Of the 835 species of birds
known to occur in Ethiopia, 23 are found exclusively within the country's
boundaries. Most of these 23 endemic birds are widely distributed, chiefly
on the western and southeastern highland plateau. . . .
Wing 325-380 mm
its loud, raucous "haa-haa-haa-haa" call, the Wattled Ibis is
easily recognized even from some distance away. A flock of these ibises
rising or flying overhead becomes especially noisy and obvious. In flight
a white patch shows on the upper surface of the ibis' wing, and at close
range its tliroat wattle is visible. These two diagnostic features distinguish
the Wattled Ibis from the closely related Hadada Ibis (Bostrychia hagedavli),
which also occurs in Ethiopia.
Ibis occurs throughout the Ethiopian plateau from about 1500 meters (5000
feet) to the highest moorlands; it is most common along highland river
courses with rocky, cliff-like edges but is found also in open country
and ill olive, juniper, podocarpus, hagenia, St. Johin's wort and giant
heath forests and occasionally in eucalyptus stands. The ibis is gregarious,
often flocking in groups of 50 to 100; rarely is it found alone. Small
flocks of ibis can often be seen in Addis Ababa, flying between the old
Palace and Trinity Cathedral grounds and in the area surrounding the National
Palace. The birds normally roost on cliff-edges; in the early morning,
they fly and call noisily while following the river courses to their feeding
areas, which are usually in open country. With their long downward-curved
beaks they probe the ground, searching for insects and other small invertebrates.
known about the ibis's breeding habits. The prenuptial behavior including
establishment of pairs and preparation of nesting sites as well as length
of incubation and brooding behavior are not known. The ibis nests in the
little rains in March-April, in the big rains ill July and occasionally
in the dry season in December. Its nest is made of sticks and lined with
grass stems, mosses and strips of bark. The Wattled Ibis normally lays
two to three dirty-white, rough-shelled eggs. The birds seem typically
to nest in colonies in bushes growing out from cliffs, but surprisingly
few of their nesting sites have been reported considering what a common
and obvious plateau bird it is. Occasionally the Wattled This nests singly
or in twos or threes on tops of trees or on ]edges of houses. The young,
covered in black feathers when still at the colony, are fed away from
the colonial site once they can fly. Little else about the life of this
species is known: it provides an excellent opportunity for study and observation
of an Ethiopian endemic.
Wing 325-376 mm
Goose inhabits plateau marshes, streams and damp grasslands from about
1800 meters (6000 feet) upward. Pairs or small parties of three to five
of these geese are common and easily seen at high elevations in small
stream valleys and in pools and marshes in the moorlands where giant lobelia,
alchemilla and tussock grass predominate and where they nest in March,
April, June and September. During the big rains of July, August and September
Blue-winged Geese flock in groups that may include 50 to 100 or more individuals
which at this time probably undergo molt, losing the flight feathers.
In the big rains the flocks also move to lower elevations of the plateau:
for example, in one day in August 165 Individuals were counted at Gafersa
Reservoir, some 20 kilometers west of Addis Ababa.
has a peculiar habit, whether standing or walking, of resting its neck
on its back. Indeed this posture together with the comparatively dull
body color and bluish wing-patches are useful marks for identifying the
species. Another characteristic habit of the goose can be observed during
pair formation when the male struts around the female, his head bent over
his back, and his bill pointed skywards or even behind him, exposing his
blue wing patch and uttering a rapidly repeated soft, barely audible whistle,
a "wnee-whu-whu-whu-whu-whu-whu-whu". Parties of this goose,
like other geese, station sentinels at the periphery of the flock. An
alarmed goose produces a soft "whew-whu-whu-wliu" and, when
forced into flight, a rather nasal bark, a "penk, penk-penk",
uttered at take-off but not in flight.
captive Blue-winged Geese suggest that they are largely active at night,
which perhaps explain why so little is known about the species. This goose
lays four to seven cream-colored eggs; the nestling is largely black with
various silvery-white markings above, silvery-white below; the immature
is similar to but duller than the adult. In total numbers the Blue-winged
Goose seems to be one of the least numerous of any species of goose in
the world. In Africa it is unique: its closest living relative lives in
Wing 180-190 m
Francolin has been reported from only three localities along about 160
kilometers of valleys and gorges within the upper Blue Nile system extending
to the east and north of the Addis Ababa-Debre Marcos-Dejen bridge; this
francolin is a very poorly known Ethiopian endemic. It was first recorded
for science in 1898 at Ahiyafej, then again in 1927 at Bichana, and in
1930 at Kalo Ford along the banks of the Blue Nile "below Zemie".
No other record of this species has been published although recent reports
suggest that it is more widely distributed than previously thought.
Cheesman, who obtained the 1927 and the 1930 the specimens, observed that
the local people around Bichana knew the species "and considered
it the best table bird of the Francolin family". In fact, the Bichana
specimen was presented to him by the leader of the area to be eaten; Cheesman
thought the live animal was not from Bichana but was captured alive in
the lower altitudes of the Blue Nile Valley and brought to him.
can be said about the biology of this francolin. The male can be recognized
by a distinctive U-shaped pattern on the black and white feathers of the
breast; the female is unknown to science. Its preferred surroundings are
unknown; its nest, eggs, time of nesting, food, call and general behavior
are undescribed. Since the local people at least in the late 1920's and
1930's were familiar with the Harwood's Francolin, it seems reasonable
to assume that it may have been more common than thought at that time
and may still be so today. Two species very closely related to the Harwood's
Francolin occur in Central and Southern Africa. The two, the Hildebrandt's
Francolin (Francolinus hildebrandti) and the Natal Francolin (F.
natalensis), are especially fond of dense bush along stream beds and
rocky bills covered with long grass or bush. It again seems very reasonable
to assume that the Harwood's Francolin lives in similar habitat in the
Blue Nile Valley system.
Wing 125-135 mm
Rail is common on the westerin and southeastern highlands, but its presence
is not so obvious as that of some other endemics. Once one is able to
recognize the bird's calls, one well appreciates how common this rail
is. It has two calls which are useful in identification: one, a piercing
alarm note, a "dideet" or "a di-dii", and the other,
a display call, "wreeeee-creeuw-wreeeee-creeliw". This Rail
mainly lives at higher elevations of up to 4,100 meters (13,500 feet)
where it inhabits small pockets of grass tussock and wet hollows with
plenty, of cover; it is a characteristic bird of the moorlands of Ethiopia.
rails and crakes, the Rouget's Rail skulks through and around the grass
tussocks, probably searching for aquatic insects, crustaceans, small snails
and seeds. This endemic, slightly larger than many of its rails-like relatives,
is tame compared with most rails, and at times simply stands in all open
area where it is easily observed. Normally, however, one gets only a fleeting
glimpse of the bird as its moves quickly through the tall grass, characteristically
flitting its tail upward and showing the white undertail coverts. The
flashes of white - on and off, so to speak - are indeed obvious and often
draw the attention of the observer to the bird for the first time.
and female have similar russet-colored plumages, tile immature is slightly
lighter in color. This rail sometimes lives in family parties of three
to ten. It seems not to be so nocturnal in activity as once thought. Rouget's
Rail nests from April through October; the nest is a shallow cup of grass
placed in tussock grass. In one clutch a rail lays as many as eight eggs,
brownish-cream colored with reddish-brown splashes and lilac-grey undermarkings.
The nestling is yellow-brown with black along the sides of the face, its
neck is russet, its crown, bill and legs are black.
Wing 234-240 mm
Plover is an endemic usually found above 3050 meters (10,000 feet) in
marshy grasslands and moorlands with giant health, giant lobelia, alchemilla
and tussock grass in both the western and southeastern highlands. Widely
distributed and locally common, the plover usually is seen in pairs or
in small parties, or, in the non-breeding season, in small flocks of up
to 30-40 individuals. Its behavior has been compared with that of the
Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) of Europe: it is a relatively tame,
noisy bird with a swerving flight; on the ground it makes short runs and
sudden stops. When calling, it produces a "kree-kree-kre-krep-kreep-kreep",
a "kueeeep-kueep" and the cry "pewit-pewit". It is
distinguished from other plovers by having fleshy wattles in front of
the eyes and by the breast spotted with black.
is known about this plover. For example, the nest and eggs have only recently
been described: the nest, a shallow scrape within a patch of grass and
moss in the giant lobelia moorlands with small lakes, contained four eggs
that were brownish-blue to smoke-grey and heavily marked with black. The
plover is known to breed in April in the Bale Mountains and in August
in Shoa Region. Other aspects of its life history are unrecorded. Although
locally common, it is one of the least studied plovers in the world.
Wing 212-234 mm
Pigeon - unmistakable with its uniform greyish color, white collar patch
and, in flight, white on the wings is the dominant pigeon on the plateau
above 2,400 meters (8,000 feet). It mainly inhabits rugged areas of the
western and southeastern highlands, especially cliffs and escarpments,
but it is also a common feature of many plateau villages and towns where
it lives in association with churches and other large buildings. It also
frequents bridges on the highways and roads of the plateau.
occurrence on the plateau in the morning is the movement of White-collared
Pigeons from their roosting sites on the cliffs to grain fields where
they feed; occasionally a flock of several hundred individuals may visit
these fields. In the Bale Mountains the pigeons roost at the higher elevations
of up to 3,800 (12,500 feet) in flocks and in meters the morning fly to
lower elevations to feed. In the Semien Mountains they roost usually on
the lower levels of the cliffs at about 2100 meters (7,000 feet) and every
morning slowly spiral up to the tops of the cliffs at 3,200-4,400 meters
(10,500-14,500 feet) before moving inland to feed. In late afternoon they
either remain inland and roost in trees, or they return to the cliffs
where they hurtle themselves over the edge and, passing within a few meters
of the cliff-face, fly at very high speeds to their roosting sites hundreds
of feet below.
nests most months of the year (January-June and August-November) on ledges
of cliffs, bridges and houses. Its nest is like most pigeons' nests, made
largely of grass stalks and small sticks. It lays two creamy white and
glossy eggs. The male and female, who may be at the nest at the same time,
are alike in appearance. Despite this pigeon's abundance and its occurrence
in large areas of the plateau, including cities like Addis Ababa little
else is known about its life history.
Wing 160-188 mm
Parrot occurs in Etliiopia from approximately 600 to 3,350 meters (2,000-1
1,000 feet) in the western and southeastern highlands, the Rift Valley
and the western lowlands in forests and woodlands varying from St. John's
wort and hagenia to olive, podocarpus and juniper to fig and acacia. It
is an uncommon but regular visitor on the Armed Force Hospital grounds
near the old airport in Addis Ababa. One's attention is usually first
attracted to the presence of this species by its loud squeaky calls and
unmusical shrill whistles. Typically one then sees the greenish parrots
with yellowish heads in a small flock of three to eight individuals, high
up in a tree where they are probably feeding. Their food is thought to
be fruit, including baobab if available, sorghum, maize and seeds. Although
this parrot is frequent to locally common and widely distributed in the
country, little is known of its habits: the time of nesting is not known:
the nest and eggs are undescribed. In fact, this parrot is so poorly known
that practically any information an observer discovers about it will be
new to science.
Wing 95-110 mm
Lovebird is the common, small green parrot of the Ethiopian plateau. It
is widely distributed from about 1,500-3,200m. (5,000-10,500 feet) in
the western and southeastern highlands and in the Rift Valley in forests
and woodlands of hagenia, juniper, podocarpus, olive, acacia, candelabra
euphorbia, combretum and fig. It commonly visits gardens, especially with
seeding trees in Addis Ababa. The lovebird flies in noisy flocks which
number usually five to ten individuals although as many as 50 to 80 individuals
may be present. It flies swiftly and makes sharp turns at high speeds;
it moves its wings in quick, short flaps, the black under the wings being
obvious then. Both sexes have a large bright red bill; the male has a
red forehead, the female and immature do not.
the behavior of captive Black-winged Lovebirds has been documented in
detail, no study of this species has been done under natural conditions.
In captivity the lovebird is a sociable creature: a pair regularly stands
as close together as possible. The two birds at times bounce their heads
and necks up and down and move around in small circles: they may do this
several times before they stop and press their bodies together again.
The lovebird walks; it does not hop. Under natural conditions it has been
observed to feed on juniper berries, figs and seeds. At night the birds
sleep in holes in trees. It has a shrill twittering call and, in flight,
a sharp whistle.
only one record of the nest and eggs of the lovebird has been documented:
around 1900 one egg was obtained in April from a hole in a tree; the size
and color of the eggs, details of the nest and the kind of tree were not
recorded. Recent observations on pairing behavior and activities associated
with nesting indicate that this species is a solitary nester, doing so
probably from March through November.
Wing 180-184 mm
Turaco is known in the literature from two areas in southern Ethiopia
in juniper forests with dense evergreen undergrowth: one is at Arero and
the other 80 kilometers north of Neghelli: both localities are 1800 meters
(6000 feet) in elevation.
was first introduced to science when Prince Ruspoli collected it in either
1892 or 1893. Since Prince Ruspoli, an Italian explorer, was killed in
an "encounter with an elephant" in the Lake Abaya area and unfortunately
did not leave any notes about his travels, the locality and date of collection
of the first specimen of this turaco remain unknown.
was studied by T. Salvadori in 1896 who named the new turaco in honor
of Prince Ruspoli. In subsequent years several other explorers searched
for the turaco; none were successful until the early 1940's when several
specimens were obtained in the Arero forest. After these specimens were
obtained, the turaco was not reported again until very recently, in the
last five years, when several have been seen and four collected at the
locality north of Neghelli. This turaco is considered to be an endangered
species and is included in the "Red Book" of endangered animals
of the world. However, recent sightings in juniper forests and especially
in dry water courses which include figs, the rubiaceous tree, Adina,
and undergrowth of acacia and Teclea shrubs, suggest that the species
may be more common than thought.
no breeding records nor any recorded observations on the nesting activities
of Prince Ruspoli's Turaco, its nest and eggs are unknown. It has been
reported to feed on fruits of Tecle and Aditicl. Its call
has been described as a low "chirr-clia" and short "te".
Wing 79-84 mm
Banded Barbet is very widely distributed throughout Ethiopia between 300
and 2400 meters (1000-8000 feet). Although the numbers and abundance of
this species have not been determined, it seems to vary from being uncommon
in the north west and cast to locally common elsewhere in the country,
living singly or in pairs in trees near water.
It has been
reported to eat insects (beetles) and the fruit of fig trees. The barbet
has been described also to hawk insects like a flycatcher and to hang
from a branch up side down like a tit. Its call notes are metallic and
it produces also a "gr-gr-grgrgr..." in rising tempo. The barbet
has been reported to nest in a hole in a branch of a tree or in a tree
or in a stump: the time of nesting and the eggs have not been described.
Wing 89-99 mm
Woodpecker, is a very uncommon, not often seen endemic of the Ethiopian
highlands from about 1,500 to 2,400 meters (5,000-8,000 feet), although
it has been seen up to approximately 3,200 meters (10,500 feet).
in western and southeastern highlands in forests, woodlands and savannas
and seems to be more uncommon in the northern than in the southern parts
of the country. It has been reported to haunt especially candelabra euphorbias,
junipers and figs. The male Golden-backed Woodpecker has a green unbarred
back and bright red crown, nape, rump and upper tall coverts. The crown
and nape of the female are ash brown, not bright red.
has been reported to breed from February-May and possibly in December.
No information, however, is available on its nest, nesting habits, numbers
or food. Very little is known about this species.
Wing 100-105 mm
Swallow was first introduced to science in 1942 when C. W. Bensoii reported
it in southern Ethiopia from Yabelo to Mega in short grass savana with
small acacia thorn bush.
related to the Pied-winged Swallow (Hirundo leucosom a) of western
Africa and the Pearl-breasted Swallow (H. diniidiata) of southern
Africa, is common but restricted to an area of about 4850 square kilometers
(3000 square miles) between 1200 and 1350 meters (4000-4500 feet). This
restriction has baffled scientists because there is no obvious explanation,
particularly no natural barriers or boundaries which mark off the area,
for such a limited distribution. In recent years there have been reports
of the swallow in the Addis Ababa area. Studies of this species in the
future may show that its distribution is not so limited as thought.
is unique among swallows in having the greater part of the tail white;
the white is very conspicuous in flight. The White-tailed Swallow is thought
to be a sedentary species, remaining mainly in its home range. It is not
associated with human habitation. C. W. Benson suggested that this swallow
may build its nest in January and February in holes in the tail chimney-shaped
ant hills common in the area. The nest, however, has not been discovered.
Wing 83-95 mm
Long-claw - very similar in both appearance and behavior to the Yellow-throated
Long-claw (Macronyx croceus) of other parts of Africa - is a common
grassland bird of the western and south eastern highlands except in the
extreme north where it does not occur.
long-claws, this Ethiopian endemic inhabits grasslands and has plumage
markings similar to those of meadowlarks of North and South America (passerine
birds that are not related to long-claws). The Abyssinian Long-claw occurs
largely between 1,200 and 3,050 meters (4,000-10,000 feet) but occasionally
reaches the grassland moorlands up to 4100 meters (13,500 feet); it is
most common between 1,800 and 2,750 meters (6,000-9,000 feet).
or in pairs, this long-claw is usually seen sitting on a lump of dirt,
a rock, a small bush or a fence. Its black necklace and saffron throat
and neck are especially obvious when it sits. Considered to be "tame
and friendly", when breeding, it nests in February, June, July and
August. Its nest is a cup-like structure raised slightly above the ground
and lined with various grass fibers. The eggs, two or three in number,
are glossy, pale greenish-white and flecked with dull brown. It makes
"a clear trilling little song from a perch or on tile wine, and a
piping call note".
Wing 106-122 mm
Cliff-Chat is a bird which is locally frequent to common in the highlands
of most of Ethiopia where it lives in gorges, on cliffs, on scrubby mountain-sides
and in open country among rocks and grasslands; it is uncommon in the
north in Eritrea.
occurs usually above 2000 meters (6500 feet) and rarely below 1500 meters
(5000 feet). Its preferred habitat in the country varies. For example,
in Eritrea the White- winged Cliff-Chat lives on rocks and in mountain
gorges from 1800 to 2400 meters (6000-8000 feet). In the south in Sidamo
it occurs slightly lower between 1500 and 1800 meters (5000-6000 feet)
in hilly downland rather than rocky country.
and chestnut in color, both sexes of this chat can be readily distinguished
when flying by the white patch on the wings (basal part of primaries).
The male Cliff-Chat (Myrmecocicha cinnamomeiventris), similar in
appearance to the White-winged Cliff-Chat, has a white shoulder patch
but not the white wing patch: in flight the wings of this species are
glossy blue-black. The female White-winged Cliff-Chat is not so strongly
colored as the male; her plumage, especially underneath, is more brownish
in color. The young bird is brownish-black, spotted above and below with
dark buff, like its parents, it too has the distinguishing white wing
Cliff-Chat nests during the rains in June, July and August. Its nest is
a compact structure of grass stems and mosses usually placed in a crevice
of a rock. The chat is occasionally associated with human settlements
where it has been known to nest in holes in stone walls. Its eggs are
usually three in number, glossy, white or greenish-white, and speckled
with fine pale rust color. Its food is undocumented: immatures, however,
have been seen in Addis Ababa in the rains feeding on recently emerged
termites. It has a "modulated flute-like song".
Wing 85-94 mm
Chat is uncommon to locally frequent in the western highlands of Shoa,
Gojjam, Gonder, Wollo, Tigre and Eritrea regions. It has not been recorded
in the southeastern highlands nor in the southern portion of the western
highlands. This chat, living singly, in paris or In small parties, inhabits
edges and sides of cliffs and gorges and associated bare rock above 1800
meters (6000 feet); it shows a distinct preference for high elevations
of the plateau around waterfalls and wet rocks on the tops of precipitous
ravines and cliffs.
Chat is a wholly black bird except for a white patch on the inner surface
of the wing (inner webs of the primaries and innermost secondaries) which
contrasts sharply with the black when the bird flies. When sitting, the
Chat has the habit of flitting its tail high over its back. Its time of
nesting has not been definitely recorded although in December a pair was
once seen building a nest in a crack on a cliff-face in Eritrea. Details
of the nest have not been recorded nor have the eggs. The Ruppell's Chat
is one of the poorest known of all Ethiopian endemics.
Wing 83-91 mm
Catbird - one of the finest, if not the finest singer of all the birds
of Africa - is frequent to common in the western and southern highlands
between 1800 and 3500 meters (600-11,500 feet) in giant heath, St. John's
wort, highland bamboo, juniper, podocarpus and olive forests. It lives
singly, in pairs or in parties up to eight often in thickets and vines
that fringe these forests.
It is found
as far north as the Semien Mountains, it does not occur in Eritrea. The
catbird is a resident garden bird of plateau cities; for example, it is
a regular inhabitant in Addis Ababa in gardens with large trees, for instance,
embassies, hotels and many private compounds.
first notices the catbird when it sings. The birds, which appear to be
territorial, are intense singers in the rains when a male and a female
often duet persistently. The male, stretching his neck skyward and holding
his wings out at the bend, vigorously produces a long clear ringing song:
the female answers with a churring or purring note. Because the little-known
catbird lives in dense parts of thickets, it is sometimes difficult to
see. Distinguishing features are its general greyish, color, dirty, white
forehead and chestnut belly and undertail coverts.
is known to feed on juniper berries, but other items in its diet are not
known. It certainly nests in May and July; it probably nests from February
through July. The nest is a small, frail, thin, cup-like structure of
plant stems placed loosely in a tangle of vines; one was discovered five
meters up in a St. John's wort tree. The eggs, two in number, are pale
flesh-colored and uniformly covered with fine flesh marks and a few dark
of the catbird is not well understood: it may be a flycatcher or a babbler.
Recent evidence, based on plumage characters, indicates that the Abyssinian
Catbird is a babbler whose nearest relative may be the Bush Blackcap,
also called Blackcap Babbler (Lioptilus nigricapillus), found in
the thickets and forests of eastern South Africa.
Wing 71-81 mm
Black Tit, wholly black with a whitish mantle, is found in woodlands,
thickets and forests in the western and southeastern highlands from 1800-3500
meters (6000-11,500 feet).
It is locally
frequent to occasionally common except in Eritrea, where it is uncommon.
One usually notices first its typical tit-like call, it is seen in small
parties or in pairs, in trees or bushes especially along small stream
valleys in the wooded areas high up on the plateau. Its habits have not
been recorded. It may nest in January; its nest and eggs are not described.
It is indeed little known.
Wing 64-70 mm
Seed-eater is known from a few isolated areas in acacia-grass savanna
in southern and southeastern Ethiopia. It is a species of questionable
taxonomic status since it may be a hybrid between the Yellow-rumped Seed-eater
(S. atrogularis) and the White-bellied Canary (S. dorostritus).
It has a grey back and is similar in size to the Yellow-rumped Seed-eater
but has streaks on the back and a long tail like the White-bellied Canary.
Further evidence for considering the Yellow-throated Seed-eater a hybrid
is that it is known only from localities where both the Yellow-rumped
Seed-eater and the White-bellied Canary would be expected to occur as
of the Yellow-throated Seed-eater are unknown. Its nest and eggs are undescribed.
Most ornithological references maintain that, until the Yellow-throated
Seed-eater is better known, it should be considered a separate species.
It is on this basis that the bird is included here and therefore is considered
to be another species found only in Ethiopia.
Wing 74-80 mm
Siskin is common to locally abundant in tile western and southeastern
highlands from 1800-4100 meters (6000-13,500 feet). Almost always in flocks,
this little-known finch inhabits moorlands with giant lobelia, alchemilla,
tussock grass and giant heath, highland grasslands and the open areas
of montane forests, especially St. John's wort and hagenia. Flocks are
regularly seen alongside the road to Gaferssa Reservoir west of Addis
Black-headed Siskin is the only yellow finch with a black head in the
highlands of Ethiopia. The female is similar but her head and neck are
dull olive green with some black present oil the top and sides of head,
chin and throat.
in the higher levels of the plateau in bushes and low trees in May, June,
September, October and November. Its nest is a well-made, compact, deep
cup-like structure fitted with moss, lichens, stems and small roots. Its
eggs, two or three in number, are bluish-white with a few brown spots.
Wing 151-165 mm
Starling is frequent to locally abundant in the western and southeastern
highlands, being most common in the north. Widely distributed in the country,
it usually lives in association with cliffs and gorges near waterfalls.
It also inhabits moorlands with giant lobelia, alchemilla, tussock grass
and giant heath and highland grasslands: it rarely travels below 1800
meters (6000 feet).
tail and white bill distinguish the White-billed Starling from other red-wing/chestnut-wing
starlings. It feeds on the fruits of juniper and fig trees often in groups
of five to 40 non-breeding birds. It nests in June in Eritrea in crannies
high up on sheer cliffs, sometimes in association with the White-collared
also inhabit buildings where they occasionally nest: for example, one
pair was seen nesting is October under the eaves of a church at Ankober.
Details of the nest and the eggs of this species have not been described,
however. Its call is "loud and monotonous". Other details of
its life history are unknown. Mackworth-Praed and Grant - authors of several
books on birds of Africa --- have compared this starling's habits with
those of the Bristle-crowned Starling (Onychognathus salvadorii).
HEADED FOREST ORIOLE
Wing 128-145 mm
numbers, time of nesting and life history of the Black-headed Forest Oriole
are not clearly understood because of the difficulty of distinguishing
it from the Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus larvatus). The two are
separable by the color of parts of wings feathers, features that are not
easy to see in the field.
margins of the flight feathers (primaries) and the outer secondaries of
the Forest Oriole are grey; the inner secondaries, mainly olivaceous-yellow,
are edged in grey on the inner webs.
margins of the primaries and outer secondaries of the Black-headed Oriole
are white; the inner secondaries, mainly black, are edged in pale yellow
on the outer webs. In the field the two species are partially separable
by habitats, the haunts of each differing somewhat. The Black-headed Forest
Oriole inhabits evergreen forest (olive, podocarpus) and juniper woods
of the highlands; it is absent in lowland dry acacia thorn scrub country.
The Black-headed Oriole lives in the lowland dry acacia thorn scrub country
and the juniper woods of the highlands; it does not inhabit the highland
Forest Oriole occurs in the western and southeastern highlands, the Rift
Valley and southern Ethiopia from about 1200-3200 meters (4000-10,500
feet). It is frequent in the north, common to abundant in the south. It
breeds in August and possibly July. It has three calls: a rich and loud
"li", a harsh "skaa-skaa" and three or four liquid
whistling notes slurred together. The nest, eggs and other aspect of its
life history have not been described.
Wing 137-150 mm
Bush-Crow - reported to science for the first time in 1938 - is a frequent
to common bird in a restricted area of about 2400 square kilometers (1500
sq. miles) around Yabelo, Mega and Arero in southern Ethiopia.
distribution to the north and south is limited probably by elevation and
consequent change in habitat: in the north the land be- comes higher and
mountainous, in the south, lower and more open. The areas to the east
and west of its present distribution are of similar elevation and include
park-land acacia country of the type that it is found in ; yet the bush-crow
does not occur in either area. This phenomenon has fascinated scientists
ever since the species was discovered.
looks somewhat like a starling. Even its nest, is starling-like. It also
associates with starlings, like the White-crowned Starling (Spreo albicapillus);
mixed parties of the two are not uncomrnon in the Yabelo-area. Yet the
curved bill, the bristles which extend well over the nostrils and the
bare area around the eyes suggest that the bush-crow is not a starling
but a member of the crow family, probably related to choughs (Pyrrhocorax
travels in parties of about six or so from June to February. In February
and March it builds its nest some five to six meters from the ground on
top of an acacia. The nest is a globular structure composed of thorn-twigs
30 or more centimeters (1 foot) long. The untidy nest, about 60 centimeters
(2 feet) in diameter, has an inside chambers 30 centimeters in diameter,
whose floor is lined with dung and dry grass. The entrance to the chamber
is from the top and is protected by a vertical tubular tunnel some 15
centimeters (6 inches) long. The general appearance of the nest is of
a vertical cylinder tapering towards the top with the entrance tunnel
at the summit. The bush-crow is not a colonial nester; three individuals
of unknown sex, however, have been seen to frequent one nest. It lays
eggs, up to six in number, that are smooth, glossy and cream-colored with
blotches of pale lilac. The only reported call of the bush-crow is a high
pitched "chek". With both starling-like and crow-like affinities,
this is a fascinating species to study.
Wing 427-472 mm
Raven, closely related to the White-necked Raven (Corvus albicollis)
of East and South Africa, is a bird which is common to abundant from about
1200 to at least 4100 meters (4000 .13,500 feet). It visits many habitats
including alpine screes, Cliffs and gorges, giant lobelia-chemilla-tussock
grass-glant heath moorlands, highland grasslands, giant lieath, St. John's
wort, bamboo, juniper, podocarpus, olive and lowland subtropical humid
It is especially
abundant at higher elevations where it is obvious and sometimes bold around
camps, villages and cities including Addis Ababa.
It is a frequent
and persistent visitor to camps of travelers, where it scavenges for scraps
including those in ashes of camp fires. This raven accompanies Lammergeiers
(Gypaettus barbatus) when they drop bones and will steal from them
if given a chance. Ravens sometimes also kill small rodents out on the
open moorlands and grasslands and, by holding the huge arched bill up-side-down
scatter dung to obtain insects. They feed on grain where "whole corners
of the field (have) been cleared by them."
Raven is easily recognized by the large curved, white-tipped bill and
the white nape at the top of the neck. In flight, its neck extends forward,
giving the raven a somewhat hornbill-like appearance. They are excellent
fliers and soarers, often performing in formation along sheer cliff-faces.
Two birds may give magnificent aerial displays, occasionally clenching
feet and descending together for some 200 meters or so.
in December, January and February on rocks and high up in trees. Details
of the nest are unknown, as are the eggs. Although they usually live in
pairs and are territorial, they sometimes congregate in parties of four
to ten individuals. During courtship, the male feeds the female. He finds
a morsel of food, then flies with it to a branch where he sits and calls
his partner. She comes to him and flutters her wings, after which he feeds
her. During this ceremony, the two birds produce hoarse gurgling and choking
noises. Their typical call note, however, is a throaty "phlurk-phlurk"
which has been described also as harsh and guttural or as a croak, which
sounds as if the bird had "lost its voice" and was suffering
from a "sore throat".
OF THE ENDEMIC MAMMALS of ETHIOPIA
of the Walia 1bex is the High Semyen, Ethiopia's dramatic high mountain
terrain. In the earth's long history of violent geographical change, the
most recent volcanic upheavals took place in eastern Africa, followed
by torrential rains which created the thousand gushing waterfalls which
in turn eroded away the newly formed mountain massif, creating the great
gorges and gulleys which are so typical of the region. South west of Axum
the land descends gradually southwards toward the Takazze river. At the
lip of the gorge at about 1,400 metres (4,600 ft.) one can look across
the chasm to a similar plateau beyond. On top of this plateau, adorned
with steep turrets and bastions rising in three distinct steps, is perched
the north wall of the Semyen.
massif is a broad plateau, cut off on the north and west by this enormous
single crag over 60 kms. (40 miles) long and 1,000-1,500 metres (3000-5000
ft.) high. To the south the table]and slopes gently down to 2,200 metres
(7,000 ft.) divided by deep gorges 1,000 metres deep and taking two days
to cross. Time has not yet been sufficient to soften the contours of the
crags and buttresses of hardened basalt. As far as the eye can see looking
north from the escarpment, the fused volcanic cores stand starkly defying
the elements. Overhead stretches the vast dome of a sky of the deepest
blue, which spreads downwards as clear as sapphire to the mauve of the
In this scenic
splendour, lives the Walia Ibex; here and nowhere else in the world. Forced
by Man to retreat, and to retreat again, it has been driven in its extremity
to inhabit the most inaccessible (except to a bird or a Walia), cliffs
of the Semyen escarpment. The Walia once existed in significant numbers
probably several thousands in the highland massif, feeding on the cliff
faces and coming up to roam the plateau at rutting time. Large herds wandered
unmolested on these chilly heights.
Even up to
50 years ago there were well over a thousand. With the Italian agression
in Ethiopia, the species started its dramatic decline to the brink of
extinction. Guerrillas fighting the Italians and living off the country
found the Walia a convenient source of meat. Later, the local people again
took i up arms against the Walia, killing perhaps five in order to reclaim
the meat from one. Most of them, whose wounded bodies spin and crash from
the narrow ledges where they feed, into the abysses a thousand ieet or
more below, are never recovered. Rarely, a rope descent will bring to
the surface the meat and parts of the skin, but the trophy, the splendid
horns desired by locals to make drinking mugs, and by sportsmen to decorate
their sitting rooms, are usually lost forever.
in 1835 by Ruppell, and first properly observed by Powell Cotton at the
beginning of the century (l900), the Walia at that time was a mythical
beast and little was known of its numbers and status. The inaccessibility
of its habitat combined with various historical events such as the Italian
occupation and World War II, which made visits to the region out of the
question for longish periods, has prevented the keepiug of a continous
record since then. So until Leslie Brown made his preliminary study in
the early sixties, little was known of its behaviour or habits.
of the early incursion of Palearctic fauna into the tropics, the nearest
relative of the Walia is the Nubian Ibex (C. nubiana). There is
a gap of several hundred miles of lowlands between the southern- most
limit of the Nubian and the highland habitat of the Walia. The Walia differs
in being 1arger and more massive, with dark brown as opposed to pale brown
fur. The horns of the males are more massive but not quite so long, and
have the knobs or ridges on the anterior surface reduced. The Walia has
a bony process on the forehead. The anatomical differences together with
the differences in habitat have lent weight to the argument that the Walia
is a distinct species.
which the Walia inhabits is from 2,300- 4,000 metres (7,500-13,500 ft.)
but chiefly above 2,500 and below 3,000 (8,000-9,500ft.). The tiny remnant
population which remains is now con- fined to a range of about twenty
miles of the highest and steepest bays and buttresscs of the northern
escarpment. They are already extinct in all other parts of their range
which once stretched from Byeda along the escarpment to Geech and Adis
vertical range which they tend to occupy today would seem to be the result
of persistent hunting. They have become extremely wary and shy and chosen
to be not get-atable from top or bottom. With protection maybe they will
once again emerge on to the plateau.
sheep and goats have feet that are special- ly adapted for living in mountainous
terrain. Their hooves have sharp edges and the undersides are concave,
enabling them to adhere somewhat like suction cups. To watch even the
youngest and smallest of the Walia kids gambolling about on slanted rocky
ledges in a cliff face of terrifying steepness, a 500 metre drop only
inches away, makes one catch one's breath with anxiety. They never fall.
and the females both have horns, but the males' are more massive. Curving
back in a graceful arc to the withers they sometimes attain a length of
over 110 cms. The females are smaller in body and lighter in colour with
shorter thinner horns. They live in small parties of two to half a dozen
and the big old males often live solitary except during the mating season.
Because of the rarity of the animal, it is not often possible to observe
a large male and one feels privileged to do so. The magnificent horns
and striking colouration make it an unforgettable sight.
sturdily built animals standing about a metre high at the shoulder and
weighing up to 120 kgs. Their beautiful chocolate to chestnut brown coats
shade to greyish brown round the muzzle, paler grey around the eyes, lower
flanks, legs and rump, and pale grey or white on the belly and inside
of the legs. There is a black stripe down the outside of the legs and
a white garter on each fetlock broken in the hind legs by a black streak
into the cleft of the hoof. Mature males sport an elegant black beard.
The tail is short with a brushlike tuft of black hairs.
You can usually
observe them when come out on to the rocky ledges to sun themselves in
the morning and evening. Little herds of females and young are not uncommon,
or even single females with a kid at foot. Sometimes you will see a yearling
group of young males which can be distinguished by their paler greyer
colour and the thickness of their small short horns. They eat grass and
herbs, but prefer to to browse rather than graze, standing up on their
hind legs like domestic goats to reach the tender shoots of giant heath.
There is no shortage of food, as inside the forest of heath there is abundant
forage of herbs and sweet soft grasses. They tend not to drink although
water is plentiful; it is assumed that they get sufficient moisture from
the green stuff on which they feed. They usually lie up in caves or thickets
during the day, although this is not an in- fallible rule and I have observed
them at lunchtime - a group of youngsters playing in the sun.
story is not yet ended. In 1963 it was classified by the IUCN as in danger
of extinction. In that year the total number remaining alive was estimated
at less than 200, probably 150. Indiscriminate hunting and destruction
of habitat by local people had combined to drive the few remaining animals
on to the vertical cliff sides for survival- (Only four adult males have
been taken since 1956 by legitimate shooting). Fortunately before the
end came the Ethiopian Government recognized the danger and, in 1965,
drew up plans to establish a national park to protect both the habitat
and its fauna, and the park was gazetted the same year. It was found that
numbers had remained steady for two years, indicating that with protection
they might increase fairly rapidly. Guards were appointed from Geech to
Mietgogo to curb local poaching and illegal cultivation and burning of
habitat. In the past fifteen years, numbers have increased steadily, as
the females are still ready and willing to breed in the caves in the cliff
At the present
time, not less than 10% of the cliff surface is composed of broad ]edges
or green gullies in which Walia can feed. Brown estimates that this amount
of land space can support a population of two or three thousand. The Walia
has no natural enemies apart possibly from the occasional bird of prey,
and thus with complete protection from Man they could be expected to recover
their numbers and to double the present population in ten years.
it is still difficult to properly enforce the protection laws, and the
local people cannot be expected to know that this animal exists only here.
Nor could they realize that it could be anticipated to generate a far
larger income if allowed to live and breed, than its dead parts will ever
earn. It can only be hoped that the precipitous terrain in which the last
survivors live will enable a nucleus herd to survive until such time as
visitors from all over the world will be able to come and observe this
rare creature in the magnificence of its mountain habitat.
to the same family as the Mountain Nyala, the Kudu, the Bongo and the
Eland, the bushbuck shares with them the family characteristic of shy
and elusive behaviour. Over forty races of bushbuck have been identified,
which vary considerably both from the point of view of colouration and
from the type of habitat they frequent. Most of them are forest- living
animals inhabiting dense bush, usually near water, though this is not
an essential, as some of them have been known to go without drinking for
long periods when necessary.
Of the two
Ethiopian races, meneliki and powelli, the latter is the
more common and somewhat smaller. But Menelik's is also fairly widespread
and can be seen in much of Ethiopia's highland forest up to the treeline
at 4,000 metres (13,000 ft.) They are com mon, for example, in the cedar
forests of Menagesha and parts of the Entoto range, even ir, eucalyptus
groves as long as there is still some ground cover. No accurate estimate
has been made of their total population because of their nocturnal and
furtive habits. Like the Mountain Nyala, they are easier to observe in
the Bale Mountains National Park where they are fully protected and therefore
a little less shy. Powelli inhabits the lower lying country, so between
them they cover almost all types of habitat, from highland forest to savanna
woodland - with the exception of open country.
as you climb up through the hagenia forest with its flowering trees, and
enter the zone of Giant Heath and St. John's Wort, sunlight dapples the
ground beneath your feet, lichens hang softly from every twig and bright
dark green mosses clothe the branches. Suddenly a glimpse of bright chestnut
draws your attention to the female bushbuck, and usually not far away
is the shining dark, almost black, male. Bushbucks are often solitary,
but in Bale anyway, Menelik's is almost always seen in pairs or small
family parties of female and young. They are extremely beautiful little
animals, with a coat longer than that of other bushbucks, perhaps because
of living in the lower temperatures of high altitudes. The horns, which
are carried only by the male, have a spiral twist and a well-defined longitudinal
ridge or keel on the front or back surfaces, and transverse rings. The
record horn length is 34.93 cms.
80-90 cms. (35 inches) at the shoulder and slightly higher at the rump,
running along in a hunched up manner between the bushes and shrubs. They
have large broad ears and when they stop to regard an intruder the ears
with their tufts of white are conspicuous. A spinal crest of longish white
or black hairs runs down the centre of the back. A white spot on the cheek,
and on the female sometimes a blackish collar on the lower neck, faint
white spots on the haunches, and limbs with a contrasting dark and light
pattern. The tail is bushy and long, reaching to just above the hocks,
white underneath and black- tipped.
tend to spend the heat of the day lying up in dense bush where there is
no hope of spotting them. The highland forest where Menelik's bushbuck
lives, is relatively cool and you can see them (if you are in luck) at
any time of day. It is more usual however, to spot them from about four
o'clock onwards, or in the early morning. They have a loud barking alarm
call, sometimes repeated, which can be heard from some distance away,
and also a series of grunts. Very few Menelik's have been collected by
sportsmen. The multiplication of numbers in the park could lead to its
greater accessibilty to authorised huntsmen, and produce an income for
Amharic: Dega Agazain
Nyala was the last of the great African antelopes to become known to science,
and still today very little is known about its habits or the full extent
of its range. It was first collected by Major Ivor Buxton in 1908 and
at that time seemed to be fairly widespread throughout the Arsi and Bale
regions. Large numbers of them lived at very high altitudes, between ten
and thirteen thousand feet, in the mountain forests where it was cold
and wet much of the time, until the pressure of the human population destroyed
vast tracts of their forest habitat. In Arsi the population is now reduced
to a remnant.
in Bale, despite a certain amount of burning of the heath, great tracts
of mountain giant heath forest and hagenia were left unspoiled and the
Nyala were never seriously threatened with extin- ction. They were so
much hunted that they became even more wary and shy than is their nature
and one rarely caught more than a glimpse of them as they melted away
into the bush. The creation of the Bale Mountains National Park has considerably
altered this picture. Here, where they are fully protected, they are beginning
to be much more confident, and one can see them readily, especially in
the mornings and evenings when they come down in to the hagenia forest
on the lower slopes to graze. They are breeding prolifically and comparatively
large groups of females and young can be seen.
a magnificent sight, particularly the old bulls with their fine spiralled
horns. Females do not carry horns and they have rather long necks and
large ears, which are very conspicuous. The body colour of an old male
is dark grey, with a line of long hair along the back forming a straggly
mane which continues' along the spine as a brown and white crest. Young
calves are bright rufous and can be mistaken for bushbuck if the mother
is not seen. Females are redder that the males, although they tend to
become greyer with age. They move in parties or small herds of about five
to ten females, and although the really old bulls are solitary and not
often seen, young adult males carrying quite impressive spreads of horns,
can sometimes be seen with or near the herds of females and young, and
males are sometimes seen in small groups of two or three individuals.
white markings on the legs and two white spots on the face, a white chevron
between the eyes. Nyala are similar to Greater Kudu but can be distinguished
by the single spiral horns and the absence of clear white stripes on the
body. Those of the Nyala are only faintly visible, and with a few faint
spots on the flanks. It can however, be thought of as a high altitude
race of the kudu.
135 cms. (53 inches) at the shoulder and weighs some 200-250 kgs. (440-550
1bs). An old bull reaches 300 kgs.(660 Ibs). It has two white patches
on the underside of the neck; the upper very wide and the lower one crescent-shaped.
The back and upper flanks have about four white ill-defined stripes and
a few white spots on the thighs. The tail does not reach to the hocks,
it is bushy with a white underside and black tip.
hottest part of the day, Mountain Nyala lie up in some shady place generally
in the giant heath zone. They often choose a place where anyone approaching
gives them warning by stepping on dried bracken or twigs and they then
disappear in an almost miraculous way - not to be seen again. The best
way to observe them is to select an inconspicuous spot and sit quietly
until about four in the afternoon when they leave the giant heath and
come down among the wider-spaced kosso trees.
is not an endangered species - there is a population of four to five thousand
animals in the Bale region and they are breeding strongly. In fact, it
may well be necessary to cull some of them by controlled hunting in order
to prevent them destroying their own habitat by overbrowsing and breaking
tracks through the undergrowth of the forest cover. Licensed hunting also
brings in revenue to the Wildlife Conservation Organization. Old bulls
with trophy heads (horns over 88 cms. (35 inches) are fairly rare) are
a true sporting challenge to the hunter.
Park protects and preserves a representative section of forest and mountain
unique in Africa and of spectacular beauty, as well as Ethiopia's finest
African hartebeest has fifteen races of which two are already extinct
and Swayne's is seriously endangered.
Brigadier-General Swayne, who discovered the animals, was the first European
to visit the area well south of the Golis range of Somaliland and about
200 kms. (125 miles) from the coast. The plains were described as "covered
with hartebeest, 300-400 to a herd and a dozen or so herds in sight at
any time"- Herds of a thousand individuals were observed. Within
fifteen years the tens of thousands in Haud and Ogo that Swayne had seen
had dwindled to such an extent that he estimated only about 880 remained.
This rapid decline was due to the rinderpest, which swept Africa during
the last century. The Somalis "went out daily and pulled down the
sick animals with their bare hands in order to take the hides". Military
campaigns followed in which the armed forces were permitted to kill as
much game as they wanted. Arms flowed in and in the unsettled conditions
which prevailed hunters very efficiently, and in a very short time, had
almost succeeded in wiping out the remnants of the Oryx and Hartebeest
herds in the area.
are almost grotesquely long-faced and have high withers and sloping hindquarters.
The horns, carried by both sexes, are doubly curved and mounted on a pedicle.
Some authors still consider that according to the shape of the horns,
which is supposed to be the most important diagnostic character, each
race of hartebeest should enjoy full specific rank. However, the presence
of hybrid forms has led zoologists to regard them as a sub-species, and
it is now generally accepted to classify them as geographic representatives
of the same species.
of horns can be distinguished in the buselaphus group:
as in the now-extinct North African buba hartebeest, and in the western
hartebeest from Gambela, Nigeria and Cameroon; V-shaped as in the Lelwel
Hartebeest (A. buselaphus lelwel), Jackson's Hartebeest (A.b.
jacksoni), and the South African cape hartebeest (A.b. caama),
(all of which have very long heads and a uniform red-brown colour).
The third type of horn is shaped like inverted brackets as in Coke's Hartebeest
(A.b. cokii), in the pale tawny A.b. tora from Sudan and
Ethiopia, and Swayne's Hartebeest, previous]y found in both Somalia and
Ethiopia, but now restricted only to Ethiopia.
is the eastern race of tora to whom it is closely related, both species
being smaller than the uthers, but is distinguished from it by its considerably
darker body colour. It is a deep red chocolate brown or chestnut with
a fawn or cinnamon coloured rump, tail and lower half of legs. The tail
tuft is black. Its face and upper parts of its body have dark blackish
markings: a black stripe from the shoulder to the knee, a black smudge
on the flanks, and black markings on the outside of the hind limbs are
typical, but on the darkest individuals these black markings do not show
clearly in the field. Adult specimens sometimes have a silvery appearance
as the hairs are tipped with white. The horns are fully expanded and shaped
like those of the tora; and curve out- wards and slightly downwards from
the top of the head and then sweep upwards at the tips, and are usually,
but not always, hooked backwards and they may or may not turn inwards.
Hartebeest lives in open country, light bush, sometimes in tall savanna
woodland. These are social animals and are normally seen in herds of 4-15,
up to thirty. Each herd is under the leader- ship of the master bull which
leads the females with their young. The territory is defended by the male.
You may often see them grazing peacefully, with the bull on slightly higher
ground acting as sentinel for his herd.
surviving population is now restricted to the grass and thorn scrub plains
of southern Danakil and the Rift Valley lakes region, on the Alledeghi
plains east of Awash and from Awash valley to the southern lakes. The
Nechisar National Park has been established for their protection. Located
on the shores of lakes Abaya and Chamo, the park is accessible from Arba
Minch. The best known herd is about 100 head which inhabits an area of
400 sq. kms. near the shore of lake Chamo. However, the largest known
population is on the heavily settled plain of Senkela in the Shashemane
area. Here there are probably about 500 now in excellent condition but
less likely to survive because of pressure on habitat. This hartebeest
is listed by the IUCN among the species in the world in "imminent
danger of extinction" and is completely protected by law in Ethiopia
(1972 Wildlife Conservation). Pressure on its habitat by human beings
was the main cause of its decline, and it is to hoped that with the creation
of the national park and rigorous enforcement of the protection law, this
beautifully coloured antelope will start to recover its numbers.
highland massif is considered to be the finest scenery in all Africa and
it is for this reason, and the fact that the area is the home of the Walia
Ibex, the Semien Fox and the Gelada Baboon that it has now been gazetted
as a national park.
is not in fact peculiar to the Semyen as is the exclusive Walia Ibex,
but they are more numerous here than in their other habitats Some live
at Debre Sina not far from Addis Ababa and others at Debre Libanos on
the way to the Blue Nile; there are also small populations in the Mulu
and Bole Valley gorges. But in the Semyen there may be as many as 20,000,
and troops of 400 together may be seen. They do not molest humans and,
more surprisingly, the local people do not molest them. Thus they are
very tame and will allow humans to approach quite close to the troop before
moving nearer to the cliff edge.
was discovered in 1835 by the explorer Ruppell, who nan;ed it by the local
name used by the inhabitants of Gonder region where he first observed
it. They are not difficult to study as they are very tame, however, little
interest was shown in them until recently, when Patsy and Robin Dunbar
made an exhaustive study of their social behaviour. The social behaviour
of the apes and monkeys is evidence of a very high degree of intelligence
and studies of their rudimentary social structures are proving of considerable
value in analysing the origins of human social behaviour.
along the edges and steep slopes of precipices. They never move far from
the rim and thus their distribution is linear along the escarpment. At
night they climb down the steep cliff faces to caves where they roost
on ledges, often huddled close together for warmth as Semyen nights are
frosty and bitterly cold. Babies cling tight to their mothers even in
sleep. In the morning in the warm sun they climb up again to the top of
the cliff and spread out to feed. Geladas are mainly vegetarian, living
on herbs, grasses and roots, but they also eat insects and locusts. They
never eat meat, or hunt or kill even small birds or mammals. As a result
of this restricted diet they are obliged to spend a very high percentage
of their lives foraging and browsing in order to obtain sufficient nutrients
to survive. This may explain why they are so extremely peaceable by nature,
with very little squabbling even amongst themselves. They have no natural
enemies (except of course, Man, who takes a fair toll with his rifle.
The great mane of the adult male is used for traditional headresses by
feeding, "grooming" is their other main pastime. This entails
simply picking through each other's fur. This is not only a friendly and
peaceful occupation, but it serves also to establish bonds between various
members of a 'harem' and to cement the accepted relationships in the hierachy,
between male and female, older and younger members.
narrow plateaus of the Semyen slope up- wards from the south until they
end in the dizzying precipices of the northern escarpment. This is the
haunt of the Walia, and the Gelada do not frequent these vertical cliffs,
but the rims of the stupendous gorges and ravines which bisect the plateau.
The troops tend to graze the higher moorlands, amongst everlastings, giant
lobelias and alchemilla-tussock grass. Never far from the rim, which is
their refuge when danger threatens, they disappear over the edge on to
the grassy slopes and ledges of the gorge sides. Their grazing ranks are
so arranged that the males are always farthest from the edge and thus
it is "women and children first" when they have occasion to
flee to safety.
comparatively large and impressive, the males being about 75 cms. (30
inches) tall without tail and twice the size of the females. Their sad
up- turned faces are marked with large ridges running from below the outer
side of the eyes to the nose. The face is dark grey with wrinkles and
very long whiskers, forming falciform tufts of light coloured hairs projecting
upwards and backwards on the sides of the head. Their nickname, "bleeding
heart baboon" stems from the bare red skin areas on the chest, which
are actual]y two triangles, and another crescent-shaped on the throat.
Both sexes have these bare places. In the female the fleshy "beads"
which surround the bare patch swell up and turn from whitish to bright
red to indicate estrous condition. In the males the patches are always
red and do not change colour. The old males have a cape of very long hair
which hangs down (to the ground when they are sitting) and tufted tails
which have earned them another name - lion monkey. The female's mane is
much less impressive than the male's. Both sexes are a light to dark brown,
the fur cape shading from one colour to another as it moves in the mountain
breezes. They are found at more than 4,500 metres (14,600 ft.) and have
even been seen at the top of Ras Dashan at 4,620 metres (15,160 ft.) where
tbere is nothing fox them to eat, so they must just go up to look at the
appearance and the beauty of their habitat is one thing, but perhaps the
most fascinating aspect of these creatures is their social structure which
is the most complex in the animal kingdom after that of man. You see them
grouped into herds of up to 400 or so individuals, each of which is made
up in turn of "harems", which are groups of from two to eight
females and young ones with one dominant male and often one hanger-on
called a "follower", who ingratiates himself with the juvenile
females, with a view to enticing them away in due course and forming his
own harem. Harem owning males do not attempt to steal each others' wives.
get together in groups from the age when they finally leave their mothers
until they are mature enough to become a follower. These various social
groups all move and feed together, only occasionally leaving the herd
if food supplies demand it. They travel about three miles a day while
feeding, and sleep on ledges on the cliff face wherever they happen to
be when night falls.
is a very close family unit. Ninety-five percent of the social interactions
of adults are with other members of the same harem. Only juveniles and
babies cross the invisible boundaries to play with others of their own
age. Unlike the Hamadryas baboon, where the harem is kept together by
male agression, the Gelada harem is run more or less by solidarity between
the females. It is they who decide in which direction they will feed,
it is they who instantly rally together if their male should threaten
any one of them because she strayed too near another male! Only one of
the females has a strong relation- ship with the male at any given time.
But they all groom each other as well as him and thus establish a jealousy-free
harmonious relationship with each other.
For a young
male to acquire a harem of his own is quite a long and difficult process.
He starts off when he is about two leaving his mother's harem in favour
of play groups of other juveniles. By the age of three he starts playing
around with the younger members of the all-male groups, and at four he
things of nothing else but joining one (which is not always easy as the
groups are very tight and do not readily welcome new members). Having
succeeded he settles down to life as a bachelor sub-adult in his group.
When he is about five or six, he begins to show an interest in the harems
again. He doesn't want to anger the adult male of any harem so he confines
his activities to following along, occasionally grooming with the male
but mainly amusing himself with the young females - the ones too young
to cause jealous feelings in the old male. Should the old male die or
become weak, the young one will take his place, but it is more common
for the youngster just to gradually withdraw taking with him several of
the young females. This is not a sudden break - the one group just spends
progressively more time on its own. The male then sets about getting a
few more females from other harems - young females belonging to a harem
with no follower may join him before their father takes an interest in
years each male has a succession of followers who take away his daughters
to form the nucleus of their own harems; a system which prevents in- breeding.
Sometimes a younger male may persist in paying court to the wives of an
older, and generally harrass him. The few fights which occur are usually
the outcome of such behaviour. The old one finally, after trying to retain
his females' loyalty and affection, may give up the struggle. If so, he
does not retire from the harem - he just adopts the follower role and
spends his retirement grooming and playing with the juveniles.
of the Geladas are very delicately balanced. To communicate their intentions
they have need of a fairly subtle range of signals. They have therefore
acquired a great diversity of social behaviour patterns and vocalizations.
Greater in fact than any other non-human primate. For examp]e, where the
olive baboon has fifteen contact calls, and the colobus six, the gelada
makes twenty-seven distinct noises. To hear him speak, is as it were to
listen to a foreign language being spoken. The expressions on the face
are in fact signals with a distinct meaning: the raising of the eyebrows
reveals two red triangles above the eyes - a warning signal; the rolling
back of the upper lip in a ghastly smile, a flash of red gums and white
teeth, signifies (as perhaps does the human smile) appeasement, and thus
avoids possible conflict.
So far, the
gelada is not on the endangered species list, and now that he lives protected
in at least one of his habitats, one can hope that he never will be. How-
ever, the occasional random slaughter "for fun" of these beautiful,
gentle and intelligent creatures should be curbed for obvious reasons.
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