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Simien National Park, in northern Ethiopia is a spectacular landscape, where massive erosion over millions of years has created jagged mountain peaks, deep valleys and sharp precipices dropping some 1,500 m. The park is of global significance for biodiversity conservation because it is home to globally threatened species, including the iconic Walia ibex, a wild mountain goat found nowhere else in the world, the Gelada baboon and the Ethiopian wolf.

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The site is located in the western Simen Mountains, 120 km north-east of Gondar in Begemder Province, north-west Ethiopia. With its abundance of creviced basalt rock, Simen serves as an ideal water catchment area, replenished by two wet seasons and the Mayshasha River, which weaves its way north to south through the national park. Consequently the park is rich in a wide range of wildlife and vegetation.

This park is registered as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Located in the Simien Mountains, it occupies a surface area of 420 square kilometers. Simien means “north” in Amharic, an allusion to the position it occupies in the Gondar massif, one of the craggiest in Africa. The park is interesting because of the uniqueness of its endemic animals the beauty of its flora, and the majesty of its impressive landscape.

 

The park, situated between 4,430 and 1,900 metres (6,200-4,500 feet), boasts varied flora with three marked botanical areas. The highest parts have meadows with little vegetation, characteristic of Afro alpine zones. Here we can find the endemic Lobelia rhynchopetalum, small groups of perpetual flowers, Helichrysum, and the striking Kniphofia foliosa. Of particular botanical interest is the Afrovivella semiensis, a small fleshy plant with pink flowers in the shape of little bells. This plant has been found only in the Simien mountains and nowhere else on earth. There is only one species within its genus.

 

As the landscape desends, it starts to darken with scrub species, including the giant heather, Saint John’s Wort trees, Juniperus, and podocarpus. The prized Hagenia abyssinica is often seen decorated with the little white flowers of the climbing plant clematis (Clematis randiflora). The air is permeated by the scent of the Rosa abyssinica, which takes the form of a tree in this region.

 

In the park, we can find three of the most colourful endemic mammals in Ethiopia: the Walia ibex which lives wild at an altitude of more than 2,500 meters, the gelada baboon which inhabits the Simien Plateaux, and the Ethiopian Wolf (Simien Wolf), which is also found in great numbers in the Bale Mountains.

 

In the northern part, the massif drops sharply away into a canyon. Here, it is not difficult to spot the curious walia ibex on the slopes of its last refuge. This wild goat weights abour 120 kilogrammes. Its coat is dark brown and its majestic curved-back horns can grow to more than one metre long. About 500 of these goats are believed to still exist, but the protection provided by the park gives hope that the population will increase.

 

The endemic gelada baboons are found throughout the Simien Plateaux. They can be seen in open, craggy areas between 2,000 and 4,000 metres, often close to precipices and ravines in case danger threatens. Ch’elada or gelada refers to the patch of red hairless skin on the chest and throat. In females, this skin becomes inflamed when they are in heat. It is also known as the lion mokey because its striking mane makes it look like the big cat. The male has a large head and a snubbed snout and measures between 75 and 80 centimeters long. The female is approximately half the size of the male. The males are armed with powerful fangs. They are slender but strong, and their shoulders are covered with long dark hair. They are above all terrestrial and strictly vegetarian, feeding on grasses and bulbs. These gregarious creatures form troops of up to 400 individuals, in which each adult male has a harem of females. Other mammals which can be seen in the park include the klipspringer, the grey duiker, hyenas, and golden jackals.

 

Approximately 50 different bird species have been identified, among them a great many scavengers and birds of prey. Birds migrating from Europe and all over Africa also can be seen here. One of the most striking birds is the large and powerful lammergeyer or bearded vulture. It is a scavenger, often seen on the north face of the park. This bird nests on inaccessible shelves and in hollows on great walls of rock. Unlike other vultures, its head is completely covered in feathers. Underneath its beak, it has a streak of stiff bristles, which accounts for its nickname “bearded vulture.” Its wingspan can reach up to 250 centimetres. The lammergeyer feeds on animal remains stripped of meat by other vultures. It takes the bones, drops them from a great height, and eats the marrow. Bones and marrow comprise 85% of its diet.

 

Many other birds of prey can be seen: Buzzards, Egyptian vultures, Ruppel’s griffon vultures, hooded vultures, eagles, falcons, and ravens. Within the endemic species there are the thick-billed raven, the wattled ibis and the white-collared pigeon. Other endemic species such as the spot-breasted plover, the white-billed starling and the black-headed siskin are easy to spot in this region during the rainy season, as they search for food over the cultivated land of the high plateaux. In the valleys, one can see black-headed forest orioles and golden-backed woodpeckers.

 

Maximum temperatures during the day are about 15 degree centigrade (60 degree Fahrenheit). At night the temperature usually drops to 3 degree –5 degree centigrade (35 degree-40 degree Fahrenheit). October, November and December are the coldest month, when the temperature is likely to go below freezing. The season of the big rains begins in June and lasts through September. Travel is difficult during this  time.  

 

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