Simen Mountains National Park is on the northern edge of the Ethiopian central plateau, overlooking the Tekeze gorge. It is 132 km from Gondar, the capital for North Gondar Zone. The park is scenically dramatic, and comprises a narrow strip of land along the top of the cliffs (at 3,300–3,800 m), the cliffs themselves, with sheer drops of c.1,000 m, and another strip of land at the bottom (down to c.1,900 m). The highest peak in the park is 4,430 m. The main habitats are: Afro-alpine grassland on the highest areas; ericaceous forest below 3,500 m and, on the steep slopes at the top of the gorge, a mixture of tussock-grasses; cliff-hanging herbs and small shrubs on the cliffs; and montane coniferous forest and grassland at the lowest altitudes. There are also fast-flowing, permanent streams, very high waterfalls and rocky areas. The Afro-alpine flora is important because it contains a high proportion of regional and local endemics. For example, 10 species of grass (19%) recorded from the Simen area are endemics. The grassland is dominated by tussock-grasses including Festuca gilbertiana, which is only known from the Geech plateau in Simen. The most conspicuous plants at these high altitudes (all Afro-alpine endemics) are giant Lobelia species and Kniphofia foliosa. A stonecrop, Rosularia semiensis, is also endemic to the Simen mountains. The dominant tree of the ericaceous belt is Erica arborea with patches of Hypericum revolutum and H. quartinianum. Few areas of pristine Erica forest (i.e. where trees meet overhead and the ground is covered with grasses and other herbs) remain. Those that do are where the slopes are too steep for men to climb down and cut trees. Crops are cultivated and domestic animals graze throughout the area, even on the steep slopes. On the plateau, barley is the only crop grown, while at lower altitudes the cereals are more typical of the highlands. The villagers of Geech weave traditional cotton cloth, and the park employs a number of local people.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Over 137 species are known to occur within the park, including a high proportion of the Afrotropical Highlands biome assemblage such as Francolinus castaneicollis, Agapornis taranta, Tauraco leucotis, Thamnolaea semirufa, Psuedoalcippe abyssinica, Onychognathus albirostris and Oriolus monacha. Below the escarpment four Somali–Masai biome species and one Sudan–Guinea Savanna species have been recorded. The park is thought to support important populations of Vanellus melanocephalus on the Geech plateau and, on the cliffs, Columba albitorques, Thamnolaea semirufa and the restricted-range Myrmecocichla melaena. During the 1960s it was suggested that Vanellus melanocephalus bred on the Geech plateau, but there are no recent reports to confirm this. A small population of Macronyx flavicollis is known to be present. A small population of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax lives on the Geech plateau, apparently entirely separate from the population in the Bale mountains, the only other population of this bird in the region. This area is particularly rich in raptors and vultures. Small numbers of Circus macrourus are recorded seasonally and Gypaetus barbatus and Buteo augur are generally common throughout the park. Other spectacular species include Aquila wahlbergi, A. verreauxii, Polemaetus bellicosus, Spizaetus africanus, Accipiter rufiventris, Falco alopex, Bubo capensis and Asio abyssinicus.
Non-bird biodiversity: The most abundant large mammal is the endemic Theropithecus gelada (LR/nt). Other large herbivores include Capra walia (CR) and the endemic Tragelaphus scriptus meneliki. There are also numerous rodents, including two endemic species of rat, that live in the Afro-alpine grasslands. Canis simensis (CR) also occurs. A number of endemic plants are mentioned above under ‘Site description’.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The Simen Mountains National Park was gazetted in 1969—one of only two National Parks to be gazetted in Ethiopia. It was set up primarily to protect Capra walia and the impressive, rugged scenery. In 1978, the park was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the first 15 years of its establishment, a park-management structure was created, staff living-quarters built, staff employed, and some of the more destructive activities of the local people controlled. By the early 1980s, as a consequence of these efforts, the population of Capra walia had risen to around 500 and it was easy for any visitor to see these animals. However, between 1984 and 1991, the civil war in the north-east of the country spread to the Simen area. Staff were driven out, living quarters were destroyed and the large mammals (including Capra walia) were shot at and scared away or killed. In 1994, a count of Capra walia found only 62 animals inside the park (with greater numbers found outside). It is estimated that only 12–24 Canis simensis remain in the Simen area. A survey in 1995 estimated that 11,000 people now live in and around the park, at least 72% of these inside it. A large part of the park has now been devastated by cultivation and grazing activities. Other problems include fires and the construction of an all-weather road through the park to Mekane Birhan. All the resources in the park are threatened, and urgent conservation action is needed. In 1995, the Regional Government, with concerned local and international NGOs, started the process of developing a management strategy for the park and its surrounding area based on community participation. There is now much interest from the Amhara Regional Government, Central Government and international authorities to assist in the rehabilitation and conservation of this important area.
BirdLife International (2017) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Simien Mountains National Park. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 12/12/2017.