Simien Mountain National Parks

Posted By on March 3, 2015

Simien Mountain National Parks

The Simien: is an area of highland in the northern parts of Ethiopia in the Administrative region of North Gondar.

Simien mountain has spectacular scenery, and contains also a number of unusual botanical phenomena and some of the rarest animals in the world. The Walia Ibex only found in the peaks of Simien Mountain; the Simien fox, also very rare, is found nowhere else  ( Simien fox is found in the Simien Mountains and in the highlands of southern Ethiopia). The Gelada, a primate which looks like a cross between a baboon and a lion, is another exclusively Ethiopian species which lives in this habitat and other high lands of Ethiopia. Birds which are endemic to Ethiopia are found in the Simien. In 1969, the widest part of this region was gazette as a national park.

GEOLOGY: The Simien highlands constitute one of the major mountain massifs in Africa. The region includes many summits above 4,000 meters and culminates in the highest point in Ethiopia, Ras Dejen, at 4,620 meters, the fourth highest mountain in Africa. Its dramatic topography is the result of the erosion of basalt lavas which have been calculated to be nearly 3,000 meters thick. During the Oligocene period of geological history (approximately 40—25 million years ago), volcanic activity of the “Hawaiian type”-i.e. an outpouring of lava like a pot of syrup boiling over, as contrasted to the explosive sort which throws chunks of hot rocks and ash high into the air-spread over a wide area which originally may have covered 15,000 square kilometers or more.. This lava spread and hardened slowly. The rocks beneath the lava were horizontal layers of Mesozoic (more than 70 million years ago) sand stone and limestone which in turn rested on a level Pre-Cambrian (over 600 million years ago) plain.  During the Pleistocene, when the northern regions of the world were covered with glaciers, most of Africa was drenched in rain. The Simien highlands had both glaciations on the highest points, with rainfall pelting the rest. The cracks in the bard, resistant basalt, once begun, were widened and deepened by the floods that poured into them.

CLIMATE: The Simien region, though it is on the continent of Africa and not far from the equator, has temperatures which sometimes drop below freezing at night. Hail and snow fall on the highest points and the resulting ice may remain for several days. On the other hand, the sun’s rays beat directly down and the rarified atmosphere does not act as an effective filter. Maximum temperatures during the day are about 15° Centigrade (60° Fahrenheit). At night the temperature usually drops to 3°—5°C (35°—40°F).

October, November and December are the coldest months, when the temperature is likely to go below freezing. The season of the big rains begins in June and lasts through September.

BOTANY: The visitor to the Simien National Park will pass through three general botanical regions. At the lowest altitude, up to about 2,700—3,000 meters (between Debarek and Sankaber, the land has been cultivated and grazed by cattle, sheep and goats.Today, little is left of the indigenous vegetation.

Above this level and up to 3,600 meters, in ancient times there was a forest of giant heath (Erica arborea) with patches of giant St. John’s worth. Today this area has also been deforested, but remnants of the original vegetation can still be seen.

Still higher, above 3,600 meters, the mountain grassland begins. This region is also graced with the red and yellow flowers of the “red-hot poker” and silvery straw-flowers, or everlastings. But by far the most spectacular plant of this region is the giant lobelia, with flower stalks up to eight meters high. At the highest altitudes, e.g. on the summits of Buahit and Ras Dejen, outside the park and beyond the usual tourist route, the vegetation consists mainly of mosses and lichens. In the lowland valleys, there is extensive forest comprising many species of trees. Some of the plants which are found in Simien Mountain are: Giant lobelia, Red-hot poker, everlastings, Echinops, etc. The plants of the Simien may be summed up as being both cosmopolitan and unique, both strange and very beautiful.

MAMMALS: Walia ibex is a type of wild goat. But it is found only in Simien Mountain and endemic to Ethiopia. The Walia live on nearly vertical cliff faces and narrow edges in a restricted area within the Simien Mountains. They are seldom found below 2,400 meters (8,000 feet). Both males and females have horns, but those of the males are heavily ridged horns sweeping back over its shoulders. A large male may weigh 120 kilograms (250 pounds) and stand 110 cm. or 43 inches at the shoulder. The Walia tend to move out onto the grassy edges of the cliffs to feed and sun themselves in mornings and evenings. During the rest of the day they may stay out of sight under the shrubs, in caves.

Gelada baboon: bleeding – heart baboon, or lion monkey; they are unique to Ethiopia. They live in the Simien Mountains and in a few other highland areas of Ethiopia. They are among the most strictly vegetarian of the primates. Most of the gelada’s day is spent plucking grass and digging for roots. The gelada’s have “grooming” time – a characteristics activity of all monkeys and apes- which entails picking through each other’s fur. The activity keeps the fur clean and free of parasites but it also has a social function which seems to give great satisfaction to the participants. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” seems to be the source of greatest pleasure in the world of monkeys. Grooming is an activity especially in the early morning, just before the geladas begin their day long feeding session and again in the evening before they return back. Geldas are seldom found far from the cliffs. Both sexes of geladas have a heart-shaped patch of bare reddish skin on their chest from which the name “bleeding –heart baboon” is derived. Each adult male has a group of females- usually three to five. The gelada’s voice must be heard to be believed, some of the sounds they make are so nearly human in tone that one wonders if they are speaking in an unfamiliar language.

Simien fox or Abyssinian wolf: It is rare in the Simien. It is a member of the dog family, but the only one of its genus; and restricted to Ethiopia. Its height is about 60 centimeters (23 inches) at the shoulder. It is almost seen in the day time since one of its main sources of food; the African field rat comes above ground only in the daytime and sleeps at night.Other mammals Klipspringers, duikers, bushbuck, Hyenas and Jackals are also seen.

BIRDS: There are many species of birds which include birds of prey and carcass eater. One of the most secular of these is the lammergeyer, or bearded vulture. It is a magnificent bird with the Simien, though it is found also in other parts of Africa, Asia and Europe. Its diet makes it one of nature’s rare phenomena; it eats bone and bone marrow. When an animal dies, the lammergeyer waits until the bones have been picked clean by other scavengers, and then it eats the smaller bones. The bigger bones it carries away to a flat, rocky spot over which it sails like a bomber and drops the bone from a height sufficient to shatter it to bits. When the bone is broken to manageable size, the Lammergeyer eats the pieces.

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