8 of Ethiopia’s incredible endemic animals

8 of Ethiopia’s incredible endemic animals

From mountain wolves to marvellously maned lions, you’ll only find these fantastic creatures in Ethiopia


Ethiopian wolf / Image: Adobe Images

Andy Hill

Andy Hill is a writer and musician who feels incredibly fortunate he’s allowed to do either of those things at all, let alone as a job.

The wild countryside of Ethiopia is home to some of the most remarkable wildlife anywhere on the continent. And its most extraordinary specimens are so special, you won’t find them anywhere else on Earth. From fearsome apex predators to shy technicolour birds, here’s our guide to some of Ethiopia’s most amazing endemic animals.

Ethiopian wolf / Image: Adobe Images

Ethiopian wolf

With its ginger coat and snow-white chin, this charismatic canid looks a lot like a fox. It’s a bit more sociable than your classic urban fox, living in packs up to 20-strong in the Ethiopian Highlands. They prefer skulking around during the daytime – they’re ‘diurnal’, in fancy language – and they mate for life, adorably, feasting on mole rats, grass rats, and other dinky rodents they snaffle out of burrows using their slender snouts.

Walia ibex / Image: Adobe Images

Walia ibex

These muscular denizens of the Simien Mountains are a potent national symbol of Ethiopia, and somehow navigate the precarious kilometre-high cliffs of their upscale habitat with grace and elan. Those mighty backwards-facing goat horns are used in combat around mating season – March to May – but otherwise, behaviourally, the Walia ibex live peaceably together in family groups, grazing on grasses, lichens and shrubs. Truly, this ibex is the GOAT.

Gelada / Image: Adobe Images


Known as the ‘bleeding-heart monkey’, these lovable hairy characters are among the only primates – alongside humans – who spend their lives on terra firma instead of up in the trees. Just like humans, they form big, complex social groups and are frequently observed gossiping away in pairs. Their nickname derives from an hourglass-shaped patch of red skin situated on male chests. They’ve also adapted thick fatty pads on their rear ends – ideal for sitting down and having a chat.

Mountain nyala / Image: Adobe Images

Mountain nyala

Meek and mild by nature, you’ll be very lucky to spot these modest antelopes hiding out in pockets of woodland up in the Ethiopian Highlands, just east of the Rift Valley. A deep, rich brown with splotches of white, the males are distinguished by a crest that runs along their spine and curly horns that can grow up to two meters. Somewhat shy, they’re nonetheless a big deal in Ethiopian culture, represented in the names of businesses, in countless souvenirs, and on several coins, primarily some 25 birr coins.

Yellow-fronted parrot / Image: Adobe Images

Yellow-fronted parrot

Not much is known about this attractive Ethiopian bird, first described by German naturalist Eduard Rüppell. You’ll hear its thin, high-pitched screech amongst more remote parts of the Highlands. Also referred to by the catchy Latin name poicephalus flavifrons, the yellow-fronted parrot is best-known for the jaunty, buttercup-coloured plumage around its face, a feature shared by both males and females – in fact, both male and female yellow-fronted parrots look identical.

Bale Mountains vervet / Image: Adobe Images

Bale Mountains vervet

Another shy and reclusive creature, the Bale Mountains vervet is unusual among its peers in that it mostly eats bamboo. As much as three-quarters of its diet is, specifically, African Alpine bamboo (Yushania alpina). This, of course, makes it highly vulnerable to environmental changes, although for now it’s protected within the Bale Mountains National Park. Good luck bagging a sighting – at the very first sign of humans, these hairy recluses immediately bail.

Swayne’s Hartebeest / Image: Adobe Images

Swayne’s hartebeest

Aside from its really rather splendid name, this noble ungulate has loads to recommend it. Both males and females grow horns, but only males use them to fight – so noisily, that their clashes can apparently be heard hundreds of metres away. Despite its population collapsing dramatically in the 1990s, a conservation effort led by the local Oromo people has been a roaring success. Find them at Senkelle Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary and Maze National Park (in Ethiopia’s south-west), where they’ll likely be munching on their favourite food, grass.

Ethiopian lion (formerly known as the Abyssinian lion) / Image: Getty Images

Ethiopian lion

Known for their striking, black manes, Ethiopia’s very own endemic species of lion was celebrated in a song by Bob Marley. Iron Lion Zion references the lion on a former Ethiopian flag, flown by Emperor Haile Selassie, who was known as the ‘Lion of Judah’. Selassie kept a number of Ethiopian lions as pets, the descendants of which remain at Addis Ababa’s zoo (opened by Selassie in 1948). In 2016, conservationists announced the remarkable discovery of a previously unknown wild population in the remote north-west of the country. A source of immense national pride.