110,430,000 hectares (1,104,300 sq. km.) (426,372 sq. mi.)
Blue Nile Falls
Simien Mountains National Park
Lower Valley of the Awash
Lower Valley of the Omo
Bale Mountains National Park
Ethiopian wolf, Walia ibex, Gelada baboon, Simien fox, Fischer’s lovebirds, colobus monkey, elephant, lion
Afroalpine and sub-afroalpine, Montane dry forest and scrub, lowland tropical forest, wetlands, desert and semi-desert
With UNESCO World Heritage Sites dotted around the signature high central plateau and mountainous geography of Ethiopia, this country is an excellent destination for wildlife enthusiasts, adventure travelers, and tourists alike. The area contains 20 peaks that rise above 4,000 meters, including Ras Dashen in Simien Mountain National Park, which, at over 4,500 meters, is the highest peak in Ethiopia and the third highest mountain in Africa.
It’s the only place in the world to see the fascinating Gelada baboon, as well as the endangered Walia ibex and the Ethiopian wolf — the rarest and most endangered canid in the world. Ethiopia has an astonishing range of wildlife; boasting over 22,000 species of butterflies and moths, over 800 bird species, and about 320 species of mammals.
The highlands are the source of four major river systems that spread across Africa and are diagonally bisected by the Great Rift Valley. While the lowlands and Eastern highlands are hot, dry areas, the Western highlands enjoy summer rainfall and are home to the majority of the country’s human population.
The capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, is often referred to as the “capital of Africa.” Addis is located in the Western highlands and is Africa’s highest capital city.
Agriculture and livestock production are the main sources of livelihoods in Ethiopia, employing roughly 85 percent of its inhabitants. Government services, industry, and construction are also common sources of income generation.
The Ethiopian wolf is the rarest and most endangered canid in the world — with only about 450 individuals remaining. They are restricted to seven isolated mountain enclaves in the highlands of Ethiopia, and the two remaining strongholds for this iconic species occur in Bale Mountains National Park and Simien Mountains National Park.
Only three percent of Ethiopia’s highlands remain uncultivated. Habitat loss caused by overgrazing, human encroachment, population fragmentation, and canine distemper virus and rabies outbreaks are major contributors to the wolves’ population decline.
Ethiopia is also a sanctuary to 20 bird species unique to the country such as the near threatened Lammergeyer, also known as the bearded vulture; and 36 endemic mammals such as the Walia ibex and the Gelada baboon. If these few fragmented remaining populations disappear, then the world will lose an array of irreplaceable species.
About 90 percent of Ethiopia’s elephant population has been lost since 1980. Currently, a small estimated population of about 1,500 to 2,000 individuals remain. While poaching for elephants continues in Ethiopia, the loss of elephants and other wildlife has been compounded by decades of habitat loss, human population increase, and unsustainable agriculture and livestock expansion. Ethiopia’s highlands are some of the most densely populated agricultural areas in Africa, yet, over the years, drought and soil degradation have led to crop failures, often triggering widespread famine. Surveys found that about 63 percent of the grassland in the SMNP has been intensively grazed by livestock. This unsustainable expansion greatly reduces natural habitats, creating an ecological challenge for many of the species that find sanctuary in Ethiopia.
A high percentage of individuals living in rural communities do not have access to a quality education. Less than 40 percent of enrolled students in rural Ethiopia finished primary school in 2014.
In Adisge, a rural community outside of Simien Mountains National Park, the local school only accommodated grades one through six and the closest school offering a full primary education (up to grade eight) was 12 kilometers away, impeding student’s ability to finish their primary education. Without a quality education, many rural children are growing up without options for a bright future and are forced to use natural resources to supplement their livelihoods.
Our solutions to protecting Ethiopia's unique biodiversity:
Simien Mountains National Park is one of Africa’s most unique protected areas and is a refuge to 21 wildlife species that are considered threatened or endangered.
African Wildlife Foundation is working — through a co-management agreement — with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and the KfW Development Bank to improve the park’s infrastructure, strengthen management of the park, sustainably develop the park as a world-class tourism destination, and collaborate with local communities to increase their participation in natural resource conservation. AWF also used its expertise to develop a tourism plan for the park by capitalizing on its improvements to expand tourism while protecting the park’s rich biodiversity.
Tourism growth presents an exciting opportunity for local communities to develop new sources of revenue, and with our help, they are able to leverage tourism expansion into successful businesses. Through its impact investing subsidiary, AWF supported the Limolimo Lodge, bringing high-quality lodging to the park and also helped fund and expand Village Ways, a community-owned trekking operation south of the park.
Recently, AWF and Ethiopia’s wildlife authority worked with a local community adjacent to the park border to reduce cattle grazing within the park. The community voluntarily agreed to designate 70 percent of the park as a no-grazing zone.
As a result of successful conservation efforts, Simien Mountains National Park was removed from the UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list in 2018.
AWF worked with the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme to educate local communities surrounding Bale Mountains National Park about the Ethiopian wolf, recruit community members to become wolf ambassadors that monitor wolf activity, and provide rabies vaccinations for domesticated dogs to prevent disease outbreaks from spreading to the wolves. People are a key conservation threat as well as a player in resolving those threats. Knowing this, AWF addresses threats from a multitude of angles to ensure conservation is holistic — intersecting wildlife, land, and people.
AWF created the Classroom Africa initiative to improve the conservation and education outcomes of primary schools based in communities within or adjacent to critical wildlife habitats.
The initiative supports government-run schools by reconstructing schools where infrastructure improvement is needed and supporting long-term sustainability by developing programs for professional development for teachers and conservation education for students.
In 2015, AWF brought its Classroom Africa program to Simien Mountains to work with Adisge — a community adjacent to the national park — to improve its access to quality education.
Adisge Primary School now supports grades one through eight when it previously only supported up to grade six, giving students the chance to complete their primary education.
There are also four teacher housing blocks so teachers no longer have to trek long distances over unpaved roads. In return for AWF’s support, the community agreed to adhere to conservation covenants such as refraining from livestock grazing within the park borders, not poaching or hunting wildlife illegally within the park, and conserving natural resources in and around the park. Since the school was built, the community has been at the forefront to help protect park boundaries.
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