By Nick Crane

The incredible Simien escarpment runs forabout 50km east to west. It is the remnants of what was once a huge volcano at the northernend of the African rift valley. Carved by ice anderoded over millions of years by heavy rainfall, it now forms one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. In 1969 it was inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. This was essentially for two reasons. Firstly the incredible scenery; thelandscapes are awe inspiring and they really give the visitor the feeling of being on the roof of Africa.

Secondly because of three unique animals which only live in this area.The easiest animal to spot is perhaps the gelada mountain monkey. There is great debate at the moment amongst those who claim that this ape a baboon and those who refer to it as a monkey. However they are best described as a member of the ape species in their own right. Next is the very rare Ethiopian wolf. They are often referred to as the Simien Wolf and there are only about seventy animals remaining. If there were just one case of rabies, which could potentially be introduced by a domestic dog, then we could see them disappear forever. Finally there are the Walia Ibex. Their numbers are now increasing but this is perhaps down to the fewer predators such as the leopard and hyena. These predators tend to be hunted or poisoned by the local people. Wildlife experts are keen to point out that the walia is returning. Great news maybe this is due just as much to the reduction in predator activity than to conservation efforts.

However the biggest threat to the Simiens is perhaps the one thing that can actually be beneficial -Tourists. In the past five years the tourist numbers have increased five fold, largely due to the availability of a good lodge. There are currently about 22000 visitors a year to the Simiennational park and potentially the numbers could increase still further. However with only one access road there are cases of congestion during the peak months of October, November and January. Not everybody is sure that increasing numbers is a good thing. All tourists want to protect the environment but not every tourist knows how. Litter has become a problem for wildlife causing disease. In addition there have been recent cases of humans feeding the gelada.

This could have disastrous effects in future on these highly intelligent primates who will readily accept food if offered. They could so easily become a nuisance like the anubis baboons in other African national parks. All of the wildlife activity happens along the escarpment. The gelada use the steep cliffs for night-time protection from the predators and the walia cling to the cliffs in places where the leopard cannot reach. The vultures and eagles use the escarpment for lift but tend to get snared and electrocuted by the high voltage cables that now run along the ridge. In the final analysis, tourists need to be encouraged to walk or horse ride into the primary national park areas. 

Encouraging more motor vehicles could see the demise of this amazing park in a very short period of time. September is a great month to visit the Simiens before the main tourist season. This is actually the best month for photography when the light is not too strong. Nick Crane is one of the High Five team who manage the Simien Lodge.



When not in the Simiens, Nick lives in

deepest France and breeds ducks.