Ethiopia is not a tourist mecca, in fact, Ethiopia is not generally considered a tourist anything, so it may surprise you to know that the country is not just made up of dustbowls and starving pot-bellied children. Simien National Park, for instance, is a World Heritage Site. The park is meant to preserve a number of endangered species, but is, unfortunately, itself under threat.
The Simien National Park encompasses the Simien Mountains, which were formed during a period of intense earthquake activity 40 million years ago; volcanoes erupted, lava poured forth and the mound has gradually been eroded over millennia to form the peaks and valleys we see today. The park is home to Africa’s fourth highest mountain, Ras Dejen, which towers 4662m above sea level. It has three distinctly different landscapes: cultivated grass slopes, forest-covered alpine regions, and mountain grasslands.
The park is a biodiversity hotspot, especially as it is the only place in the world where you can still find the endangered Walia ibex (a type of mountain goat), Gelada baboon and Ethiopian wolf. Guided safaris will take you around the park and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a glimpse of these increasingly rare, somewhat shy creatures, as well as over 25 other mammal species.
Bird lovers can rejoice as over 130 different species flit around the Simien Mountains, including the impressively large and intimidating (and rare) Lammergeyer or bearded vulture.
All is not as perfect as it seems, as the park is under threat from human settlement and its accompanying cultivation, erosion, poaching and pollution. As humans continue to encroach on what is supposed to be protected land, the Walia ibex and Ethiopian wolf find themselves running out of their natural habitat, which is not a good situation for an endangered species to be in.
In trying to find a solution to the problem, and ensure that the endangered species don’t end up extinct, various organisations have proposed extending the boundaries of the park into the Masarerya and Limalimo Wildlife Reserves, as well as the Ras Dejen Mountain and Silki-Kidis Yared sectors, where no humans (currently) reside. It’s also been suggested that the appropriate authorities take firmer action against those who purposely threaten the delicate ecosystems. Solutions, however, cost money, which is invariably short on the ground. To help alleviate the financial burden, it’s necessary to get the communities within the park to take an interest in the ongoing conservation of the area. To this end education and training programmes are underway.
In the meantime, you can help out by booking a safari with a reputable tour operator, so that you can enjoy the trekking, mountain climbing, horse riding and game drives the beautiful park has to offer.