Omo National Park

Year of compilation: 2001

Site description
Omo National Park is on the west bank of the Omo river in the lower Omo valley. The park is c.140 km long, stretching from the Neruze river in the south to the Sharum plain in the north, and up to 60 km wide where the Park Headquarters are situated. Major land features include the Omo river on the east, the Maji mountains and the Sharum and Sai plains in the north and west, and the Lilibai plains and Dirga Hills to the south. There are three hot springs, and the park is crossed by a number of rivers, all of which drain into the Omo. The important Mui river crosses the middle of the park. Much of the park is at c.800 m but the southern part by the Neruze river drops to 450 m. The highest peak in the Maji mountains is 1,541 m. The edges of the Omo river, which borders the park along its length to the east, are covered by close stands of tall trees including Tamarindus indica, Ficus sycamorus and F. salicifolia, Kigelia aethiopium, Phoenix reclinata, Terminalia brownii, Acacia polyacantha and others. A well-developed shrub layer combined with woody and herbaceous climbers provides dense cover along the edge of the river which, however, is frequently broken by incoming streams and the activities of the local people and animals (particularly Hippopotamus amphibius). Away from the river edge, dense stands of Euphorbia tirucalli abound, the canopies shading standing water long after the rains have abated. The park also embraces extensive open grasslands interspersed with stands of woodland species, and bush vegetation.

The park is home to the Surma, Kwegu and Dizi peoples, with the Bume making much use of areas in the south and the Mursi crossing the Omo river from the east. These people are pastoralists and hunter-gatherers, but also cultivate a few crops on the river levees, and make extensive use of the river’s resources. They hunt wild animals for meat, skins and items to sell, in particular elephant tusks. The lower Omo valley as a whole, including Omo and Mago National Parks, is one of the least-developed in terms of modern-day investments. The poor road network in the region is perhaps one reason why the area has stayed intact. This has assisted in delaying the destruction of the lifestyles of the people who live there as well as the balance of natural resources on which they depend. The track from Jinka in the east to the edge of the Omo river is only accessible in the dry season (August–February). Another track, from Maji to the Omo National Park on the west, is almost impassable and is mostly used only by Omo National Park vehicles and a few other adventurous visiting groups. Omo National Park was established to conserve the area’s rich wildlife and develop the area for tourism. However, the potential of the Omo river (between the two parks) for recreation and tourism activities has not been fully realized. Since the mid-1970s, the National Parks—Omo to the west and Mago to the east of the river—have not been able to attract many visitors, largely as a result of the communication barrier created by the Omo river and the very poor tourist facilities in the parks. This is now being remedied. A ferryboat is being refurbished to take people and vehicles across the river near to the Omo National Park headquarters. As from 1993, the number of visitors coming to the lower Omo has been increasing: private tour companies bring tourists to the edge of the river in the dry seasons. The visitors come to enjoy the wildlife, to meet the Mursi and some of the other ethnic groups, and even to white-water raft on the Omo. A former hunting camp along the high banks of the Omo, in Murle, now serves as a well-maintained safari lodge.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. The current bird list for the park is 312 species. The riverine forest along the Omo river is important for several different bird groups, including herons and egrets, kingfishers, barbets, chats and thrushes, woodpeckers, pigeons, shrikes, warblers and flycatchers. Halcyon malimbica is a recent discovery in these forests. Somali–Masai biome species include Laniarius ruficeps, Turdus tephronotus, Cisticola bodessa, Lonchura griseicapilla and Plocepasser donaldsoni. Phoeniculus damarensis, Turdoides tenebrosus and T. plebejus are also present. Palearctic species, especially waders, are fond of the hot springs at Illibai. In the dry grassland around these springs Cercopsis egregia has been recorded, one of the few places known for the species in southern Ethiopia. In addition, two species of the Sudan–Guinea Savanna biome have been recorded at this site; see Table 3.

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International. The current mammal list for the park is 73 species, and the reptile diversity is reportedly high.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Omo National Park is vitally important for the diverse and abundant wildlife, yet it does not have legal status. It was established in 1966 for wildlife protection and until the mid-1970s the park developed successfully. However, during the subsequent 20 years, both the infrastructure and staff morale deteriorated dramatically, and lack of necessary infrastructure, particularly roads, has hampered any recent progress. The European Union has started a pilot development scheme in the region to enhance tourism potential and the capacity of park personnel. The negative impact of fires lit by neighbouring pastoralist communities to clear dense bush has been overstated, even though such fires have sometimes burnt uncontrolled across large areas. The threat posed by shifting cultivation as practised by the local people is debatable as the areas they clear can become too densely covered with thorny and unpalatable plants for either wildlife or domestic animals to penetrate. Other conservation problems include intensive subsistence and commercial hunting, and a lack of dialogue between the authorities trying to establish the park and the people for whom the area is home. The Omo riverbanks are used for flood-retreat cultivation more by the Bodi, Mursi, Bume and Dasenetch peoples than the other ethnic groups. This kind of cultivation is practised after the river waters recede during September. The principal crop is sorghum and the average plot size is c.0.25 ha per household.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Omo National Park. Downloaded from on 01/07/2022.