Although a tad bit long, this section does not disappoint. Bear with us and continue reading. I promise that you will be left with a new sense of appreciation of this area and what we are trying to accomplish.
A land steeped in mystery and tradition, the Bale region of Ethiopia lies 400km (248 miles) south of the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. This is a land rich in natural resources, breathtaking landscapes and unique wildlife.
In the heart of Bale, lies Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP). The park comprises an area of roughly 2,200km2 (849 miles2) and extends over a wide altitudinal gradient ranging from 1,600m to 4,377m above sea level. The park’s span over this gradient gives rise to numerous ecosystems.
In the northern extents of the park, rolling grasslands and verdant juniper-hygenia woodlands dominate the landscape. This region is rich with wildlife like cerval cat, caracal, spotted hyena, duiker, the endemic Menelik’s bushbuck and the largest global population of the endemic mountain nyala, just to name a few.
Moving south into the center of the park, one finds themselves on the breathtaking Sanetti Plateau; the largest contiguous tract of afro-alpine moorland in Africa, which is ringed by erica forest and scrub. This frigid and seemingly barren landscape is in fact teeming with unique wildlife such as the world’s largest population of the endemic Ethiopian wolf, the entire global population of giant mole rat and several other small mammalian species, and a plethora of birds of prey.
Continuing south, the Sanetti Plateau abruptly ends plummeting dramatically for 1,500m (4,921ft.) and from these precipices emerge the enchanted Harenna Forest. This moist tropical forest comprises about 50% of the park and is further divided into several unique elevational vegetation belts. In all, the Harenna Forest represents the Ethiopia’s second largest intact natural forest and contains the country’s largest cloud forest.
Here lie tracts of thick bamboo, giant podocarpus, dripping hygenia and, our favorite, coffee forest. When in bloom coffee blossoms fill the understory with their white glow and in mimicking a perfume retailer, anoint all with their pleasant fragrance. Later the when the cherries ripen and redden, the understory sags under the weight of this natural gift.
This vast forest also supports astounding levels of biodiversity. Its inhabitants lurk, fly and root themselves inconspicuously among the towering canopy trees and almost unknowingly to the passersby. This is home to atypical populations of lion and African wild dog, the endemic Bale monkey, giant forest hogs, leopard, jackal, and a suite of other species.
More surprisingly, and due to the Harenna’s remoteness and the difficulty in penetrating its verdant depths, the forest and its species remain relatively obscure to modern science. Even now, the few, and in our opinion, lucky, expeditions that venture into the Harenna, return with exiting new discoveries and new species previously unknown to science.
Interested in visiting yet?
BMNP is a center of endemism that is crucial for the survival of numerous threatened and endangered species. It is the most important part of Conservation International’s Ethiopian Highlands Biodiversity Hotspot, a distinction held by only 34 other ecosystems in the world. It is also tentatively listed for UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve status and is ranked as Africa’s 4th best birding destination by the African Birding Club serving as a crucial stop over for numerous migrating birds.
The importance of this place is unquestionable, even being stated as the most endemic terrestrial habitat known on earth. If it disappears more species of plants and animals would go extinct then if any other similar size piece of the earth was obliterated.
This is only the start.
The Bale Mountains also provide substantial hydrological services to arid lands at lower elevations. The region receives large amounts of orographic rainfall, rain elicited from moist air as it is forced to higher elevations, and has critical dry season water holding capacity. The 4 major rivers that originate from the mountains support an estimated 12 to 15 million people in Southeastern Ethiopia, Central Somalia, and parts of Northern Kenya.
Protecting these hydrological services and the astounding array of unique life has been made a conservation priority by BMNP, Ethiopian officials and local stakeholders alike, and the park has even been declared as the most important conservation area within Ethiopia.
Impressed? We are and because of this, we are working hard, hand-in-hand with locals to protect and conserve this amazing and unparalleled region of our planet.
Manyate [ma ñyƐ ti] Village
Located just south of the southern boundary of Bale Mountains National Park and nestled in beautiful old growth coffee forest, lies Manyate village. It is comprised of about 250 households situated around several natural forest clearings, termed glades, which are primarily used for grazing. Besides rearing livestock, the community also engages in small-scale farming of cereal and fruit crops. Residents are primarily of Oromo descent and the spoken language here is Afan Oromo. The community is welcoming and are quick to invite guests in for coffee, tea and a meal.
Coffee dominates the culture here and comprises the primary source of income for locals. Its harvest is eagerly awaited by everyone and the village experiences a population spike when the coffee ripens and people from far and wide return home to take part in the harvest. During this season, coffee is even used as a form of currency with beans passing through hands like dollars through the stock exchange.