animals in ethiopia

5 Bucket List Experiences with Animals in Ethiopia

Ethiopia doesn’t have the same reputation for safaris as Kenya or Tanzania, but there’s no shortage of unique experiences with animals in Ethiopia, known as the Roof of Africa. In fact, Ethiopia’s diverse landscapes and isolated mountains mean that the country boasts some of the most unique animals on the continent.

For many travelers, having a unique and ethical experience with animals in Ethiopia can be the highlight of the trip. These five bucket-list experiences with animals in Ethiopia are perfect for any traveler interested in wildlife and looking to add a bit of adventure to their itinerary.

wildlife in ethiopia
Giedriius / Depositphotos

Best Experiences with Animals in Ethiopia

1. Search for the Ethiopian Wolf in the Bale Mountains

With less than 170 animals remaining, the Ethiopian wolf is Africa’s most endangered carnivore and amongst the most endangered species on the planet. They are endemic to Ethiopia, found in only six isolated places across the country, and there are no Ethiopian wolves in captivity. Ethiopian wolves are protected (under Ethiopia’s Wildlife Conservation Regulations of 1974, Schedule VI), and the punishment for killing a wolf is up to two years in prison.

More than half of the Ethiopian wolf population is in the Bale Mountains, mainly in the Web Valley and the Sanetti Plateau. They normally live at an elevation of more than 3,200 meters, although farming at 3,500 to 3,800 meters has pushed them to live even higher. Along with agriculture, their numbers are threatened by traffic accidents, shootings, breeding with dogs, and disease (especially rabies). 

Ethiopian wolves usually mate between August and November, with the new babies being born between October and January. When pregnant, female wolves’ fur turns yellow and wooly. When the babies are born, they’re blind and deaf, with a grey coat. Since hyenas and raptors love to eat baby wolves, the mothers hide their children in a complex system of underground dens, raising the young as a group.

After about two years, they start to look like adults, with distinctive red and white fur. The older an Ethiopian wolf is, the more distinct their white marking become, and the higher their social rank becomes in the pack. Ethiopian wolves generally live for eight to ten years.

Despite the dangerous idea of a “wolf,” Ethiopian wolves are only medium-sized animals, not weighing more than twenty kilograms. While hunting larger prey in groups is not unheard of, they pose a minor threat. In fact, according to the bones found in their droppings, the vast majority of their diet is rats and other small rodents.

2. Feed the Hyenas in Harar

Harar is famous for being Ethiopia’s walled city, and while Harar historically had only five gates built for people to pass through, the wall is spotted with small passageways for waraba — hyenas.

Hyenas have been a part of Harar’s history since the city was founded, serving as unofficial garbagemen and clean-up crews for city streets. In fact, hyenas are such a part of the city that leaving porridge out specifically for hyenas has become a part of the local Islamic tradition for certain holidays.

Now, feeding the hyenas has become a nightly ritual, done partly for tourists to witness and partially to make sure that Harar’s hyenas don’t search for meat in other ways. Visitors to Harar can witness this feeding, including feeding the hyenas themselves — and, for the bravest, holding the meat between their teeth!

animals in ethiopia / Depositphotos

3. Spot Walia Ibex in the Simien Mountains

In addition to seeing the incredible landscapes, mountains, and waterfalls of the Simien Mountains, many travelers go in search of a glimpse of the Walia Ibex.

Don’t get confused: despite the fact that Walia Beer is brewed in Bedele (Oromia Region) and Addis Abeba, the Walia Ibex lives in the Simien Mountains, in the northern reaches of the Amhara Region. They live between 2,400 and 2,600 meters and are found nowhere outside of the Simien Mountains National Park.

The Walia Ibex is the southernmost species of ibex found in the world, and one of the most endangered animals on the planet. An estimated 400-500 Walia Ibex remain in the Simien Mountains, and there are none in captivity. The uniqueness of the ibex’s situation is that even if the ibex were to breed more rapidly and increase their numbers, the ecosystem has been limited by human encroachment and can only sustain a population of approximately 2,000 ibex.

In order to avoid the extinction of the species, it has been suggested that ibex be introduced into other Ethiopian parks with similar climates, such as the Guassa Community Conservation Area in the Shewa Zone of Amhara. So far, however, the ibex remains endemic to the Simien Mountains.

The Walia Ibex generally lives around edges of cliffs. They are both browsers and grazers, meaning that they eat almost any plant — grass, lichen, bushes, and trees. While they eat in more forested areas, they shelter on the cliffs. Their suction cup-like feet, with concave undersides and sharp edges, allow them to navigate the steep cliffs and avoid predators.

This dual habitat — both forests and cliffs — pose an additional challenge for the Walia Ibex, specifically in the Simien Mountains National Park. The majority of the Walia Ibex population lives between the Adarmaz Camp and the Chennek Camp. Roads which have been constructed through the park (specifically from Mindigebsa to Sankaber and Chennek to Bwahit) split the forests from the cliffs, making it difficult for the ibex to move between their two habitats.

4. Witness the Great Kob Migration in the Gambella National Park

The white-eared kob (Kobus kob leucotis) is an antelope that lives in South Sudan and Ethiopia, migrating between the two countries as the seasons change (of course, the kob don’t know where the border is). They start around the Bandingilo National Park in South Sudan (just northeast of Juba), where they spend the rainy season (approximately May through December).

As the dry season approaches and the rains fade away, herds of kob migrate up to Boma National Park (in South Sudan), and then across the Ethiopian border into Gambella, mostly to Gambella National Park. This migration takes place between December and January, with the journey taking about a month to complete.

When the rains begin again, and Gambella becomes too wet, the kob head back towards Bandingilo (usually around April or May).

The number of kob involved in this migration is estimated to be 500,000-700,000+ animals, making the second largest animal migration on the African continent (the largest being the migration of wildebeest in Kenya and Tanzania). The kob’s migration patterns are similar to the tiang and Mogalla gazelle — therefore, combined, the migrating herds can have well over one million animals.

5. Glimpse the Wild Kundudo Horses

Said to be the last remaining feral horses in East Africa, the Kundudo herd roams the mountains in Fafan, near the intersection of the Somali and Oromia regions in eastern Ethiopia. As the legend goes, Emperor Haile Selassie got his first horse from this herd. With that history, and because of how rare they’ve become, the Kundudo horses have gained almost a mythical status.

Now, with only approximately 30 horses remaining in the herd, and the herd being located well off the major tourist routes, getting a glimpse is both an adventure and a real treat.

Unforgettable Wildlife in Ethiopia

If you’re looking for unique wildlife experiences in Africa, Ethiopia might be the perfect destination for you. Off the beaten path and completely unique, these up-close-and-personal experiences with wildlife in Ethiopia will be ones you’ll never forget. Start planning your trip of a lifetime!

Diana Grote
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Diana writes Avagu Press, which focuses on language-learning and travel. She lived in Ethiopia for several years, speaks Amharic, and will go to great lengths to obtain injera.