Better known for its early human remains, Africa’s oldest independent country is beginning to step out of the shadows of the continent’s more familiar safari destinations.
Here are some of the wild sights you can get up to on an Ethiopian adventure:
Track rare cats and dogs
The black-maned lion may be Ethiopia’s official national animal, but in recent years another creature has been increasingly stealing the limelight: the Ethiopian wolf. It’s possible to catch a glimpse of both these endangered predators in the Bale Mountains National Park, an area that boasts one of the greatest concentrations of endemic species per square kilometre on the planet.
Should you want to find out more about the graceful, long-limbed canids, your first port of call should be the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme. There are many tours dedicated to seeking out these timid pack animals, and it’s best to take advantage of local knowledge. If you have your heart set on seeing the black-maned lion, consider a trip to Gambella National Park (Ethiopia’s largest national park) on the border of South Sudan, where they number in the hundreds.
Come dine with…hyenas
Here in the UK, the most exciting wildlife we get in our towns are a few birds, foxes and the odd hedgehog. The walled city
of Harar in eastern Ethiopia, meanwhile, is frequented by something a tad bigger: hyenas. It’s the only place in the world where hyenas and humans get this close, so it’s an experience not to be missed.
Harar is a beautiful city in its own right, so you should factor in spending a couple of days there. During the daytime you can visit the Harari museums, bustling markets (the local coffee is legendary) and ancient mosques, or just get lost wandering the medieval streets.
After the Sun goes down, head to one of the gates in the city walls, where hyenas have been coming to scavenge for centuries. For a small fee, a guide can introduce you to one of Harar’s famous ‘hyena men’ — a handful of locals whose families have been feeding the hyenas
for decades. If you’re feeling brave, there may even be a chance to feed a hyena yourself — just be sure to follow the pro’s instructions at all times.
Gatecrash a flamingo fiesta
So many thousands of greater and lesser flamingos congregate at Lake Abijatta — particularly in migration season (July to September) — that the shores turn pink. You can hike around the edges of the lake surrounded by these colourful birds.
Once you’ve had your fill of flamingos, there’s plenty of other birdlife to be enjoyed in the park, including white pelicans, fish eagles, reed warblers, plovers and herons. In the much deeper neighbouring Lake Shala — situated in the crater of a dormant volcano — you can take a dip in the hypersaline waters, where you’ll notice its rather odd soapy texture.
Alternatively, join the locals in one of the hot springs for a rejuvenating morning bath, where steam from the ground is also used to boil eggs for breakfast!
Go on an Ethiopian safari
Everyone’s heard of South Africa’s Kruger national Park and Kenya’s Serengeti plains, but few people associate Ethiopia with safaris. This ignorance, however, can be turned to your advantage: it’s a fantastic opportunity to see some of the continent’s perennially popular animals without having to share them with ten other jeeps full of enthusiastic tourists snapping away.
Chebera Churchura national Park in the southwest corner of the country is a stunning reserve comprising a wide range of topography from grassy plains and lakes to densely forested hills, which explains its equally diverse biodiversity. And while it may not be able to claim the full package when it comes to the ‘African Big Five’, it does tick off four: lions, elephants, buffalo and leopards. The only one missing is the rhino.
That absence, though, is surely made up for by the presence of hippos, as well as over 200 species of bird, including endemics such as the wattled ibis. Without a doubt, this has to be one of Africa’s best-kept safari secrets.
There are loads more ideas and travel tips in the Explore the Earth feature in World of Animals issue 51 – out now in shops and available to buy online!
Words: Adam Millward