Ethiopia has wonderful mammals that exist nowhere else in the world. Mainly the country’s topography has helped them to survive in their particular niches.
The Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis) is one of the most endangered canids on earth. It lives in Ethiopia and Eritrea at altitudes of 3,000 meters. It is estimated that about 550 individuals exist. Their diet consists primarily on rodents, he hunts alone, and digs out their burrows at night. The Ethiopian Wolf is a social animal, which forms hierarchical packs of 3-13 individuals. A recent study showed that the Ethiopian Wolf is more closely related to grey wolves and coyotes than the foxes they resemble. The Ethiopian Wolf, Simien Fox or also Simien Jackal is listed as endangered (EN) and stands on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It can be spotted in the Bale Mountains as well as around the Guassa plateau.
The Gelada Baboon is not in fact peculiar to the Simien Mountains, but they are more numerous here than in their other habitats. They might be the only mammal endemic to Ethiopia that cannot be regarded as endangered. The male Gelada is a spectacularly handsome and distinctive beast, possessed of an imposing golden mane and an hour-glass shaped red chest patch. This patch is sort to serve the same purpose as colourful buttocks of other African monkeys that don’t spend most of their time on their buttocks to graze. The social behaviour of the apes and monkeys is evidence of a very high degree of intelligence and studies of their rudimentary social structures are proving considerable value in analysing the origins of human social behaviour. Geladas live along the edges and steep slopes of precipices. They never move far from the rim and thus their distribution is linear along the escarpment. At night they climb down the steep cliff faces to caves where they roost on ledges, often huddled close together for warmth as nights in the highlands can be very cold. Babies cling tight to their mothers even in sleep. In the morning in the warm sun they climb up again to the top of the cliff and spread out to feed. Geladas are mainly vegetarian, living on herbs, grasses and roots, but they also eat insects and locusts. They never eat meat, or hunt or kill even small birds or mammals. The harem is a very close family unit. Ninety-five percent of the social interactions of adults are with other members of the same harem. Only juveniles and babies cross the invisible boundaries to play with others of their own age. Gelada Baboons can be spotted around the Simien Mountains, Debre Libanos, the Muger River Gorge, Debre Sina, Ankober and the Guassa Plateau.
The habitat of the endemic Walia Ibex is the Simien Mountain range in the northern part of the country. In this scenic splendour live the Walia Ibex, here and nowhere else in the world. The Walia once existed in significant numbers probably several thousands in the highland massif, feeding on the cliff faces and coming up to roam the plateau at rutting time. Large herds wandered unmolested on these chilly heights. The increasing number of humans in that area has pushed the Walia Ibex deeper into the Simien Mountains. The Walia Ibex is a type of goat. Both males and the females have horns, but the males’ are much bigger. Curving back in a graceful arc to the withers they sometimes attain a length of over 110 cm. Females are smaller in body and lighter in colour with shorter, thinner horns. They live in small parties of two to half a dozen and the big old males often live solitary except during the mating season. Because of the rarity of the animal, it is not often possible to observe a large male and one feels privileged to do so. The magnificent horns and striking colouration make it an unforgettable sight. They can be easily spotted around the third camp of the Simiens called “Chenek”.
The Mountain Nyala was the last of the great African antelopes to become known to science. Still today very little is known about its habits or the full extent of its range. It was first collected by Major Ivor Buxton in 1908 and at that time seemed to be fairly widespread throughout the Arsi and Bale regions in south eastern Ethiopia. Large numbers of them lived at very high altitudes, between 3,000 and 4,000 m, in the mountain forests where it was cold and wet much of the time, until the pressure of the human population destroyed vast tracts of their forest habitat. There are white markings on the legs and two white spots on the face, a white chevron between the eyes. Nyala are similar to Greater Kudu but can be distinguished by the single spiral horns and the absence of clear white stripes on the body. Those of the Nyala are only faintly visible, and with a few faint spots on the flanks. They often choose a place where anyone approaching gives them warning by stepping on dried bracken or twigs and they then disappear in an almost miraculous way – not to be seen again. The main protected population is found in the North of Bale Mountains National Park around Dinsho and Mount Gaysay.
The Nile Crocodile is the second largest extant reptile in the world, after the saltwater crocodile. It reaches a maximum size of about 6 meters and can weigh up to 730 kilograms. The diet of the Nile crocodile is mainly fish, but it will attack almost anything unfortunate enough to cross its path, including zebras, small hippos, porcupines, birds, and other crocodiles. An unbelievable characteristic of this dangerous predator is its caring nature as a parent. While most reptiles lay their eggs somewhere and move on, the Nile crocodiles carefully guard their nests until the eggs hatch. To help hatching babies emerge, they even roll the eggs gently in their mouths. Most Nile crocodile can these days be found in protected areas like the so called “Crocodile Market” in the Nechisar National Park in Arba Minch where crocodiles sunbath at a shallow part of Lake Chamo. Other sightings are around Awash National Park or Omo River in the deep South.
Hippos are a semi-aquatic mammal, usually inhabiting shallow lakes, rivers, and swamps. The water must be deep enough for the hippo to submerge its entire body in; usually water about 2 meters deep is preferred. During the daytime, herds prefer to sleep in shallow water, or occasionally on a mud bank, grouped closely together. It is in these waters that mating and childbirth occurs. When shallow waters are not present hippos reside in deeper water, leaving only their nostrils above the surface to breathe. Hippos emerge from water at dusk and go ashore to feed, and travel individually down familiar paths usually less than 1.6 km to dense, grassy grazing areas along the banks of the water.
Burchells’s Zebras can also be found numerous in Nechisar National Park. Burchells’ zebra is a southern subspecies of the plains zebra. It is named after the British explorer William John Burchell. It can be found in unusual large herds galloping over the golden grass of Nechisar Park.
Ethiopia’s position, an extensive highland island surrounded by arid lands, has enabled the evolution of many birds of the region into unique forms and species. Ethiopia boast 857 bird species, of which 28 are considered endemic, limited within the confines of the Ethiopian borders. Not all these are limited to the highland massif, some being found in a surprisingly small area to the south with no apparent barriers to dispersal. The extremely varied birds of Ethiopia and their spectacular habitats make them a must for every bird enthusiast. Broadly speaking, Ethiopia can be divided into a number of habitats with respect to bird life – the Rift Valley lakes, the highland massifs, the lowlands, and the arid semi-desserts. Find below a selected but by far not exhausted overview of birds of Ethiopia:
Because of its loud, raucous “haa-haa-haa-haa” call, the Wattled Ibis is easily recognized even from some distance away. A flock of these ibises rising or flying overhead becomes especially noisy and obvious. In flight a white patch shows on the upper surface of the ibis’ wing, and at close range its tilroat wattle is visible. These two diagnostic features distinguish the Wattled Ibis from the closely related Hadada Ibis (Bostrychia hagedavli), which also occurs in Ethiopia.
The Blue-winged Goose inhabits plateau marshes, streams and damp grasslands from about 1,800 meters upwards. Pairs or small parties of three to five of these geese are common and easily seen at high elevations in small stream valleys and in pools and marshes in the moorlands where giant lobelia, alchemilla and tussock grass predominate and where they nest in March, April, June and September. During the big rains of July, August and September Blue-winged Geese flock in groups that may include 50 to 100 or more individuals which at this time probably undergo molt, losing the flight feathers. This goose lays four to seven cream-colored eggs; the nestling is largely black with various silvery-white markings above, silvery-white below; the immature is similar to but duller than the adult. In total numbers the Blue-winged Goose seems to be one of the least numerous of any species of goose in the world. In Africa it is unique: its closest living relative lives in South America.
The Rouget’s Rail is common on the western and south eastern highlands, but its presence is not as obvious as that of some other endemics. Once one is able to recognize the bird’s calls, one well appreciates how common this rail is. This Rail mainly lives at higher elevations of up to 4,100 m where it inhabits small pockets of grass tussock and wet hollows with plenty, of cover; it is a characteristic bird of the moorlands of Ethiopia. Both male and female have similar russet-coloured plumages. This rail sometimes lives in family parties of three to ten. Rouget’s Rail nests from April through October; the nest is a shallow cup of grass placed in tussock grass. In one clutch a rail lays as many as eight eggs, brownish-cream colored with reddish-brown splashes and lilac-grey under markings.
The Spot-breasted Plover is an endemic usually found above 3,050 m in marshy grasslands and moorlands with giant health, giant lobelia, alchemilla and tussock grass in both the western and south eastern highlands. Widely distributed and locally common, the plover usually is seen in pairs or in small parties, or, in the non-breeding season, in small flocks of up to 30-40 individuals. It is distinguished from other plovers by having fleshy wattles in front of the eyes and by the breast spotted with black. The plover is known to breed in April in the Bale Mountains and in August in Shoa Region.
The Yellow-fronted Parrot occurs in Ethiopia from approximately 600 to 3,350 m in the western and south eastern highlands, the Rift Valley and the western lowlands in forests and woodlands varying from St. John’s wort and hagenia to olive, podocarpus and juniper to fig and acacia. Their food is thought to be fruit, including baobab if available, sorghum, maize and seeds. Although this parrot is frequent to locally common and widely distributed in the country, little is known of its habits: the time of nesting is not known: the nest and eggs are non-described. In fact, this parrot is so poorly known that practically any information an observer discovers about it will be new to science.
The Black-winged Lovebird is the common, small green parrot of the Ethiopian plateau. It is widely distributed from about 1,500-3,200 m in the western and south eastern highlands and in the Rift Valley in forests and woodlands of hagenia, juniper, podocarpus, olive, acacia, candelabra euphorbia, combretum and fig. It commonly visits gardens, especially with seeding trees in Addis Ababa. The lovebird flies in noisy flocks which number usually five to ten individuals although as many as 50 to 80 individuals may be present. Both sexes have a large bright red bill; the male has a red forehead, the female and immature do not.
Harwood’s Francolin has been reported from only three localities along about 160 km of valleys and gorges within the upper Blue Nile system extending to the east and north of the Addis Ababa-Debre Marcos-Dejen Bridge; this francolin is a very poorly known Ethiopian endemic. It was first recorded for science in 1898 at Ahiyafej, then again in 1927 at Bichana, and in 1930 at Kalo Ford along the banks of the Blue Nile “below Zemie”. No other record of this species has been published although recent reports suggest that it is more widely distributed than previously thought.