Bale Mountains National Park
More than any other Park in Ethiopia, the Bale Mountains National Park is known for its wildlife. Over 60 mammal species and 260 bird species have been recorded here. The scenery may be less spectacular than the Simien Mountains’, but it is certainly no less beautiful. As you approach the park from Dodola, ridges to the east are punctuated with fortress like escarpments, while those to the north are gentler, their rounded rock pinnacles dotting the ridges like worn teeth protruding from an old man’s gums. Within the park, rivers cut deep gorges; alpine lakes feed streams; and water accepts gravity’s fate at several waterfalls. In the lower hills, Highlanders canter along century old paths on their richly caparisoned horses, and the abundant wildflowers, beautiful birds such as the Malachite and Tekezze sunbird flit about.
The park stretches over 2400 km2 and ranges in altitude from 1500 – 4377 meters. The Harenna Escarpment splits the park in to two, running fracture like from east to west. To the northeast of the escarpment lies the high altitude plateau known as Sanetti Plateau (4000 meters). The plateau is broken by a series of volcanic plugs and small peaks, including Tullu Deemtu, which at 4377meters is the highest point in southern Ethiopia.
To the south, the land gradually falls away from the plateau, and a thick heather belt gives way to heavily forested areas known collectively as the Harenna Forest.
Wildlife in Bale national park
The park can be divided into three main Zones. The northern area of the park, around the park headquarters at Dinsho, consists of grassy, river plains and bush land of mainly sagebrush and St John’s Wort. From 2500 – 3300 meters, wood land mainly Hagenia Abyssinica and Juniperus Procera is found. The abundant wild flowers in the area include geranium, lobelia and alchemilla. Higher up, mountain grassland gives way to heather. Here the plant can be found not only as little bushes, but as large and mature trees.
The second zone, the Sanetti plateau, is home to typical Afro-alpine plants, some of which have adapted to the extreme plants, some of which have adapted to known the extreme conditions by either remaining very small or becoming very large. The best known is the curious-looking giant lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum), which can reach 5 meters in height. The silver Helichrysum or ‘everlasting’ flowers are the dominant wild flowers. Keep an eye out for the indigenous Abyssinian rose, with its lovely subtle scent.
The third habitat, is the moist, tropical Harenna Forest, is home to tree species such as Hagenina, Celtis and Podocarpus.
The Bale Mountains are known for their endemic wildlife, particularly the endangered Ethiopia Wolf and Mountain Nyala. The sighting of an Ethiopian Wolf, the World’s rarest canid, is a highlight of a trip to the Bale Mountains, and is almost guaranteed on the Sannetti Plateau. But there are plenty of other no-less remarkable endemics to be seen, including Menelik’s Bush- Buck and the giant Mole rat. Other large mammals commonly seen in the northern are include Grey Duikers, Bohor reedbucks and warthogs. Serval cats and Anubis baboons are occasionally seen.
In the Harenna Forest, giant forest hogs, bush pigs, warthogs, Columbus monkeys and spotted hyena are all found as well as leopards, lions, and African hunting dogs. The last three are rarely seen. Bale is also famous for its incredible number of endemic birds-16 at the last count. Usually, the endemics are very easily seen. On the plateau, sightings of endemics (the blue winged goose, wattled ibis, thick billed raven, Abyssinian long claw, black-headed siskin, pot breasted plover, and Rouget’s rail) are almost guaranteed. The birdlife in the juniper forests around the park headquarters is outstanding too: to try to spot the elusive Abyssinian Catbirds and yellow fronted parrots.
The best time to visit and explore the park at the hottest and driest time of the year is fall between December and February, but late September to early December is when the scenery is greenest and the wildflowers are out. Night time temperatures between December and January are also the coldest-frost and snow are occasionally seen.