Traveling around Africa you will often realize that the continent is very old indeed, but Ethiopia can prove its age, as the oldest fossil skeleton of a human was discovered here – Lucy, a female who lived 3.5 million years ago. For this reason Ethiopia is often known as the Cradle of Mankind. It is a country rich in culture, with over eighty different ethnic groups speaking their own languages and dialects. It is also the only country in Africa with its own alphabet, which consists of 209 symbols and 25 letter variants.
If that impressive list of attributes does not excite you then the birding opportunities surely will! Covering an area twice the size of Texas and almost as big as France and Spain combined, most of the land is very high, with Addis Ababa being at over 7,700 feet - making it the third highest capital city in the world. More than 70% of Africa's mountains are found here and these feed rivers and waters such as Lake Tana - the source of the Blue Nile. At the other extreme, the Danakil Depression contains one of the lowest points in Africa, at 380 feet below sea level.
With its multitude of habitats Ethiopia is home to more than 800 species of birds, 29 of which are endemic to here or neighboring Eritrea. No wonder then that it is one of Africa’s leading birding destinations. The highlands are bisected by the Rift Valley and give way to arid desert and bushland in most directions while to the west there are moist woodlands. High on anyone’s itinerary are the Bale Mountains in the southern part of the eastern south-eastern highlands. Here you can cross the Sanetti plateau at 14,000 feet on Africa’s highest road and hope to see the Ethiopian Wolf, one of the world's rarest canids, and Africa's most endangered carnivore.
The Rift Valley holds many interesting and attractive lakes offering great photographic opportunities and comfortable accommodation. The mid-level highlands include a small number of forest patches such as Wondo Genet and Debre Libanos and these are home to many of the endemic species.
Although there are several books detailing sites within Ethiopia this is a country best visited with an expert guide. The best time to visit is October to December, when over 500 species can be recorded on a three-week trip. Contributed by Keith Betton/African Bird Club.