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No lack of life

Animals don’t usually come to mind when you think of Ethiopia. But the country is home to an incredible diversity of species. Graeme Green explores the Simien and Bale mountains to find out more
A pensive gelada monkey in Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia’s northern highlands. Credit: Graeme Green

It’s a ‘you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours’ situation,” says wildlife guide Dani Fikru. We’re watching a huddle of geladas caringly checking through each other’s fur. “They spend 30 to 40 per cent of their day grooming. They’re picking out parasites, but it also has social value: it’s a way to show friendship.”

These monkeys are ‘friendly’ to humans too, or, at least, many of them are habituated enough that, with no sudden moves or loud noises, I can sit among them as they go about their daily grazing and grooming. Geladas are one of Ethiopia’s endemic species, along with the Ethiopian wolf and the walia ibex. I’m here to discover more about the wildlife of the Highlands.

I’d flown up from the capital, Addis Ababa, to Gondar, and driven north with my guide Dawit Teferi to Limalimo Lodge, a rare new opening inside the Simien Mountains National Park. In the morning, I draw back the curtains to see a large male gelada prowling through the forest below. Moments later, a mother passes close to the window, carrying an infant on her back. Over breakfast on the terrace, a lammergeier (or bearded vulture), known locally as ‘bone-breakers’ — since they smash bones against rocks to get the marrow inside — soars up the hillside. Clearly, spotting wildlife is not going to be difficult here.

I head into the mountains in a 4WD with guides Teferi and Fikru and a compulsory armed ranger. The park was established in 1966, but has been expanded several times so now spreads over 412sq km, ranging in altitude from 1900m up to the 4550m peak of Ethiopia’s highest mountain: Ras Dashen. It was also one of the world’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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