Inside Africa

Home to the world's rarest mammals?

Colin Hancock and Pete Kowalczyk, for CNNUpdated 20th October 2015
(CNN) — Sitting on the top of the world, the Simien mountains -- Ethiopia's highest peaks -- are home to some of the country's most remote communities and some of its rarest wildlife.
Simien Mountain National Park was established in 1969 to protect the rare species of animals that are exclusive to this area. In 1978, UNESCO recognized the park's "global significance for biodiversity conservation" and made it the world's first natural World Heritage Site.
Now, once endangered populations are starting to thrive.

'Bleeding heart' monkeys

Nicknamed "bleeding heart" monkeys due to the red hairless strip these primates have on their chest, these rare baboons (officially geladas) can only be found in Ethiopia, with many residing in the Simien Mountains. Somewhat plentiful in the 1970s, the IUCN Red List puts their number today at around 200,000.
One particularly unique aspect of the geladas is that they live in caves high up in the mountains where few predators can reach.
"It's a good habitat because it's free of enemies, (who) can't climb the rocks because the rocks are slippery. The only animals climbing here are the geladas," notes Maru Biadglegn, the chief warden of Simien National Park.
To see geladas in their natural habitat, watch the video below:
Explore the Simien Mountains of northern Ethiopia, a stunning expanse of jagged peaks, deep valleys and plunging waterfalls.

Walia ibex

The endangered walia ibex can only be found in the national park. In order to help grow the population of these animals, and other species that live in the area, the Ethiopian government has invested $7.5m to help resettle people away from protected habitats. As a result, the park has tripled from its original size to 256 square miles and wildlife populations are growing, according to Biadglegn.
"Twenty years ago, it was difficult to find walia ibex," he says.
"The number was only 150. Now there is the protection and expansion of their habitat, we have more than 900 individuals."

Ethiopian wolf

The park is also home to one of Africa's most endangered carnivores: the elusive Ethiopian wolf.
To find the animal, one would have to climb Ethiopia's highest peak -- Ras Dashen mountain stands at 14,700 feet tall.
"This area is known as Kechomo Buhayit. It is a home to the Ethiopian Wolf," says Abraham Assefa, a scout at the park.
"Nearly 25 are estimated to live in this area. And their number is increasing."
Because so few abound, spotting these rare beasts is difficult, but hopefully in the future, it will be easier to catch a glimpse for visiting tourists.
Known for its reddish pelt and a specialized diet of rodents, the Ethiopian wolf is one of Africa's most endangered carnivores.

Conserving nature, empowering people

In Ethiopia, travel and tourism brought in $4.3 billion in 2014 -- 9.3% of GDP -- according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. In remote parts of the country like the Simien Mountains, tourism can be a lifeline.
According to Biadglegn there are now around 6,000 people working in the local tourism industry.
"There are also 69 local guide associations, 70 cooking associations, also 10 car rental associations," he says.
"These are our partners in order to conserve the natural resources and in order to satisfy and get information for tourists."
Up among Ethiopia's highest mountain peaks, local communities have helped wildlife populations recover -- and now wildlife is improving the lives of the people in return.