Ethiopian Wildlife

Ethiopia is a land of dramatic natural contrasts. Altitude span the lowest point on the African continent as well as the fourth-highest peak,  while climatic conditions range from the scorching arid badlands of the Somali-Kenyan border region to the drenched slopes of the fertile southwest. The vegetation is no less diverse than the topography and climate, embracing parched desert, drenched rainforest, brittle heath-like Afro-alpine moorland, and pretty much everything in between.

Far from being the monotonous thirst land of Western myth,  the southern and western highlands of Ethiopia boast the most extensive indigenous rainforest to be found anywhere in the eastern half of Africa. The central highlands, though more openly vegetated, are green, fertile and densely cultivated. Towards the end of the rains, in September and early October, the wild flowers that blanket the highlands are second only to those of Namaqualand in South Africa, in number if not variety. The northeast highlands of Tigray are drier and generally quite thinly vegetated except during the rains. The Rift Valley south of Addis Ababa has a characteristically African appearance, with vegetation dominated by grasses and flat-topped acacia trees. The western lowlands around Gambella have lushly tropical vegetation. Only the vast but rarely visited eastern and southern lowlands conform to the image of Ethiopia as a featureless desert.

It is probably fair to say that Ethiopia’s greatest natural attraction to the average tourist will be the wonderful and ever-changing scenery.  Wildlife, though once prolific, has been hunted out in most areas, and even those savanna national parks Nechisar, Mago, Omo and Awash – which do protect typical African savanna environments support low volumes of game by comparison with their counterparts in most eastern and southern African countries.  Balanced against this, Ethiopia’s fauna and flora, though essentially typical of sub-Saharan Africa, also display some strong links to lands north of the Sahara, i.e. North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. One manifestation of this is the presence of several species that are endemic ( unique ) to Ethiopia because of their isolation from similar habitats, including the  Ethiopian wolf, gelada baboon, mountain nyala, Walia ibex and Somali wild ass.

Whatever it may lack in terms of mammalian abundance, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s key bird watching destinations. A rapidly growing national checklist of more than 800 bird species includes 16 endemics, as well as a similar number of near-endemics whose range extends into a small part of neighboring Eritrea or into Somalia. For bird watchers based in Africa, Ethiopia offers as good an introduction to African birds as any country. True enough, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania all have significantly longer checklists, but specialist ornithological tours to Ethiopia often pick up in excess of 450 species over two weeks, a total that would be difficult to beat anywhere in Africa.