Awash National Park lies either side of the main Addis Ababa–Assab highway between the towns of Metahara and Awash Station. Most of the park, including the headquarters, is in Arsi Zone of Oromiya Region, but a northern section extends into Afar Region. The headquarters are 95 km east of Nazaret and 225 km east of Addis Ababa. Fantalle mountain, a semi-dormant (but still smoking) volcano rising to 2,007 m, dominates the northern half of the park. The mountain is bounded by the Sabober plains (at about 900 m) to the west, the Addis Ababa–Assab highway and Awash river to the south and east, and the Filwoha springs and Kesem river to the north. Awash National Park is in one of the most geologically active regions of the world. The results of eruptions from Fantalle mountain dominate the park landscape. Lava-flows, cinder cones, deep fissures, steam vents and other volcanic features can be seen throughout. Recent volcanic activity has resulted in the eruption of fresh lava from several fissures, and one such lava-flow crosses the main highway near Lake Beseka. Grassland, savanna and shrubland dominate the park. Grasslands are found within the crater and on the slopes of Fantalle mountain as well as on the surrounding plains. Inside the crater and on the crater rim the dominant grass is the tall tussocks of Cymbopogon sp., intermixed with small shrubs including a Lavandula sp., a favourite food of the endemic Serinus flavigula. The perennial tussock-grass Chrysopogon plumulosus, a highly palatable and important species for domestic and wild grazing animals, dominates all the remaining grassland areas. Much of the grassland in the north and west of the park is overgrazed, resulting in up to 50% bare soil and rock and the domination of invasive, unpalatable species such as needle grass Aristida spp. Lowland Acacia spp. (A. tortilis, A. senegal, A. nilotica) and Balanites aegyptiaca are the most common of the large trees in the savanna, while the shrubby and very spiny small Acacia spp. (A. nubica and A. mellifera) dominate overgrazed areas. Shrubby areas around the grassland are more mixed with some Acacia, Grewia spp., Psiadia incana and Vernonia sp. The riverine forest supports figs, Dobera glabra and Syzygium guineense, which have large fruits attracting many birds and mammals. The Filwoha hot springs are surrounded by an almost pure stand of Hyphaene thebaica with Sporobolus consimilis and S. spicatus on the saline soil. On the nearby lava-flows are several trees of the Somali–Masai restricted species, Moringa peregrina. In the early 1970s, Lake Beseka covered only 3.3 km². By 1990 it measured 35 km² with a maximum depth of 10–12 m. This recent steady increase has required the road and rail lines on the lake’s northern side to be raised several times, and historically the lake has expanded to more than 10 times its present size. The present increase has been attributed to an inflow of fresh water from irrigation and rainwater run off. Details of the park’s vegetation, birds and socio-economics are documented in Jacobs and Schloeder (1993).
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. Over 460 species have been recorded. Serinus flavigula is not uncommon (over 35 birds) on Fantalle mountain where a very small population of Cercomela dubia can also be found. Both Falco naumanni and Circus macrourus occur in small numbers during spring and autumn passage, with some individuals of both species overwintering. Other passage species include Aquila heliaca (rare) and Acrocephalus griseldis (uncommon). Nearly half the Somali–Masai biome species occur in the park. Of particular note are Pterocles decoratus, Caprimulgus stellatus, Mirafra gilletti, Cisticola cinereolus, Cisticola bodessa, Lanius somalicus and Onychognathus salvadorii. The park is situated on a major flyway for Palearctic migrants, with large numbers of warblers and other species moving south through the area in September. Many species, and large numbers, of waterbirds have been recorded from the park—though some of these were probably recorded from Lake Besaka which, when it was much smaller and probably less chemically contaminated, was more productive than it is currently. During the early 1970s, the eastern side of the lake was sometimes covered in flamingoes. The presence of an as-yet-undescribed Hirundo cliff swallow, and an unidentified Serinus (with a white rump) suggests that the avifauna of the park is far from completely known. In addition, three species of the Sudan–Guinea Savanna biome also occur; see Table 3.
Non-bird biodiversity: A total of 76 mammal species (including bats) has been recorded. Alcelaphus buselaphus swaynei (EN) was reintroduced in 1974. Equus grevyi (EN) used to occur but its current status is unknown. Papio hamadryas (LR/nt) occurs, interbreeding with Papio anubis in a 5-km-long hybrid zone along the Awash river (above the Awash falls).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Awash National Park was established in 1966 (primarily to protect the threatened mammals) and received legal status in 1969. The area has received much attention in the past and now has c.180 km of tracks, an airstrip, headquarters (including a small museum), staff buildings, a caravan hotel and a campsite to cater for visitors. Unlike many of the other parks, the infrastructure at this site was not destroyed during the upheavals in 1991, largely due to the efforts of the park staff to develop a healthy dialogue with the local peoples. However, the park management faces many problems of which the most important has been and still is the inter-tribal conflict between the traditional rights of the Kerreyu, Afar and Itu pastoralists for dry-season grazing and access to water, and the absence of adequate alternatives or compensation for these people. Human pressure is escalating (there are several permanent settlements in the park), and the various tribal groups and their animals have moved into much of the park (but mostly on the west and northern sides). Fires are frequent. Pollution of the Awash river and Lake Beseka from a sugar estate and other large-scale irrigated farms upstream is a problem and needs to be monitored. Similarly, the road and the railway, which bisect the park, are hazardous for the animals, provide easy access for poachers, and should be monitored.