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Bale Mountain National Park
Located in the Bale Mountains, the Bale Mountain National Park has wild alpine scenery that has around a dozen endemic birds living on the slopes. It is the best place to view the rare endemic, the Ethiopian Wolf, the world’s rarest canid. The park is the location of the country’s second highest peak, Mount Tullo Deemtu.
The Bale Mountains were formed from volcanic lava around 10 million years ago, and glacial activity only stopped 2,000 years ago. In extremely cold winters, it even snows. The main habitats here are juniper-hagenia woodland, Afro-montane forest and Afro-alpine moorland.
Vegetation and Wildlife
The juniper-hagenia woodland grows at elevations of 2,500 m to 3,300 m - usually on the northern slopes. Large mammals found here are the mountain nyala and Menelik’s bushbuck, endemic to the country. There are also warthog and bohor reedbuck. The park headquarters is a good place to find the majority of the park’s endemic nyala, and it is common to see four or five herds here.
The vast Afro-montane ‘Harenna’ forest lies at similar elevations as the juniper-hagenia woodland, but on south-facing slopes. This is the largest intact forest block in Ethiopia and the largest protected Afro-Alpine forest on the continent. It still supports populations of Wolf, Lion and the only surviving forest-dwelling African Wild Dogs.
The ‘Afro-Alpine moorland’ lies at altitudes above 3500m. Here, dramatic and enormous jibrra, or giant lobelias, tower over the rich tussock grasslands. These grasslands support an amazing biomass of 4000 kg of rodents per hectare. This obviously attracts numerous raptors, who share this abundant food source with the Ethiopian wolves.
The open vegetation below the forests is stunningly beautiful. The most distinctive plant here is the red-hot poker - an aloe that grows to shrub height and has orange spear-shaped flowers. An unusual plant found here is the white-flowered Abyssinian rose - the only flowering rose indigenous to Africa.
Bale is considered one of the best places in the country for bird-watching, and there are several hides set up for those who are keen. The park supports seven globally threatened species and nearly all of Ethiopia’s highland biome species.
Key areas to visit
To the north of the park a small extension protects Mount Gaysay, and Lake Bassasso along with its river. This is a good place to see mountain nyala, Menelik’s bushbuck and at least one wolf pack. You can locate many bird species in the marshy areas, which are normally associated with the plateaus.
The Web River Valley has a moorland cover and has many small rodents living in the abundant flowers; indigenous wolves live here in fairly large numbers, as this is ideal territory for them. Rock hyrax (not dissimilar to the hyrax found on Table Mountain, Cape Town) are often observed on a natural rock bridge over the Danka River. There is a pretty waterfall at the confluence of the Web and Wolla rivers.
The Sanetti Plateau is the world’s largest expanse of Afro-alpine moorland. Many endemic species live here since this high altitude habitat is effectively an ‘island’ - isolated from other areas in East Africa. The largest population of the wolf is found here, as well as the golden jackal, klipspringer and endemic giant molerat. There are a few other endemic small burrowing rodents. There are vast fields of red-hot poker. As well as giant lobelia which can grow to 3 m high. They have a distinctive corky bark and waxen leaves that withstand freezing temperatures. There are a number of tarns (small post-glacial lakes) which attract endemic birds and waterfowl, which look beautiful under a clear blue sky.
Although easier to view in Bale NP, these indigenous wolves can also be found in lower numbers in the Simien Mountains.