Sof Omar

Country/territory: Ethiopia

IBA Criteria met: A1, A3 (1996)
For more information about IBA criteria please click here

Area: 18,000 ha

Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society

Site description
Sof Omar is in the middle of Bale Zone, 120 km east of zonal capital Goba. With over 15 km of passages, Sof Omar is Ethiopia’s longest cave system. The Weyb river flows from its source in the Bale mountains, through the caves, finally joining the Genale river at Dolo on the border with Somalia. Before entering the caves, the river passes through a valley cut into the limestone. The sides of the valley, which comprise large fossil-rich limestone blocks, are covered with a wide variety of small trees, bushes and climbers. The more level areas and border of the river are covered in fine black soil that supports some larger Acacia and fig trees. The vegetation-type is described as Commiphora–Kirkia–Acacia woodland and bushland. Many species, such as the shrubs Commiphora monoica and Euphorbia baleënsis, and a crustacean are only known from this area (some also occurring at Shek Husein, site ET043). There are almost certainly as-yet- undescribed species in this isolated limestone area. The caves and the entrance area are a shrine named after the Muslim saint Shek Sof Omar. The shrine is well-visited by pilgrims, and is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. Many of the trees in the area, although small, produce hardwood prized for making charcoal, or coloured woods that are carved into household items. There is some cultivation, particularly in the higher-rainfall areas towards Ginir.

Key biodiversity
See Box and Table 3 for key species. Sof Omar is an important site for Serinus xantholaema. The narrow limestone gorge adjacent to the cave entrance is where most recent records of this rare species originate. Records (between 1989 and 1996) of up to eight birds both from within the gorge and up to 8 km west of the bottom of the gorge suggest that the population is stable. Other species include the biome-restricted Spreo fischeri and Onychognathus salvadori (the first breeding record of which came from this site), and the uncommon Cercomela scotocerca.

Non-bird biodiversity: None known to BirdLife International.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Sof Omar. Downloaded from on 22/01/2022.