Bale Mountains National Park is on the south-east Ethiopian plateau, in Bale Zone of Oromiya Region. The zonal capital, Goba, is on the north-eastern side of the park. The park headquarters are on the northern border at Dinsho, 400 km by road from Addis Ababa. The Bale mountains are formed of ancient volcanic rocks that are now dissected by rivers and streams that have cut deep gorges, in some places resulting in beautiful waterfalls. The mountains rise from the 2,500-m plateau to the west, north and east of the park. The Sanetti plateau, which dominates the northern section of the park, reaches 3,800–4,200 m on top of the mountain block, and is broken by several peaks including Tullu Deemtu (4,377 m), the highest mountain in southern Ethiopia and second-highest in the country. Small lakes form in the numerous shallow depressions on the Sanetti plateau during the wet season. Larger, permanent lakes like Garba Guracha, Hora Bacha and Halla Wenz, are mostly found on the eastern side of the plateau. The northern section of the park covers the valleys of the Web and Danka rivers. The northern highland block is separated from the Harenna forest by the spectacular Harenna escarpment that runs diagonally from west to east across the middle of the park. The southern border of the park, at 1,600 m, represents the southern limits of the Harenna forest, the largest intact forest block in the country. Bale Mountains National Park supports a wide range of habitats and encompasses the largest tract of Afro-alpine vegetation in continental Africa. The Harenna forest increases in species-richness from the low-altitude, open-canopy dry forest at 1,500 m to the very moist, often cloud/mist-covered forest at and above 2,400 m. At these higher altitudes the trees support a high density of epiphytes and woody climbers and, as the canopy is not very dense, a rich herb layer is present. Juniperus procera forest is found in the northern parts of the park and also on the east around and above Goba. Around Goba there are also patches of Olea europaeacuspidata. The tree-heathers Erica arborea and E. trimera form a forest (up to 8 m tall) that replaces Juniperus procera at c.3,200 m. Such forest is best-developed on the top of the Harenna escarpment where the trees are festooned with lichens, particularly Usnea. Above this, only the tree-heathers persist, and then only as scrub 1–3 m tall. This vegetation continues up to the Afro-alpine moorland at 3,800 m. The Afro-alpine moorland in this park is extremely rich in endemic plants, with predictions of 30% highly plausible. The most striking plants are the giant Lobelia spp. and cushions of everlasting flowers Helichrysum spp., particularly H. citrispinum and H. splendidum. A shrubby lady’s mantle Alchemilla haumannii that is endemic to the mountains in southern Ethiopia is also present. The park is used for grazing domestic animals, and consequently fire is used to control the growth of woody vegetation (Erica spp.) and to stimulate new growth for grazing. The park contains hot (mineral) springs that the farmers value for their animals. There is also some cultivation of barley to c.3,000 m (sometimes to 3,500 m). The forests are traditionally used for gathering honey and other forest products, and for grazing.
See Box and Table 3 for key species. Bale Mountains National Park is extremely important for its avifauna. Over 265 species have been recorded, including six Ethiopian endemics (Vanellus melanocephalus, Poicephalus flavifrons, Dendropicos abyssinicus, Macronyx flavicollis, Parophasma galinieri and Serinus nigriceps) and many threatened species. Due to its unique diversity and density (4,000 kg/ha) of rodents, the Bale mountains are very important for wintering (and passage) raptors. Both Aquila clanga and A. heliaca are uncommon migrants with some birds wintering. Aquila nipalensis, A. rapax and A. pomarina have all been recorded on passage and/or wintering. Circus macrourus is ‘not uncommon’ on the moorlands of the Sanetti plateau during passage and in winter, and small numbers of Falco naumanni have been recorded at similar times. The area supports the only sub-Saharan population of Aquila chrysaetos. Rougetius rougetii and Macronyx flavicollis are ‘not uncommon’ residents. The wetlands and moorlands of the Sanetti plateau are particularly important for small numbers (1–4 pairs) of Grus carunculatus. Breeding attempts have been reported on the tarns of Sanetti (at c.4,000 m) in the wet season between June and September, with birds leaving the high plateau in the dry season. A unique, isolated sub-Saharan breeding population (c.30–80 birds) of Tadorna ferruginea exists on tarns on the Sanetti plateau. The breeding population of 60+ Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax is the southernmost population in Africa. The endemic subspecies Sylvia lugens griseiventris frequents the low, scrubby junipers above Goba and elsewhere, and Corvus ruficollis edithae occurs, particularly around Goba.
Non-bird biodiversity: Bale Mountains National Park was established to protect two endemic mammals: Tragelaphus buxtoni (EN) and Canis simensis (CR). Tragelaphus buxtoni, an endemic antelope discovered in 1910, thrived under the protection, with the population increasing to c.2,000 by 1990. Canis simensis also thrived. However, during the political turmoil of 1991, many Tragelaphus buxtoni were killed as some local people demonstrated their resentment of the park. By the end of 1991 the population of this species in the park had been reduced to c.200 animals. Canis simensis also suffered and continues to be persecuted. The park supports 68 mammal species (including bats). Other notable taxa include the endemic Tachyoryctes macrocephalus, known only from the Sanetti plateau, and Tragelaphus scriptus meneliki. The few collections of reptiles and amphibians from the park have found new records for Ethiopia, as well as undescribed species.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The park was set up in 1970, but has not been legally gazetted. After the population of T. buxtoni was devastated in 1991, a local council was established and the killing was stopped. However, cattle were allowed to graze in the Gaysay flats and T. buxtoni continues to be disturbed. Canis simensis is reportedly hunted on the Sanetti plateau where it is easily accessible from the road that passes through the park. The population is also affected by interbreeding with local dogs, and this has caused canine distemper and rabies. Local people have always used the park, particularly the Sanetti plateau and Harenna forest, but in the 1970s few people lived in the park and now more than 2,500 people and their livestock are resident, particularly in the fertile river valleys in the north and on the Sanetti plateau. Burning of Erica spp. has increased, and the grazing pressure on the Afro-alpine moorland is very high. It is hoped that the local council set up to help develop plans for the park will be able to reduce the pressure from human usage on this unique and fragile area. In the Harenna forest there is a conflict between the need for lumber for the wood industry, and the need to conserve the part of the forest that is within the park boundaries. However, a sawmill has been installed at Mena, to the south of the Harenna forest, and the large timber trees are being logged out. There is also an increasing use of the forest to supply construction material, fuel and charcoal for the expanding urban populations in the area.