When we’ve mentioned Ethiopia in the past it’s been clear that many people have come to think of it simply as a country of famine, desert and drought. Such is the power of television! The fact is that about half of the country, the central plateau where the vast majority of the people live, is extremely fertile and enjoys quite a pleasant climate that includes plenty of rain. The economy is based largely on agriculture and the country is a major producer and exporter of coffee. There is spectacular scenery with mountains rising to more than 4,000 metres, rivers, gorges, many lakes and a great diversity of habitats for wildlife.
Jemma River Gorge, Debre Libanos
Covering more than 1.1 million square kilometres Ethiopia is a big country (more than twice the size of Spain) and during our short visit, even though we probably spent more time than we would have liked travelling, we were able to see only a relatively small part of it.
Most tourists go to Ethiopia to see the many historical sites, the rock-hewn churches, the castles and the monasteries: it goes without saying that we were there for the wildlife, mainly the birds.
Blue-winged Goose - one of the easiest endemics to see
Just how many birds have been recorded in Ethiopia isn’t an easy question to answer. Likewise, it’s difficult to be precise about how many endemic species there are. Research the regular internet websites and you will find a variety of conflicting figures. Partly, of course, these differences result from varying approaches to splitting and lumping, the nightmare that is currently avian taxonomy! The African Bird Club has the total as 816 species and lists 14 as endemic and another 17 as near-endemic.
The latest estimate of the country’s population that we have been able to find is 90.8 million and with 46.3% of those being under the age of 15 years it’s clear that this figure is set to rise steeply. Habitat destruction, overgrazing and deforestation are already very evident and it is difficult to see how the situation can become anything other than considerably worse.
The country is famous for producing athletes, mostly long distance runners. Ask most people to name a famous living Ethiopian and the betting is that the name Haile Gebrselassie will be amongst the first to be mentioned. Olympic gold medallist and possibly the greatest distance runner of all time, Haile Gebrselassie is also a highly successful and wealthy businessman and it was remarkable that this national hero was one of the first people we saw when we arrived at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. Even more remarkable was that we bumped into him again the next day 100 kilometres further north at Debre Libanos where he was filming a television commercial and we were looking for the endemic Rüppell’s Black Chat. What a nice guy!
Look out for more from our Ethiopian adventure shortly…