Many visitors come to Ethiopia hoping to learn about its history and unique cultures - and they certainly will. But by the end of their trip they will likely have a completely new, and perhaps unexpected, appreciation for birds. With more than 850 species, Ethiopia has long been a favorite destination for “birders.” But you do not need to know the difference between an Abyssinian Siskin and an Ethiopian Bee-eater to be amazed by the diversity and beauty of the birds you will encounter.
The Goliath Heron is a “common” bird in much of Africa but is still a remarkable sight for visitors. Standing almost five feet tall this colorful waterbird has a “bark” that can be heard two kilometers away. Although considered very intelligent, the Goliath Heron is unfortunately not very agile compared to other large birds. After spearing a fish it is often a victim of “kleptoparasitism” - when a swifter bird, such as the African Fish Eagle, will swoop in and steal its meal.
With distinctive black facial markings, black bands on their front legs, a black stripe along each flank, and almost perfectly straight horns that grow up to 120cm (4 feet) long, the Beisa Oryx is one of the most striking and recognizable antelopes on the Horn of Africa. Unfortunately, as of 2018, it is also classified as “endangered” on the IUCN List of Threatened Species. (As recently as 1996, it was classified as “low risk”). Current estimates put the number of mature Beisa Oryx between only 8,000 - 9,000 and declining. (The Gemsbok, also of the Oryx genus and commonly seen in Southern Africa, is not considered endangered.)
Other than their appearance, the Beisa Oryx have several other unique characteristics:
Well adapted to their desert grassland habitat, Beisa Oryx can survive without water for almost as long as camels and in extreme conditions can raise their body temperature to 46.5 Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) to prevent water loss through perspiration.
After a gestation period of about nine months, a mother will hide her newborn calf for 2 - 6 weeks before introducing it to the herd.
Beisa Oryx will flee from danger rather than fight, but if cornered their long sharp horns are lethal weapons and Oryx have been know to kill even lions.
In contrast to Gemsboks, Beisa Oryx have relatively small herds of about 10 animals. A female always leads the herd with a male taking up the rear to provide protection.
In Ethiopia, Beisa Oryx are most easily sighted in Awash National Park and the Alledeghi Wildlife Reserve, both easily accessible from Addis Ababa.
Photo by Awaze client Anne Sawvell
The Klipspringer, a small antelope, is found from the highlands of East Africa all the way to South Africa. (Its name derives from an Afrikaans word meaning “rock jumper.”)
Standing only about 50 centimeters (20”) at the shoulder, the Klipspringer has a vertical leap of more than 3.5 meters (12 feet)! Its tiny hooves, measuring about 18mm (3/4”) in diameter, act similar to suction cups allowing the Klipspringer to perch on rocky ledges as small as 40mm (1.5”) across.
Unusual for herbivores, Klipspringers have binocular vision which is thought to be useful for gauging distances and landing areas when leaping.
A pair of klipspringers will bond for life and rarely stray more than 5 or 6 meters from their mate.
Like all dwarf antelopes, Klipspringers have prominent preorbital glands located just below their eyes. These glands produce secretions which aid in marking territory and communication with other animals.
Klipspringers are frequently seen in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains and Bale Mountains National Parks.