Ethiopia has one of the most unique landscapes on Earth, with lush forests, snow-capped peaks, and arid deserts. As a country with such varied habitats, Ethiopia is home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, whose endangered status highlights the need for environmental stewardship and a radical re-imagining of how we co-exist with our environment.
The richness and variety of the wildlife of Ethiopia are dictated by the great diversity of terrain with wide variations in climate, soils, natural vegetation, and settlement patterns. Ethiopia contains a vast highland complex of mountains and dissected plateaus divided by the Great Rift Valley, which runs generally southwest to northeast and is surrounded by lowlands, steppes, or semi-desert.
The county has an ecologically diverse country, ranging from the deserts along the eastern border to the tropical forests in the south to extensive Afromontane in the northern and southwestern parts. Lake Tana in the north is the source of the Blue Nile. It also has many endemic species, including 31 mammal species, notably the gelada, the Walia ibex, and the Ethiopian wolf (“Simien fox”). There are seven mammal species classified as “critically endangered”, and others as “endangered” or “vulnerable”.
The wide range of altitude has given the country a variety of ecologically distinct areas, and this has helped to encourage the evolution of endemic species in ecological isolation. But some of these habitats are now much reduced or threatened. We tracked down ten of these animals to show just what’s at stake.
The Ethiopian Wolf
The Ethiopian wolf is one of Earth’s rarest canid species, and unfortunately Africa’s most endangered carnivore. Unlike other canid predators with large and varied diets, the Ethiopian Wolf hunts small rodents in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia and The Semien Mountains. It is totally dependent on the health of its limited habitat to survive. Most members of the Canidae family, such as wolves, dogs, and foxes, are versatile and opportunistic animals, thriving in many habitats and some even living in urban and suburban settings. In contrast, Ethiopian wolves are highly specialized in life in the Ethiopian highlands. Also called the “Roof of Africa”, it encompasses 80% of Africa’s land above 3,000m.
They are remarkable rodent hunters, with long muzzles and slender legs. Their tight social bonds help them protect their precious family territories from competitors. For a canid of their size (about 14-20kg – the weight of a medium-sized dog), Ethiopian wolves are unique at surviving on small prey (most highland rodent species weigh less than 100g) and are solitary foragers. With their striking red coats and black and white markings, they appear physically distant from their closest relative, the grey wolf.
The Ethiopian Wolf is a very localized endemic species, confined to isolated pockets of Afroalpine grasslands and heathlands where they prey on Afroalpine rodents. Suitable habitats extend from above treeline at about 3,200 m up to 4,500 m, with some wolves present in montane grasslands at 3,000 m. However, subsistence agriculture extends up to 3,500–3,800 m in many areas, restricting wolves to higher ranges (Marino 2003a). Rainfall at high altitude varies between 1,000 and 2,000 mm/year, with one pronounced dry period from December to February/March.
Wolves utilize all Afroalpine habitats but prefer open areas with short herbaceous and grassland communities where rodents are most abundant, along with flat or gently sloping areas with deep soils and poor drainage in parts. Prime habitats in the Bale Mountains are characterized by short herbs (Alchemilla spp.) and grasses and low vegetation cover, a community maintained in continuous success as a result of molerat (Tachyoryctes macrocephalus) burrowing activity. Other good habitats include tussock grasslands (Festuca spp., Agrostis spp.), high-altitude scrubs dominated by Helichrysum spp., and short grasslands in shallow soils. In northern parts of the range, plant communities are characterized by a matrix of ‘guassa’ tussock grasses (Festuca spp.), ‘cherenfi’ bushes (Euryops pinifolius) and giant lobelias (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) sustain high rodent abundance and are preferred by wolves. Ericaceous moorlands (Erica and Phillipa spp.) at 3,200–3,600 m are of marginal value, with open moorlands having patches of herbs and grasses which are relatively good habitats.
Due to a warming continent, in the last 100,000 years, the tree line has gone up by 1,000m encroaching on open Afroalpine grasslands and meadows. Due to the pressure of humans, livestock, and domestic dogs, the wolves are now restricted to tiny mountain pockets on either side of the Great Rift Valley and are constantly being pushed up the slopes.
Although they were never particularly common, today there are fewer than 500 adult wolves in the mountains of Bale, Arsi, Simien, and Wollo, over half of whom are harbored within the Bale Mountains National Park. This makes them Africa’s rarest, and most threatened carnivore species. As an indication, this is 10 times fewer than African wild dogs and fifty times rarer than lions.
But there is hope. The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme and its Ethiopian partners continue to put all their strength into fighting the wolves’ various challenges through awareness, education, and science-led approaches to disease and population management. There are early signs that the wolves in Bale are bouncing back. By the end of January of 2017, nearly all of 18 focal packs monitored – and most recently vaccinated – had been bred successfully. As many as seven pups were born to a dominant female and there were over 80 healthy pups located in the Bale Mountains alone. It was also encouraging to see some of the larger packs split, increasing the number of breeding families.
Walia Ibex is an endemic mammal of Ethiopia that is found in Semien mountain national park. It is a mammal that has hooves with a medium-size Physical appearance. It has a scientific name called Capra walie. It shows a marked sexual dimorphism and has a chocolate-brown coat color. It is a wild creature usually living in a herd of 5-20, but females are more solitary than males outside of the breeding seasons. The Walia Ibex can be recognized by the large curved horns of adults of both sexes. However, the males’ horns are larger than the females’ and may measure in excess of one meter. The Walia ibex lifespan is around 11-15 years. Ibexes, in general, live up to 20 years in the wild.
Endemic to Ethiopia, Walia Ibex, formerly widespread in the northern mountain massifs, but now restricted to the Simien Mountains National Park, where it is uncommon but quite often seen by hikers. Between 1966 – 2000 the population of Walia ibex numbered was around 300. These numbers were gradually increased to 500 by 2004 due to constant efforts from Semien Park’s mountain rangers to create protected wildlife corridors that allowed the endangered mammal to rebound. Since then population estimate has expanded by more than twofold, elevated to more than 1000 Walia Ibex, which add great hope for the future of this Ethiopia’s endemic species.
The habitat of this species is cliffs that are high, rocky, and steep and are above the plateau. Various types of habitats include scrub, subalpine grasslands, and mountain forests. The mating system of the Walia ibex is polygynous, that is, males mate with more than one female. The reproduction, or the mating season, of the Walia ibex, starts from March and goes on till May, and during this season, males engage in a number of fights with each other by using their horns that have a good length and are rigid with force for females. The period of gestation takes place for about 150-165 days and female Walia ibex gives birth to a single young one and rarely birth is given to twins. These ibexes mature sexually at one year of age. These ibexes are chestnut brown to chocolate brown in color and tend to have a grayish-brown muzzle. The belly and legs of this ibex are white in color.
The Mountain Nyala
The Mountain Nyala’s claim to fame is its inclusion on Ethiopia’s ten-cent coin, marking its importance in Ethiopian culture. They make their home in Ethiopia’s Bale mountain park, with most of them living within only 200 square kilometers. The mountain nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni) or balbok is an antelope found in high-altitude woodland in a small part of central Ethiopia. It is a monotypic species (without any identified subspecies) first described by English naturalist Richard Lydekker in 1910.
The males are typically 120–135 cm (47–53 in) tall while females stand 90–100 cm (35–39 in) at the shoulder. Males weigh 180–300 kg (400–660 lb) and females weigh 150–200 kg (330–440 lb). The coat is grey to brown, marked with two to five poorly defined white strips extending from the back to the underside, and a row of six to ten white spots. White markings are present on the face, throat, and legs as well. Males have a short dark erect crest, about 10 cm (3.9 in) high, running along the middle of the back. Only males possess horns.
The mountain nyala is shy and elusive towards human beings. Four to five individuals may congregate for short intervals of time to form small herds. Males are not territorial. Primarily a browser, the mountain nyala may switch to grazing occasionally. Females start mating at two years of age, and males too become sexually mature by that time. Gestation lasts for eight to nine months, after which a single calf is born. The lifespan of a mountain nyala is around 15 to 20 years.
The typical habitat for the mountain nyala is composed of montane woodlands at an altitude of 3,000–3,400 m (9,800–11,200 ft). Human settlement and large livestock populations have forced the animal to occupy heath forests at an altitude of above 3,400 m (11,200 ft). Mountain nyala is endemic to the Ethiopian highlands east of the Rift Valley, between 6°N and 10°N. Up to half of the total population of the mountain, nyala occurs in the 200 km2 (77 sq mi) area of Gaysay, in the northern part of the Bale Mountains National Park. The mountain nyala has been classified under the Endangered category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Their influence on Ethiopian culture is notable, with the mountain nyala being featured on the obverse of Ethiopian ten cents coins.
Somali Wild Donkey
Despite once living in Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, the Somali Wild Donkey is believed to only live in Ethiopia now, mostly within the Afar plains. Although their numbers are small in the wild, there are numerous captive populations around the world to ensure they can someday regain their previous numbers. The Somali wild ass is one of three subspecies (types) of African wild ass. Overall, the species is the smallest of the wild equids (horses, asses, and zebras). A typical African wild ass stands about four feet at the shoulder and weighs about 600 pounds.
Somali wild asses are mostly gray in color, with a white belly. They do have one outstanding feature: the horizontal stripes on their legs. With legs like that, it’s no surprise these animals are closely related to zebras. Like all African wild asses, the Somali subspecies have long, narrow hooves — the narrowest of any equid. This unique design allows the animals to be swift and surefooted in their rough, rocky habitat.
The grass is the favored food of Somali wild asses, but they also eat shrubs and other desert plants. Like many other grazing animals, they first grasp a plant with their strong lips, pull it into their mouth and then tear it off with their teeth. The teeth are large and have flat surfaces — perfect for tearing and chewing even the toughest plants. These animals graze mostly when it’s cooler — at dawn, dusk, and during the night. During the heat of the day, they often retreat to rocky hills to rest in shady spots.
Given their hot environment, it’s no surprise that Somali wild asses stay within easy reach of water: they generally don’t wander more than 20 miles from a drinking source. They can go without water longer than other equids, but they still need to drink at least once every two or three days.
The African wild ass is critically endangered. This means they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Wild populations have declined for a number of reasons. For one thing, some local people have been known to hunt the asses for food and for use in traditional medicine. (Some native people believe the animals’ fat is an effective treatment for tuberculosis.) Hunting has taken a greater toll in recent years, as political unrest in the area has allowed better access to automatic weapons.
African wild asses face other problems, brought about by increasing human populations and the expansion of agriculture. More and more, wild asses are competing with domestic livestock for limited grazing grounds and water sources. And as the wild and domestic animals come into contact, there is more and more interbreeding — another serious threat to wild asses.
African wild asses need help if they’re going to survive in the wild. An essential first step is surveying the wild populations to learn their numbers and distribution. In 2017 the Saint Louis Zoo assisted in the development of the Roadmap for the Conservation of the African Wild Ass, which outlines key actions to help conserve this species over the next ten years.
The Yellow Fronted Parrot
Little is known about this parrot due to its limited habitat near Lake Tana in the Ethiopian highlands. A chunky, mid-sized parrot with a big bill and a short tail. Mostly dark green, with a large yellow patch on the face that is absent in immatures. This is one of many Ethiopian endemic birds, that can be found at middle elevations in a variety of woodland and forest habitats. The calls are thin, high-pitched screeches. Similar to Meyer’s Parrot, there is little overlap in range, and Yellow-fronted is separated by the lack of yellow shoulders and by the green upperparts.
The yellow-fronted parrot is about 28 centimeters (11 in) long and is mostly green with the upper parts being a darker green, the tail being olive-brown, and the legs a dark grey-brown. The face is orange-yellow. When two subspecies are recognized, the nominate is believed to have yellow to its head and face, while in P. f. aurantiiceps some of the yellows are replaced with orange. The upper beak is brownish-grey and the lower beak is bone colored, the irises are orange-red, and bare eye-rings and cere are greys. Male and female adults have an identical external appearance. Juveniles are duller than adults with a mostly grey head, brown irises, and only a small amount of yellow on the front of the face including on the forehead.
This parrot is endemic to the Ethiopian Highlands at about 1,000–3,000 meters (3,300–9,800 ft) above sea level. When two subspecies are recognized, the nominate is found in the highlands around Lake Tana and also in central Ethiopia, and P. f. aurantiiceps is found in southwestern Ethiopia. It lives in forest habitats, unlike most other Poicephalusparrots apart from the Cape and red-fronted parrot superspecies complex.
The Bale Mountain Vervet
Another mysterious inhabitant of the Bale Mountains park, the Bale Mountain Vervet is one of Africa’s least studied primates. They make their homes in the thick bamboo forests of the park, and despite their remote habitat, they seem to have kept up with current fashion with their blond coif and cool-guy beard. The Bale Mountains vervet is a terrestrial Old World monkey endemic to Ethiopia, the Bale Mountains. All species in Chlorocebus were formerly in the genus Cercopithecus. The Bale Mountains vervet is one of the least-known primates in Africa. They avoid tree-dominated and bushland areas as their habitat. These monkeys mainly reside in the bamboo forest of the Bale Mountains due to their dietary specialization in bamboo, but other factors, such as climate, forest history, soil quality, and disease, are likely to play a role in their choice to inhabit this area. The Bale Mountains vervet has a very quiet behavior and tends to flee when encountering a human being. It is also known as the Bale monkey.
The Bale monkey is a member of genus Chlorocebus, along with five sister species.All members of Chlorocebus were formerly considered to be part of Cercopithecus; the Bale monkey was formerly known as Cercopithecus djamdjamensis. It was originally described as a subspecies of the grivet (Chlorocebus aethiops).
A 2018 study found that the populations of Bale monkeys living in fragmented forests were genetically distinct from populations in continuous forests. This is due to the fragmented forest populations’ hybridization with the grivet (Chlorocebus aethiops) and the vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus). The Bale monkey does not currently co-occur with either of these monkeys in the wild and so it is proposed that this hybridization occurred over a century ago.
The Bale monkey is currently rated vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and is listed on Appendix II of CITES. The main threats to the species are habitat loss and hunting. They could be threatened by hybridization with the grivet and the vervet monkey in the future.
The monkey feeds on bamboo and may thus be threatened by deforestation. Encroaching human populations have nearly extirpated the Bale monkey from the Sidamo Highlands. The monkey is persecuted for crop-raiding and hunted by local people. It is protected in parts of its range by the Bale Mountains National Park; the proposed Harena-Kokosa National Forest Reserve would protect some populations.
These little bushbucks are part of a sub-species found only in the Ethiopian highlands and are very shy around humans. They are closely related to the Mountain Nyala, except they are much smaller, standing only 35 inches in height on average.
Found only in Ethiopia and usually spotted in the early morning or late afternoon, Menelik’s bushbuck is a shy and elusive forest antelope, closely related to mountain nyala, eland, and kudu. Bushbuck are found in around 40 sub-Saharan African countries and there are over 40 sub-species including the 80cm Menelik’s bushbuck, named after Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia until 1913.
Known as dukula in the local language of Amharic, Menelik’s bushbuck are found in the montane forests of Ethiopia’s highlands up to the treeline at 4,000 meters. Their coats are a little longer than other bushbuck because of living in the lower temperatures of high altitudes, the female is a beautiful, bright chestnut while the male is darker, almost black. Only the males have horns, which have a single spiral twist.
Like all bushbuck, Menelik’s bushbuck mainly browse, eating all plant matter they can reach. In general, bushbucks tend to be solitary, but Menelik’s bushbucks are almost always seen in pairs or small family groups of females and young. Like all bushbuck, they have a loud barking alarm call, which can be heard from some distance away. Under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation, Menelik’s bushbuck are hunted for their meat and fur and, with your help, Born Free is working hard to protect them and other endemic species found only in Ethiopia.
These Baboons can be found in huge numbers throughout the Simien Mountains. They are sometimes called the Bleeding Heart Monkey due to the unique red skin patch each has on their chests. They are very social animals, and will typically be spotted in huge family groups. Gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelada) are one of the endemic species of Ethiopia and the only extant genus Theropithecus. Geographically, they are confined to the elevation of the montane grassland of Ethiopia.
The central and the northern highlands of Ethiopia are well-known dwelling places for them. Moreover, another different population of gelada is found south of the Rift Valley in Arsi. The areas preferred by geladas to live are highlands that are commonly cooler and less arid than lowlands. This makes geladas be less exposed to the negative effect of the dry season in terms of food availability. The rocky cliffs where geladas spend the nighttime provide protection from predators while the grasslands around them serve as foraging areas.
Gelada baboons are covered with dark brown hair. They have a face with pale eyelids, arms, and feet which are black, a shorter tail compared to their body which contains a branch of hair at the end. The backside of the male geladas contains a long heavy cape of hair. Geladas are distinguished from other baboons in that they have shorter jaws, longer faces, bulging cheeks, and snub snout which is alike to the snout of the chimpanzee. The bright red patch on the chest of geladas makes them distinguished and called bleeding-heart baboons. The presence of a greater degree of sexual dimorphism in which males are larger than females is the other distinguishing feature of the extant genus Theropithecus.
Geladas have a social system that is greatly complex, with a strong female instinct and a stable, maternally inherited dominant hierarchy. Those females in the one-male unit are believed to have more close relations to each other. There are three levels of organizations in the social structures of geladas. Out of these levels, the primary level of organization is the commonest one. It contains a one-male unit in which the reproductive male is the leader, 1–12 reproductive females, 1 or more follower males and their dependent offspring, and the all-male unit which contains 2–15 young adults and sub-adult males. The band which is composed of the multiple-unit and all-male units having members that sleep and forage together is the second level of the organization The band consists of 30 to 270 individuals that are, about 10 reproductive units and 1 all-male unit. The one-male unit is the reproductive and social unit in gelada society while the band is the ecological and genetic unit and the herd is the foraging unit. The reproductive and the all-male groups share a common home range. The herd consists of 2–60 reproductive units sometimes which are from different bands that overlap extensively.
A larger number of gelada baboons is found in the Simien Mountains National Park. Those that are found in protected areas are well studied. However, the gelada baboons in Wolf-Washa (Gosh Meda) have not been considered. Due to this reason, no comprehensive population estimate was carried out and no information is found to compare the number of geladas with those that live in other protected areas. Therefore, studying the population status and habitat use of geladas in Wolf-Washa particularly in Gosh-Meda gives first-hand information for concerned bodies. Hence, the purpose of this study is to estimate the population structure and identify habitat use of gelada baboon in Wolf-Washa Forest (Gosh Meda), Central Ethiopia.
These large Antelopes are native to Ethiopia, and have been the target of large sanctuary projects to help save them from their current extinction danger. Their sanctuaries have become popular tourist attractions, which will hopefully increase awareness about their status. Swayne’s hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus swaynei) is an endangered antelope native to Ethiopia. Two of the largest remaining populations are located in Senkelle Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary, Nechisar National Parkand Maze National Park.
When it comes to their population status, during the times before the early 1890s the Swayne’s hartebeest was very common throughout Ethiopia and Somalia. The population then declined due to an epidemic that happened during the mid-1890s which brought about an extremely high mortality rate for wildlife and livestock which as a result were labeled as “in danger of extermination”.
Swayne’s hartebeest exhibits ecological differences from other subspecies of hartebeests in that they prefer grassland habitats during wet and dry seasons. It likes to select short grass areas of no more than 30 centimeters for feeding, and has a preference for burned grassland patches. The preference for burned grassland patches has become relevant in the development of effective conservation strategies for the subspecies (and potentially the whole species.
The Black Lion
What would you do if you suddenly ran into the king of beasts on a dark road in Ethiopia? Scream? Run? Faint? Ethiopia’s Black Lion is genetically distinct from all other Lions in Africa. They are typically found in Bale mountain park and sport a distinctive black mane after which they are named.
It’s because of treasured animals like these and their precious environments that we as a company will continue to support environmental initiatives in every way we can, to ensure future generations will be able to enjoy the stunning biodiversity of Ethiopia, and our Earth as a whole. Most African lions live in the classic savannah habitat of sub-Saharan Africa, but there are a few populations scattered in other countries, including the mountains of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian lions, known for their unusually black manes, were feared extinct until a population of around 50 were rediscovered in 2016. Because few scientists have studied these big cats, it’s unclear if they—and another group of a hundred or so lions across the border in Sudan—represent a separate subspecies.
Lions may seem plentiful for how much they show up in nature documentaries, but the truth is much more bleak. Since 1980, global lion populations are thought to have declined by up to 75 percent, and there may be fewer than 20,000 of the big cats remaining in the wild. The lion is considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Ethiopia’s lions, in particular, are intriguing due to their remoteness.