November - December, 2018
Ethiopia may not be the first place you think of when deciding your wildlife photography holiday destination but this corner of Africa offers home to a number of endemic species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
Our two – week trip in Ethiopia was mainly dedicated to photograph two endemic mammals: the worlds rarest canid, Ethiopian wolf and the magnificent Gelada Monkey.
Gelada’s main distinctive feature is hairless patch of skin called “bleeding heart” . Ethiopia's highest peaks are home to Gelada monkeys with large populations found in a stunning Simien Mountains National park. In 1978, UNESCO recognized the park's significance and made it the world's first natural World Heritage Site.
The Geladas are often mistaken for baboons but they are actually the last members of their own genus, Theropithecus, ancient grass - grazing primates. In fact, 90 proc. of their diet consist of grass blades. They graze all day long, up to 10 hours every day.
As it is typical for highly social animals, Geladas are really vocal, they mutter and groan constantly. They have over 30 different vocalizations.
For us, gum-bearing yawn accompanied by a loud call was one of the most impressive displays. Males have especially vampiric canines, which are used when fighting, threatening other males, or defending themselves against predators. If an intruder is spotted, females and even babies may join males.
Gelada monkeys may look quite aggressive but actually they are very relaxed around people. Geladas let you sit in the middle of a troop and observe their behaviour and make close-up shots.
Grooming is a big part of Gelada life. It is useful not only for picking off parasites but also for keeping family alliances strong and stress levels low.
From birth, infants are carried on mother’s belly. After 5 weeks an infant is mainly carried on mother's back, sometimes with its tail entwined with hers.
We were very lucky to get some lovely encounters of a baby monkey suckling milk from his mother.
By 5 months of age, infants are more likely to be moving independently than being carried. At this age they are really curious.
And of course spend a lot of time playing and chasing each other.
As evening approaches, Geladas start moving towards the cliffs. At night they sleep deep down in steep cliffs which are their best protection against predators. For short moments just before sunset they enjoy sitting down on the edge of the cliff, stare into the horizon and take-in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. As photographers, we were particularly fond of sunrises and sunsets. From our experience the best time to photograph Geladas in beautiful light is at sunset. In the mornings Geladas are late to appear from the cliffs where they seek refuge from predators during the night. In our case, Geladas made their way up from the cliffs to bask in morning warmth around 8 am; the light at that moment is already quite strong as the sunrise is around 6.30 am. We mainly used wide angle lenses. 16-35 mm lens was used most of the time, but 24-70 and 70-200 mm were handy as well. We really want to thank our guide Fenta Adane and driver who were very flexible and willing to wake up early in the morning and did not complain to stay with us photographing Geladas till sunset.
We stayed four nights in three campsites in the Simien mountains: two nights in Sankaber, one in Chennek and one Buyit Ras. At Sankaber Geladas could be found about an hour walk from the campsite. A location is really good. A car is recommended; your feet and your back will be thankful for that. Buyit Ras probably is our favourite spot. It is close to the campsite, so you do not need a car, less tourist, views are amazing. Geladas at Chennek are very close to the campsite.
In this location Geladas are easy approachable but they like to keep a distance comparing to Sankaber and Buyit Ras. Besides Channek is quite busy with locals and tourist. For us, in particular this location highlighted how important is to preserve the Gelada Monkey - the last surviving species of grass-grazing primates. Human - induced habitat loss is a primary threat to geladas.
A trip to Ethiopia was challenging but at the same time excited and rewarding. Getting close to a truly unique animal as the Gelada Monkey was an extraordinary and undoubtedly the best primate experience that we have had to date.
For more detailed travel information and info photographing Ethiopian wildlife please press here.