Bale Mountains National Park: Paradise in Ethiopia I

bale mountain national park

The Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP), our country’s jewel, is an extraordinary place to visit. This unique place with its awe inspiring ecosystem is a dream come true for all wildlife lovers. So to reach to this paradise, one has to journey 400 km from the capital Addis ababa to the Bale zone in Oromia region. The Bale Mountains national park encompasses an area of approximately 2,150 square kilometres. For those of you who are geography nuts, you might want to know that it houses part of the Bale-Arsi massif and forms the western section of the south-eastern Ethiopian Highlands. It is also the home to the fourth highest mountain in the country, mount Tullu Dimtu.

What sets this park apart from any other park in Ethiopia or for that matter in Africa is because it has one of the highest incidence of animal endemicity of any terrestrial habitat in the world. Put simply, there are a lot of animals in Bale Mountain national park that you won’t be able to see elsewhere. Additionally, the park is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Habitats of Bale mountains national park

Due to the secluded location of the park, it has remained relatively undisturbed by human activities. As such, the park’s ecosystem has thrived. The bale mountain national park has five distinct and unique habitats, each with it’s own unique fauna (animal) and flora (plants):

  1. Erica Belt
  2. Harenna Forest
  3. Sanetti Pleateau
  4. Northern Woodlands
  5. Northern Grasslands

1) Erica Belt: Moorlands and Forest

The first of these habitats is the stunning Erica belt, with its moorland and forest. These forests are straight out of fantasy. Woods of giant heather dressed in moss and old man’s beard (a lichen) lends to a fairy tale appearance. Erica arborea also known as tree heath (it’s a large shrub), is quite rare elsewhere in Ethiopia. It grows to staggering proportions here – up to 5m on the edge of the tree line.

bale mountains national park
Erica forest
bale mountain national park forest
Erica forest

Mountain nyala, Menelik’s bushbuck, and grey duiker live in the area in relatively large numbers but are hard to spot due to vegetation densities. Klipspringers and hyraxes are also common. The Bale Mountains are the only area where both male and female klipspringers have horns.

2) Harenna Forest

The southern and largest area of the park consists of the second largest forest in Ethiopia, the Harenna forest. It constitutes an area of over 4,000km2. Incidentally, it also is the largest cloud forest in the country.

The upper area of the Harenna forest is a wet cloud forest with an extensive bamboo belt, while the lower parts are dry mountain forest.

In the lower areas of the forest, wild forest coffee grows. Because the forest is so dense and clearings are few and far between, the elusive animals of the forest have little trouble staying hidden.

harrena forest

3) Sanetti Plateau & Upper Web Valley

Due to the altitude, plant diversity here is low. However, one of the notable plant species is the giant lobelia growing to a maximum height of 6m. Among the plateaus here, stands mount. Tulu Dimtu the fourth tallest mountain in Ethiopia, and the tallest in Bale.

The plateau is also home to Ethiopian wolves (red fox) and a trip to the plateau all but guarantees a sighting of this charismatic carnivore.

Bale Mountains National Park: Paradise in Ethiopia I
The majestic Ethiopian wolf
Bale Mountains National Park: Paradise in Ethiopia I

4) Juniper Woodlands

The juniper woodlands cover the northern slopes of the Bale mountains massif, reaching from Dodola to Dinsho. These woodlands are under intense pressure from grazing, inhibiting the growth of new trees.  African juniper (Juniperus procera) dominate the woodlands.

Northern grasslands

The land is flat, dominated by swamp grasses and sedges, especially of the Cyperus and Scirpus genera and becomes muddy during the rainy season.

The Northern grasslands are the best place for viewing the endemic mountain nyala – sometimes up to 50 in a herd.

Avifauna of Bale mountains national park

Rated by the African Bird Club as the number four birding site in Africa. its home to over 282 species of birds, including nine of the 16 species endemic to Ethiopia. Furthermore, over 170 migratory birds have been recorded within the park.

With over 863 species of birds recorded, representing approximately 9.5% of the world’s bird diversity and 39% of the bird species in Africa, Ethiopia is often considered one of the most avifaunal-rich countries in Africa. Additionally, Sixteen of Bale’s bird species are endemic to Ethiopia.

Geology

The Bale Mountains were formed prior to the formation of the Great Rift Valley, from lava outpourings million years ago. The main Bale highlands consist of the vast lava Sanetti Plateau, with at least six volcanic cones, each more than 4,200 meters high and considerably flattened by repeated glaciations.

Hydrology

The Bale Mountains play a vital role in climate control of the region by attracting large amounts of  rainfall thus has an obvious implications for livestock and agricultural production. over 12 million people from Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are dependent on water from the Bale massif.

A total of 40 rivers rise in the BMNP area, contributing to five major rivers:

  • Web, 
  • Wabe Shebele, 
  • Welmel,
  • Dumal and
  • Ganale.

Additionally, the Bale mountains massif is the source for many springs in the lowlands, which are of paramount importance as they are the only source of water year-round.

Lastly, there are numerous natural mineral water springs, locally called horas, which provide an essential source of minerals for livestock. The mineral springs within the park are valued for their high mineral content and local pastorals believe that in order to maintain good health and milk production their livestock must be given hora water.

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