SIMEN MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, ETHIOPIA

 

 

History of Establishment

The simen mountains national park was gazetted on 31st October 1969.It was one of the first sites to be inscribed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978.The reason for its inscription was its rich biodiversity, its high number of endemic species and its bio-physical features.

 

Geographical Location

The national park is situated between 1309-13012N and 38000-38012E in the North Gondar zone in the Amhara National Regional State in the north and north-western of Ethiopia. It is 120 Kms north-east of Gondar.

 

Area

The national park currently encompasses 205KM2.

Altitude

The altitude ranges from 1900meters up to 4430m.asl.

 

Physical Features

It is an afro-alpine undulating grassland plateau, with precipitous escarpments dropping away north and east, giving spectacular views of peaks and canyons, which are outside the park. To the east this landscape includes Ras Dejen (4624m.asl), the highest peak in Ethiopia.

 

Climate

The rainfall pattern in Simen Mountains is characterized by a single rainy season and the highest amount is between June and September. The average annual rainfall is between 1350mm up to 1550mm, varying with altitude. Frost may occur at night during the winter months (Nov.-Mar.). Temperatures range from a minimum of -2.5-+40c and to a maximum of 110c-180c. During the day there are often drying winds.

 

Geology

The Simen area was built up by plateau basalt (Trapp series). A 3, 000-3,500m thick sequence of basaltic volcano layers was deposited on Mesozoic sandstone and limestone that form a 500m thick cover over the Precambrian crystalline basement. These layers are composed of numerous 5 to 50m thick olivine-basalt lava flows, inter bedded with tuff layers. The main part of the Simen area consists of remnants of a Hawaiian-type shield volcano, overlying the volcanic flows of the Trapp series. The center of this volcano probably lays north-west of the peaks Kiddisyared, with Ras Dejen, Silki and Bwahit forming the outer rim of the crater. The extreme escarpment appeared to be preconditioned by an extended up lift of the whole massif during the tertiary, comprising major faults which can be attributed to the Rift system extending over most of East Africa to the Red Sea. Harder rocks on the foot of the escarpment preconditioned the development of the terrace-like steps which today form a favorable area for settlement and agriculture.

 

 

Topography and Geomorphology

 

There are four distinctive geomorphic units that can be differentiated along with altitudinal ranges:

  • The deeply incised lowland valleys bellow 2000m.asl;
  • The lowland terrace-like steps (roughly at 2000m.asl), which comprises the main cultivation and settlement area of this belt:
  • The step escarpment between 2000 and 4000m.asl, extending in a SW-NE direction, which forms the main wildlife habitat;
  • The highland plains and valleys south of the escarpment, a densely settled and cultivated area.

 

VEGETATION

Simen Mountains are a part of the afroalpine center of diversity with high number of endemism due to past isolation by glaciations. The vegetation in Simen Mountains are of characteristics of the Ethiopian Tropical Seasonal Highland Biome, demonstrates the evolutionary links to both palaearctic and Afrotropical realms, and contains vegetations which are characteristics of each.

The floristically rich vegetation grows in four vegetation belts: Afromontane forest, Erica/ Hypericum forest, Afromontane Grasslands and Alpine Moorlands.

There are about 253 species of plants which are belonged to 176 genera and in 100 families. Of these, about 20 species of plants are endemic to the country, and 4/5 plant species are near endemic to Simen Mountains.

 

FAUNA

In Simen Mountains National Park 21 large mammals have been recorded. Of these, the endangered walia ibex (Capra ibex walie) is near endemic to Simen, the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis simensis), the rarest canind in the world, Gelada baboon (Theropiticus gelada), the only extant species in its genera, and Menilik bushbuck are endemic to the country. There are 14 species of small mammals. Of these, 3 of them are endemic to Ethiopia. Similarly, 63 bird species have been recoded and 10 of them are endemic to Ethiopia. Among the bird species 25 are vultures and 4 species are raptors. The endemic bird species are, spot billed plover (Haplopterus melanocephalus), White collared pigeon (Colmba albitorques), Black winged love bird (agopornis taranta), Black headed forest oriole (Orioles menarche), White winged cliff chat (Myrmicocichla semirufa), Ruppels chat (Myrmicocichla melaena), Black headed siskin (Serinous nigiceps), Abyssinian cat bird (Parophasma galinieri), Abyssinian long claw (Macrnyx flaricorlis), White billed starling (Orychognathus albirostris).

 

Tourism

Though Simen has had a great potential for tourism, realization of its potential is still not possible yet. Tourism in Simen is at its infant stage. It is because of the presence of long civil war , and there were no any conducive environment for tourism to grow and develop in the country during the past decades. The national park and its surroundings were barred from visitations by war between 1983 and 1991. However, number of visitors has increased since the aftermath of war. Number of visitors was 58, in1992; it has reached 5074, in 2004/05. Similarly, tourist services and facilities have also increased since 2000. For instance, potable water development; construction of standardized toilets; maintenance of tourist trekking routes, have been conducted in various tourist camp sites. In addition, a private Lodge is under construction near the periphery of the national park boundary; private hotels are under construction in Debark town; local communities have been organized in various service giving associations such as guide, cook, mule teller and porter. In the year 2004/5, these associations have obtained an income of more than 700,000 ETH.Birr. Furthermore, the traditional trekking route that connects Simen to Lalibela, a cultural World Heritage Site, had been surveyed and the possibilities of trekking route establishment were also studied.

 

Cultural Heritage

The Simen region is surrounded by old cultural centers like Axum, Lalibela and Gondar. It has been inhabited by farmers for at least 2,000 years. Its location is at the crossing of old trade routes, records of its various local features were made in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Major Threats

A.     Habitat changes through settlement and deforestations

The area had been suffering from a strong influx of settlers for the last decades. The human population is still arising. It grows 2-3% per year on average subsequently, intensive cutting of tree heather, cutting of long grass in the ranges in and around the escarpment for roof coverage have changed the traditional walia ibex habitats in slopes above the escarpment in an intensive man-used zone. More people need more cultivation land, need more fire wood, create more pollution. People produce bushfire; keep domestic dogs and goats, which can interbreed with Ethiopian wolf and walia ibex respectively.

B.     Habitat changes through cultivation all accessible areas are cultivated up to an altitude of 3,800m.asl.just, and below the forest limit. Pronounced soil degradation due to soil erosion and loss of soil has exhausted virtually the productive potentials of cultivated lands, and the people living in and around the national park are food insecure and are depending on relief food.

C.     Habitat loss through grazing

The stocking density inside the park is very high. Overgrazing has devastated the afroalpine grassland ecosystem. It has also a negative consequence for the vegetation, for the soil preservation, for the chances of survival of Ethiopian wolf in Simen Mountains. It will have also a negative effect on the available food for the graminivorous Gelada baboon, which depends primarily on the alpine grasslands. Overgrazing in the ericaceous belt has reduced the Erica plants and the regeneration capacity of Erica seedlings, and damage to the undergrowth has a negative effect on the hiding and nesting sites.

D.     Habitat Changes and Destruction of Indigenous Forest through Road Constructions.

The road constructed to connect Debark town with Mekanebirihan had posed a lot of threat to Walia ibex, Klipspringer, and gelada baboon by separating their foraging habitat from their sheltering cliffs. It cuts straight the main corridors of Walia ibex. It also destructs indigenous forest, endemic flora afroalpine grassland and landscape.

 

Current Conservation status

The national park boundary is extended to include the Lima limo and Mesareriya Wildlife Reserves, to the west and east of the national park respectively. These two wildlife reserves are currently managed by the park office.

The erection of boundary beacons along the newly delineated park boundary is undertaken. Anew map for Simen Mountains National Park is being prepared. These activities have led to gazette the new areas which have been extended to the national park.

The population of walia ibex had been dropped to 250 individuals in 1994, however; because of the various conservation measures taken by the Amhara National Regional State, the number of walia ibex has increased to more than 620 in 2004/5. Similarly, the number of Ethiopian wolf has also increased from 40 in 2003 to 71individuals in 2005. This increase in numbers of Ethiopian wolf may be an increase of counting blocks outside the park that have never been counted before by the park staff.

 

Conclusion

Even though the current status of the national park has shown a progressive improvement, some of the major threats are still there, remaining unsolved. Unless the local people who are residing in the core area are relocated outside the national park and are compensated for their properties, managing and maintaining the national park and its internationally recognized heritage values seems to be difficult.