal, which can weigh up to 275kg.

Ethiopian Wolf in typical habitat
The diverse wildlife, contrasting scenery and unique culture combine to make Ethiopia a fascinating country. The tourist infrastructure is under-developed but some of the lodges are superb and unlike in other East African destinations, we often had the animals to ourselves. The people are genuinely hospitable and the harmony between Christians and Muslims is another positive feature of Ethiopia - long may it continue.

Male Gelada enjoying a grooming session