Here we provide a general overview of the central wildlife you’ll find in the SMNP, your chances of seeing each species, and the places/times you’re mostly likely to see them.
Geladas (Theropithecus gelada)
These Old World monkeys are one of Ethiopia’s treasures. They are sometimes called baboons, but actually are in their very own genus! Although they are closely related to baboons, they diverged at least 6 million years ago and exhibit a behavioral repertoire, diet, social system, and evolutionary niche that are very different from those of baboons. Together, these traits make this primate one of Ethiopia’s most remarkable endemic (meaning that they are only found in Ethiopia) species.
Ecology: Geladas are the most gramnivorous (grass-eating) and terrestrial (ground-dwelling) of any non-human primate. Unlike baboons, geladas only exist in the Ethiopian Highlands, at altitudes of over ~2,000 meters.
Social Structure: Geladas have complex societies with many levels. The “reproductive unit”: 2-15 related females, 1 dominant male (the “leader”), young offspring, and a subordinate male(s) (the “followers”). The “band” is comprised of many reproductive units that come together to forage during the day. The “herd” is formed when multiple bands associate together. “All-male groups” are formed by adult males (“bachelors”) that eventually challenge leader males to take over reproductive units.
Viewing Likelihood: Extremely high!
Where to See: You will have the opportunity to see large gelada bands throughout the park, starting after the park gate/Simien Lodge area and stretching all the way to the Chenek campsite. They are commonly seen by the Sankaber camp. Take some time to walk slowly among them and observe their complex social behaviors. Geladas are active throughout the day (~8am-5pm, varies by season). See our tips for the best wildlife viewing experience here.
For more on geladas, please visit the Simien Mountains Gelada Research Project website.
Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis)
This specialist wolf is the rarest canid on earth and the most endangered carnivore in Africa, with fewer than 500 remaining in the wild (and none in captivity). Like the gelada, this wolf species is endemic to the Ethiopian highlands. The largest population is found in the Bale Mountains National Park, but a small population can be found in the SMNP around the Chenek campsite (>3,000m).
Ecology: Ethiopian wolves specialize on afro-Alpine rodents and lagomorphs such as mole-rats and hares. While many of their wolf relatives are widespread, Ethiopian wolves occupy high altitude (above ~3,000m) grassland and herbaceous habitat.
Social Structure: Ethiopian wolves live in packs of 6-15 animals. Males remain in their natal group, while natal females disperse to unrelated groups before breeding. Within the strict dominance hierarchy among females in a group, only the most dominant female reproduces, and the other females contribute care to her offspring. Packs begin hunts together, but generally complete hunts alone.
Viewing Likelihood: Low/medium-low. You can increase your chances of seeing wolves by staying at least two nights at the Chennek campsite. Day-trippers have little time to spend in this area and are highly unlikely to see wolves.
Where/When to See: In the SMNP, you are most likely to see wolves near the Chenek campsite and in the Bwhait area past Chenek. Wolves hunt during the day, and thus will be difficult to see, but may frequent the campsite area at dusk.
For more on Ethiopian wolves, please visit the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Project’s website.
Walia ibex (Capra walie)
Even more restricted than the gelada and the Ethiopian wolf, the Walia ibex exists only in the Simien Mountains. This species, related to the other goats of the Capra genus, numbers between 200-400. You might recognize them as the inspiration for Ethiopia’s Walia beer!
Ecology & Social Structure: Walia live in areas of the SMNP that rise above 2,400m. They feed on a number of woody and herbaceous plants, and congregate in fluid, mixed groups that contain unrelated males and females. Females may be more solitary than males outside of the mating/birth seasons, when they form ‘nursery groups’ with other mothers with dependent offspring. This may be an adaptation against predation. Males become more solitary during the mating season, when intra-male competition is high.
Viewing Likelihood: Medium-high.
Where/When to See: You will only see Walia at or above the Chennek campsite area (Bwhait). They are active during the day.
African golden wolves and black-backed jackals
Until recent genetic evidence showed that African golden wolves are more closely related to grey wolves and coyotes than to jackals, we referred to this species as the “common jackal” (Canis aureus). The golden wolf of the SMNP now joins ranks with numerous golden wolf subspecies spread across Northern and Eastern Africa. The black-backed jackal remains a jackal.
Ecology & Social Structure: Like other canid species, both African golden wolves and black-backed jackals are able to vary their diet and social organization according to the distribution of resources in a given area. No work has yet been done on the specific ecology and social structure of either population in the SMNP. Generally, African golden wolves live in groups that consist only of breeding pairs and their dependent offspring, and occasionally aggregate in larger groups (particularly when a group-feeding opportunity presents itself in the form of large-bodied felled prey). These wolves are omnivores, consuming a diverse diet that includes fruits, insects, rodents, and ungulates.
Viewing Likelihood: Low/medium-low
Where/When to See: African wolves are active during the day, but may be very skittish and avoid people. Trekkers are more likely to opportunistically spot this species.
Klipspringers and bushbucks
Leopard, spotted hyena, rock hyrax, birds
Snyder-Mackler et al. (2012). Defining higher levels in the multilevel societies of geladas (Theropithecus gelada). International Journal of Primatology, 33(5), 1054-1068.
Sillero-Zubiri et al. (1996). Male philopatry, extra-pack copulations and inbreeding avoidance in Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 38(5), 331-340.
Randall, D. A., Pollinger, J. P., Wayne, R. K., Tallents, L. A., Johnson, P. J., & Macdonald, D. W. (2007). Inbreeding is reduced by female-biased dispersal and mating behavior in Ethiopian wolves. Behavioral Ecology, 18(3), 579-589.
Alemayehu et al. (2011). Population dynamics of Walia ibex (Capra walie) at Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. African Journal of Ecology, 49(3), 292-300.
Dunbar & Dunbar (1981). Grouping behaviour of male walia ibex, with special reference to the rut. African Ecology, 19, 251–263.
Koepfli et al. (2015). Genome-wide evidence reveals that African and Eurasian golden jackals are distinct species. Current Biology, 25(16), 2158-2165.
Admasu, E., Thirgood, S. J., Bekele, A., & Karen Laurenson, M. (2004). Spatial ecology of golden jackal in farmland in the Ethiopian Highlands. African Journal of Ecology, 42(2), 144-152.