Bale Mountains National Park

Markos National Park Aug 17, 2021


Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP) is a national park in Oromia regional state pf Ethiopia. The park encompasses an area of approximately 2,150 square kilometres (530,000 acres) in the Bale Mountains and Sanetti Plateau of the Ethiopian Highlands. The park's Afromontane habitats have one of the highest incidences of animal endemicity of any terrestrial habitat in the world. The park was nominated to the World Heritage Tentative List in 2009. Bale Mountains National Park is located in southeastern Ethiopia, 400 km southeast of Addis Ababa and 150 km east of Shashamene in the Oromia Region National State.

The boundary of the BMNP lies within five woredas (districts): Adaba (west), Dinsho (north), Goba (northeast), Delo-Mena-Angetu and Harena-Buluk (southeast). The park area is encompassed within geographical coordinates of 6 degree29' 7degree 10'N and 39 degree 28 39 degree 57E'. The Bale Mountains are part of the Bale-Arsi massif, which forms the western section of the southeastern Ethiopian Highlands.

Bale Mountains and park landscape.
Geology and glaciation
The Bale Mountains were formed prior to the formation of the Great Rift Valley, from lava outpourings which covered all underlying rock formations between 38 and 7 million years ago. The rocks of the volcanic outpourings are predominantly trachytes, but also include rhyolites, basalts, and associated agglomerates and tuffs. The main Bale highlands consist of the vast lava Sanetti Plateau, with at least six volcanic cones, each more than 4,200 meters high and considerably flattened by repeated glaciations.

There have been at least two glacial periods in the history of the mountains and they were glaciated as little as 2,000 years ago. During the Last ice age, the Bale Mountains were one of the most extensively glaciated areas in present day Ethiopia, with a total area of ice in Bale of approximately 180 km2. There was a 30 km2 ice cap around the peak of Tulu Dimtu (the second highest mountain in Ethiopia) on the Sanetti Plateau and individual glaciers of considerable thickness reached down to 3,200 meters. As a consequence, the landscape as we see it today is the lava outpourings much modified by over 20 million years of erosion by water, wind and ice.

There are certain geological features that remain an enigma to geologists and glaciologists such as the striations that appear on shallow hillsides on the Sanetti Plateau. Boulder grooves (large stone sorted stripes two to four meters wide and eighty meters long), till ridges and numerous glacial valleys, such as the Togona Valley on the northeast facing slopes of the Sanetti Plateau, provide evidence of the ice-age effects on the landscape of BMNP. Until the beginning of deglaciation (13,000 to 14,000 years ago) the snowline was at 3,700 meters and the upper tree limit in the Bale Mountains was well below 3,000 meters. Fluctuations in climate over the last historical period, including the last 3,000 years, have dramatically affected the vegetation and other biodiversity in the highlands.

Stream in the park
Hydrology
The Bale Mountains play a vital role in climate control of the region by attracting large amounts of orographic rainfall, which has obvious implications for livestock and agricultural production. Some 600 - 1,000 mm fall annually in the lower altitude areas, while 1,000 - 1,400 mm fall in areas of higher altitude, and over 12 million people from Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are dependent on water from the Bale massif.

A total of 40 rivers rise in the BMNP area, contributing to five major rivers: the Web, Wabe Shebele, Welmel, Dumal and Ganale. Additionally, the Bale massif is the source for many springs in the lowlands, which are of paramount importance as they are the only source of water year-round. People living south of the national park are completely dependent on good management of the water resources from the highland areas. If the flow of these rivers is altered in any way through deforestation, overgrazing of pastures and/or over abstraction for irrigation (all of which are occurring at present) a highland/lowland imbalance results with loss of perennial water in the lowlands. If such a situation arises, the dry season range of the people and their livestock reduces dramatically and they concentrate about whatever water source remains. It is widely recognized that such uneven distribution of people and livestock leads to rapid and lasting degradation. The people are, therefore, likely to become increasingly food-aid dependent if the water catchment areas of the Bale Mountains are insufficiently protected. There is already evidence that over abstraction of water in the Bale Mountains is occurring.

Furthermore, two rivers emanating from Bale, the Wabe Shebele and Yadot, (tributary of the Ganale) have hydroelectric schemes. The dam on the Yadot River supplies electricity to Delo-Mena, while the dam on the Wabe Shebele provides electricity to the Bale area.

Lastly, there are numerous natural mineral water springs, locally called horas, which provide an essential source of minerals for livestock. The mineral springs within the park are valued for their high mineral content (sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and calcium), and local pastoralists believe that in order to maintain good health and milk production their livestock must be given hora water. They will drive their livestock for up to two days to reach the hora springs. It is increasingly apparent, however, that the hora springs have become an excuse for local people to enter the park to gain access to better grazing areas.

Harenna Forest landscape in the park
Climate
Temperatures vary widely throughout BMNP: on the plateau, daytime temperatures are usually around 10 degree Centigrade (50 degree F) with strong winds; in the Gaysay Valley average daytime temperatures are around 20 degree Centigrade (68 F), and the Harenna Forest is around 25 degree Centigrade (77 degree F). However, weather changes frequently and sometimes drastically. In elevations over 3,000 meters, night frosts are common. The rainy season is from May until November.

Harenna Forest woodland in the park
Ecology
Habitats
The park is divided into five distinct and unique habitats: the Northern Grasslands (Gaysay Valley), Northern Woodlands (Park Headquarters), Afro-alpine Meadows (Sanetti Pleateau), Erica Moorlands, and the Harenna Forest. Habitats of the Bale Mountains National Park range from grassland areas around 3,000 metres (9,800 ft) in elevation, to Mount Tullu Demtu, the second highest point in Ethiopia at 4,377 metres (14,360 ft) above sea level. Surrounded by East African pencil juniper (Juniperus procera) trees and St. John's wort, waist-high wildflowers and grasses grow in the Northern Grasslands and Woodlands. Tree heath (Erica arborea) is native to the Ethiopian montane moorlands ecoregion in the park.

The Afro-alpine moorlands of the Sanetti Plateau is the largest continuous area of its altitude on the entire continent of Africa. Carpeted in lichen covered rocks, and punctuated by Giant lobelia (Lobelia rynchopetalum) that grow to heights of up to 12 meters. The Plateau is also dotted with alpine lakes and streams, providing important resident wildlife resources, as well as wintering and passage stations for rare and regionally endemic birds. The Harenna Forest plant community makes up about half of the park, a woodland of trees draped in moss and lichens that seem to drip off the branches. The area is frequently cloaked in fog, and wildlife is elusive.

Fauna
Ethiopian wolf
Mountain nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni)
The Bale Mountains National Park is an important area for several threatened Ethiopian endemic species. Additionally, the park holds 26% of Ethiopia's endemic species including one primate, one bovid, one hare, eight rodent species, and the entire global population of the big-headed African mole-rat. There are also several rare and endemic amphibians.

Mammals
Mammal species in the Bale Mountains National Park include Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), Mountain nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni), big-headed African mole-rat, bushbuck, common duiker, klipspringer, Bohor reedbuck, warthog, spotted hyaena, serval and the Bale Mountains vervet (Chlorocebus djamdjamensis).

Other mammals of Bale Mountains National Park include the Cape bushbuck, African golden wolf, spotted hyena, colobus monkey, lion, African leopard, and African wild dog. Almost one third of the 47 mammals that live in BMNP are rodents. The rodent community, particularly of the Afro-alpine plateau are keystone species in the Bale Mountains National Park. They are the main prey for Ethiopian wolf, and natural grazers of the Afro-alpine areas where important cryoturbation processes happen.

The Afro-alpine area is home to over half of the global population of the Ethiopian wolf, the rarest canid in the world with only 400 animals surviving. The northern juniper-hagenia woodlands harbor the largest population of the endemic and similarly endangered Mountain nyala, estimated to be approximately two-thirds of the global population. The Ethiopian wolf is restricted to just six isolated mountainous areas of the Ethiopian Highlands and is protected in the country from any activities that may threaten its survival. Habitat loss, caused by unsustainable and rapidly expanding cattle and crop farming is the most severe threat, but diseases like rabies and canine distemper transmitted from domestic dogs are a serious immediate threat and have recently caused population crashes in the Bale Mountains.

Flora
Flower in Harenna Forest
Bale Mountains National Park is home to 1,321 species of flowering plants, 163 of which are endemic to Ethiopia (12%), and 23 to Bale alone (14% of Ethiopia's endemic plants). The forests of the Bale Mountains are important for genetic stocks of wild forest coffee (Coffea arabica) and for medicinal plants in Ethiopia. Three medicinal plant hotspots have been identified: two in the Gaysay area and one in the Angesu area, spanning the park boundary. The female flowers of hagenia contain anthelmintic, which is used to treat tapeworms among the local populations. A 2006 study estimated the value of the medicinal plants industry to be approximately two billion Ethiopian birr annually, some 8% of Ethiopia's Federal budget at the time.

Avifauna
Rated by the African Bird Club as the number four birding site in Africa, the Bale Mountains are home to over 282 species of birds, including nine of the 16 species endemic to Ethiopia. Furthermore, over 170 migratory birds have been recorded within the park. Bale Mountains National Park is home to almost every highland Abyssinian and Ethiopian endemic.

With over 863 species of birds recorded, representing approximately 9.5% of the world's bird diversity and 39% of the bird species in Africa, Ethiopia is often considered one of the most avifaunal-rich countries in Africa. Sixteen of Bale's bird species are endemic to Ethiopia. Due to the diversity and density of rodents, the Bale Mountains are also an extremely important area for resident as well as wintering and passing raptors.

Ethiopian endemic birds found in the Bale Mountains include: blue-winged goose (Cyanochen cyanoptera), spot-breasted lapwing (Vanellus melanocephalus), yellow-fronted parrot (Poicephalus flavifrons), Abyssinian longclaw (Macronyx flavicollis), Abyssinian catbird (Parophasma galinieri), Bale parisoma (Parisoma griseiventris), Ethiopian siskin (Serinus nigriceps), fawn-breasted waxbill (Estrilda paludicola) and the Abyssinian owl (Asio abyssinicus).

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