Ankober - Debre Sina escarpment

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
This site comprises the extremely steep escarpment and a narrow strip of the plateau overlooking the Afar, from just north of Ankober, north to the area above Debre Sina in the vicinity of the Tarma Ber. Ankober is on an ancient route from the lowlands of the Afar up onto the central Ethiopian plateau. The topography of the area is steep and dissected by ravines and gorges through which rivers and streams tumble down the eastern escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. The altitude ranges from 1,650 m near Tach Gorebela to 3,700 m near Kundi on the plateau. Man has for a long time heavily impacted the natural vegetation of most of this area. What little natural vegetation remains is to be found on the very steep sides of cliffs and inaccessible valley bottoms. Gosh Meda is a narrow strip at the eastern edge of the plateau, where the land is mostly over 2,800 m and peaks rise to 3,500 m. The eastern escarpment begins dramatically with sheer cliffs and steep slopes up to 1,000 m high. The vegetation is moist to dry Afro-alpine moorland with some stunted Erica arborea and shrubby Helichrysum spp. in sheltered places between rocks. In the open areas, over rocks and on the cliffs, many plants (such as Festuca spp., other grasses and Sedum spp.) grow in clumps, tussocks or cushions as an adaptation to the extreme of climate. Until recently, most of the area was used only for grazing cattle and sheep. However, since the 1970s, increasing expanses of moorland have been cultivated for barley.

The best-preserved area of natural forest is in the valleys of Wof-Washa. Wof-Washa forest lies between Debre Sina and Ankober in North Shewa Zone. It covers 13,000 ha in Baso, Werana and Ankober Weredas. The forest is on very steep slopes in (mostly east-facing) narrow valleys, with altitudes ranging from 2,000 m to 3,730 m. Wof-Washa is a montane, mixed (broadleaved and conifer) forest, the main species being Hagenia abyssinica, Olea europaea cuspidata and Juniperus procera at the higher altitudes, with Podocarpus falcatus and Allophylus abyssinicus lower down. At c.3,000 m, Erica arborea, Hypericum revolutum and giant Lobelia spp. replace the large trees. There are also extensive patches of the endemic Kniphofia foliosa, and clumps of Helichrysum spp. and Festuca grass. The herb layer within the forest is rich in species. Attempts have been made to build a logging road, but these have failed and the only timber taken out is what people can carry. When farmers are very busy with their cultivated crops, cattle are turned into the forest to range unattended; this represents the main use of the forest. Above the forest, the main activity is subsistence farming (barley, sheep and cattle). The cultivation of fields for barley has now expanded onto the steepest slopes that used to be covered with Afro-alpine vegetation.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. This site supports the only known population of Serinus ankoberensis, a species confined to areas between 2,800 m and 3,750 m along the escarpment rim from Ankober to Tarma Ber, a distance of c.20 km. S. ankoberensis is typically not uncommon along the broken hilltops, and on the steeply shelving, near-vertical cliffs of the escarpment. The species also makes use of land adjacent to the escarpment edge, feeding on the uneven terrain of recently ploughed land. Breeding occurs at Gosh Meda between October and February, but it may breed in any season following heavy rain. The restricted-range Myrmecocichla melaena occurs in small numbers on rocky terrain adjacent to Gosh Meda, and in ravines and gorges at other points along the escarpment edge. Other species of interest recorded at this site include Gypaetus barbatus, Buteo oreophilus, Falco peregrinus, Accipiter rufiventris, Tachymarptis melba, Schoutedenapus myoptilus, Hirundo rupestris and Monticola solitarius.

Non-bird biodiversity: Theropithecus gelada (LR/nt) is still numerous at the top of the cliffs. A population of Canis simensis (CR) in the high-altitude area of Ankober was last recorded in 1991.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The main conservation issue of the area is the destruction of the remaining natural vegetation on the steep slopes of the mountains at the top of the escarpment. Once cleared for cropping, soil is soon washed away. Erosion started at the top could have a devastating effect on the ecosystems below. However, the farmers appear to have little choice: population pressure is forcing them constantly to expand their cropped area. The practice of planting exotic trees, particularly Eucalyptus, now an important cash-crop in the high-altitude areas, is further reducing the available habitat for indigenous flora and fauna. Considerable potential exists for cooperation in the conservation of the very steep slopes of the rift wall and adjacent natural vegetation above the escarpment rim. This could cover many aspects of natural forest conservation: community forestry, watershed management, soil conservation, fuelwood supply, recreation and tourism. Should the opportunity arise, the area would be ideal for the reintroduction of Capra walia (CR).

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Ankober - Debre Sina escarpment. Downloaded from on 16/10/2021.