Does Ethiopia’s Wildlife Best the Big Five?
It’s a long drive from Addis Ababa to Bale Mountains National Park. Long, but absolutely glorious – past donkeys, sunny fields, hills, plateaus, red dirt paths and traditional circular houses painted in upbeat shades of purple, green and blue. It’s the kind of drive that lulls you into a trance as the sky slowly changes colour and the roads get rockier, until hours later, at the far reaches of the park, you stop at Bale Mountain Lodge.
A short stroll from the lodge and you’re quickly enveloped in a thick forest. Pick your way past the huge knarled trees, clumps of moss, and pink, bell-shaped flowers, gently pushing looped vines out of your path, until you suddenly find yourself in a wide clearing. And it’s here, if you’re lucky, you might just find some of the planet’s rarest creatures.
This particular clearing is in the park’s Harenna Forest, which is the largest cloud forest in the country. Solemn-faced colobus monkeys with bright white beards swing in the trees, looking after their babies and letting out the occasional hoot. Keeping them company are the noisy silver-cheeked hornbills, Abyssinian oros, with their cheerful, bubbly call, starlings and iridescent tacazze sunbirds. Down on the ground (keeping a careful distance from human visitors), a family of giant forest hogs snuffle about in the grass. Butterflies flit about and the odd bushbuck picks its way quietly through the undergrowth. You half expect Snow White to come skipping out into the sunshine with a couple of cute squirrels in tow.