Thanks to its rich and varied topography and climate, Ethiopia is the home of a great number of wild animals and plants typical of different altitudes and climates.
Located within the tropics, the physical conditions and variations in altitude have resulted in great range of terrain, climate, soil, flora and fauna. Much of Ethiopia’s highland area lies above 2,000 meters and there are 20 peaks above 4,000 meters. At 4,620 meters, Ras Dashed, is one of the highest mountains in Africa. One of the lowest places on earth can also be found in Ethiopia, in the Danakil Depression, which lays 116 meters under sea level, comprising the Erta Ale active lava lake.
Along with this rich topography, five main climatic zones are influencing the diversity of the wildlife: the hot, arid zone covers the desert lowlands below 500 meters (average temperature above 28° C); the warm to hot, semi-arid zone including areas with an altitude of 500–1,500 meters; the warm to cool, semi- humid zone covering the temperate highlands between 1,500 and 2,500 meters; the cool to cold humid zone including the temperate highlands between 2,500 and 3,200 meters and the cold, moist temperate zone covering the Afro- alpine areas on the highest plateaus above 3,200 meters (average temperature below 10° C). Ethiopia is a country of 13 months of sunshine, and its main rainy season happens in June-July-August.
Ethiopia’s biodiversity is unique even when compared to its neighbors. There are over 6,000 species of plants, 277 species of mammals, out of which 35 endemic species, and more than 800 species of birds.
Though their population has decreased in the past decades, Ethiopia still has populations of African elephants, the world’s largest living land mammal. With its high level of intelligence, interesting methods of communication and complex social structure, it remains one of the most impressive animals on earth. Both male and female African elephants have tusks, contrary to the Asiatic specie where only male have them.
Some of the most impressing animals found in Ethiopia also include the Abyssinian lion. The Lion is the principal terrestrial predator in Africa and therefore a key species of the savannah ecosystem. The Abyssinian Lion found in Ethiopia has a large, dark mane, extending from the head, neck and chest to the belly. He is also smaller and more compact than other lions. Recently, it was established by scientists that these lions represent a genetically distinct population of the common African lion. An Abyssinian Lion breeding park is located in the National Palace and Park in Addis Ababa. The animal was a symbol for the patriotic Ethiopian independence (Black Lion Movement).
Besides of the Elephants and Abyssinian lions, there are a number of charismatic and endemic “flagship” species in Ethiopia, most notably the Gelada Baboon (an endemic genus and the world’s only grazing primate), which can be found in the Simien Mountains. His friendly attitude towards tourists make him easy to observe. The Mountain Nyala (Simien Mountains), the extremely rare Ethiopian Wolf (Red Fox), the Walia Ibex (endemic to Simien Mountains), the Swayne’s Hartebeest, the African Wild Ass and the Dibatag (an antelope of the desert areas of Ogaden) are also present in different parts of Ethiopia. Zebra can be found in the the southern part of the country. Some reptiles are found only in Ethiopia, including the Bale Mountains Heather Chameleon, the Bale Mountains Two- horned Chameleon and the Ethiopian Mountain Chameleon.
Ethiopia is particularly well-known for its wonderful and unique birdlife, which is appreciated by bird-lovers. Birds are numerous, diverse, very colorful and easy to observe. About sixteen out of the 862 species recorded in the country are found nowhere else on earth but in Ethiopia. Of the ten bird family’s endemic to the African mainland, eight of them are found in Ethiopia. Among the endemic birds, the Thick-billed Raven, Wattled Ibis, Black-winged Lovebird and White-collared Pigeon are notably common over extensive areas of the plateau. As they are big, readily identifiable and not timid, they are easy to see and observe frequently at a close range. Even in the highland forests, which support comparatively few endemic species of birds, the endemics are ubiquitous.
Though Ethiopia’s wildlife is little known to town dwellers and the expatriate community of the country, there are more than 30 National Parks, Wildlife Reserves, and Sanctuaries, which cover an impressive 14% of the country’s surface, along with numerous lodges and touristic infrastructure. These many protected areas enable the visitor to enjoy the country’s scenery and its wildlife, conserved in natural habitats, and offer opportunities for travel adventure unparalleled in Africa. In short, travelers looking to discover new landscapes, animals and plant species should not hesitate: Ethiopia’s wildlife has much to offer.