The park consists of a number of different habitats, which represent four belts of vegetation which are related to altitude. These are the:
- Afromontane forest
- Hypericum woodland
- Afromontane grassland
- Afro-alpine moorland
In the latter two, at higher altitude, the species have adapted to extreme altitude. Unfortuantely much of the park has been overgrazed and the grassland has been affected. In a 1996 study, 25% was heavily overgrazed, 60% heavily grazed and only 15% considered natural.
The Park is of global significance for its biodiversity and endemism and is home to many species and habitats that exist nowhere else. With 80% of the areas over 3000m in Africa residing in Ethiopia, most of this within the Simiens, it’s a unique place
Although numbers vary depending on who you listen to, it’s believed that over 20 large mammals and 130-200 bird species occur in the park. These include the endangered Walia Ibex, the Ethiopian wolf (or Simien Fox) which is the rarest canid species in the world and the rather wonderful Gelada Monkey (often called the Gelada Baboon, but not technically a baboon!).
The Park was one of the first places to be given the title of a ‘World Heritage Site’ in 1978. In 1996 it made it onto the less desirable ‘World Heritage in Danger’ lists, due to the decline in the population of Walia Ibex, as a result of human settlement, grazing, roads and other influences.
Possibly the most famous of all the Simien’s wildlife, Gelada Monkeys are found in abundance in the Simien Mountains. With numbers estimated at 5000+, you’re all but guaranteed to bump into troops of these amazing animals on any Simien trip. They’re easy-going and likely to be the most photographed creatures you’ll encounter as they are fairly tame and peaceful. Check out our video of a troop scurrying (and falling) down a cliff edge.
They have a distinct, hourglass shaped patch over their chests, which has led to their common name, the ‘bleeding heart monkey’. Gelada’s are endemic to the Simien Mountains and live at elevations of 1800-4400m, sleeping in cliffs and the grasslands for foraging their diet of grasses, seeds, roots and insects (rarely). They are the only primate that are mainly graminivores (grazer) with grasses constituting 90% of their diet.
They move in troops. At night they often descend from grazing areas to caves - it’s a wonderful site to watch hundreds of monkeys climbing (and sometimes tumbling) down steep slopes to their night-time spots, which they rest in for safety against predation as well as for warmth. Males, distinguishable by their ‘mane’ of hair, will have a harem of females and these harems often live together, defending against single males. They Gelada has a vocabulary of at least 27 contact calls, an unusually large number.
You’ll be very luck to spot an Ethiopian Wolf on your journey, also known as the Red or Simien Fox as there are just 100 in the park (in 1977 there were only 20 left). If you’re desperate to spot one, the Bale Mountains in Southern Ethiopia offer a better chance.
Living at 3500-4000m the wolf is a specialised feeder or rodents and has very specific habitat requirements, which have contributed to its status as Africa’s most endangered carnivore and one of the world’s rarest canids, with an estimate of 360-400 individuals in the world in 2011, the majority living in the Bale National Park.
We work with carefully selected local guides who know the region inside out. They know the best viewpoints and the best places to spot elusive endemic species like the Ethiopian Wolf.
Another animal endemic to the park with an estimate of just 500-900 of them left, the Walia Ibex or Abyssinian Ibex is credited with the parks Heritage status. It was reduced to 250 animals at its lowest, but numbers have recovered slowly with an estimate of ~600 in 2006.
Surprisingly it is the only goat endemic to sub-saharan Africa. The Ibex is a species of mountain goat with fantastic horns, that live on the giant cliff faces. Visitors might have to swallow feelings of vertigo to spot them clinging to the edge of precipitous slopes.
Predated by hyenas, the Ibex went from endangered to critically endangered in the 1990s due to poaching, the Walia Ibex live at 2500 to 4500m above sea level. Walia Ibex tend to live in herds of 5 to 20 and have a striking colouration, with the males owning the better headpiece!
Between 130 and 200 bird species exist in the Simiens, depending on who’s numbers you believe! With 5 which are endemic to Ethiopia and 12 ‘near-endemics’, the Simiens is an excellent place for birding. Species include the striking thick-billed raven, wattled ibis, white-collared pigeon, spot-breasted plover, white-billed starling, white-backed black tit and many, many others. There are said to be 25 species of raptors in the park, 5 vultures and four eagle species.
Perhaps the most famous is the The Lammergeyer, or bearded vulture, which isn’t endemic but fascinating. It is the only bird which eats almost exclusively bone marrow. It will carrying bones up to a height and then dropping them in order to break them and get at the marrow within.
Brilliant's Birding Tours
If you're interested in discovering the plethora of bird life in Ethiopia, our birding tours might be just what you're looking for.
As well as the birds and the beasts, the Simiens are often as interesting underfoot with over 250 types of plan existing in the park. Walks in these mountains are an olfactory delight, with abundant tyme and other herbs, tussocks and grasses.
Above 3,700m is generally open grassland, punctuated by solitary trees as well as many Giant Lobelia’s, which can measure up to 10m in height. A stonecrop Rosularia simiensis is endemic to the Simiens, as are ten of the different grass species, including some grasses that are endemic to the Geech plateau.
Between 3,700m and 3,000m, otherwise known as the Ericaceous belt due to the number of Erica bushes trees and bushes begin to flourish.
Beneath 3,000m much of the forest has been felled for firewood and the land turned into grazing or arable land, and as a result much of the diversity has been lost, with little regeneration. However, on more precipitous areas many of the original cover remains including Acacia and Ethiopian Tid as well as other sclerophyllous trees.
Brilliant's Simien Tours
With the very best local guides and an expert team to get you set up, there's no better way to discover the Simien Mountains than with Brilliant.