Geography & Wildlife

A plateau – really?

Most of Ethiopia is taken up by a central plateau. But to call the land a ‘plateau’ is misleading, because much of central Ethiopia is mountainous.

The low point

Descending to minus 116 metres in altitude, the Danakil desert contains one of the lowest points on the earth’s surface, known as the Danakil Depression.

Much of the highland area lies above 2,000 metres and there are 20 peaks above 4,000 metres. At 4,620 metres, Ras Dashen, is the third highest mountain in Africa.

The Great Rift Valley runs through central Ethiopia in a north-easterly direction, dividing the eastern and western highlands. Towards the south, the Valley contains a string of eight lakes. In the northeast, it runs below the Danakil Desert.

The highlands in Ethiopia are the source of four major river systems across Africa, including the Blue Nile which rises near Lake Tana in the northwest. Rivers in the southwest of Ethiopia – e.g. the Baro and Gilo – feed into the White Nile. See North Sudan to find out where the Blue and White Nile rivers meet.

Eucalyptus tree

Eucalyptus treeIn this video… An Australian tree in Ethiopia! Habtam and Addisu talk about the eucalyptus tree.

Natural habitats

Livestock farming and deforestation have drastically reduced Ethiopia’s natural habitats; forest areas are now estimated to cover less than 4% of the total land area.

Eucalyptus forests have grown up around the capital of Addis Ababa, introduced because of the tree’s quick-growing nature to provide firewood. However, environmentalists are not convinced about the long-term benefits, since the forests suck up a lot of water and Ethiopia's native species tend to avoid them.

Due to loss of habitat and hunting, wildlife in the country has been reduced. Big game animals (such as lions, elephants, buffalo) only have small populations. However, smaller predators, such as foxes, jackals and hyenas are still found widely throughout the country.

Walia ibex & Gelada baboon, by Paulo Philippidis (originally posted to Flickr as scratch and pick) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Endemic species

Though a number of Ethiopia’s endemic species are endangered, protection is provided within the country’s conservation areas. The Simien Mountains and Bale Mountains National Parks are particularly important as strongholds for Ethiopia’s rarest animals. These include the Simien fox, the Ethiopian wolf, the Gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada) and the Walia ibex (Capra walie), a goat found nowhere else in the world (see photo, which also shows a Gelada baboon).

The Bale mountains are the best place to see the endangered Ethiopian wolf, a daytime hunter which lives in seven isolated mountain pockets of Ethiopia. Only around 400 adult wolves are thought to remain in the wild.

Ethiopia is also one of Africa’s best bird watching locations. The country has over 800 bird species, including over 20 which are endemic to the region.