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The ETHIOPIAN HIGHLANDS is a rugged mass of mountains in Ethiopia
Ethiopia
, situated in the Horn region in Northeast Africa . It forms the largest continuous area of its altitude in the continent, with little of its surface falling below 1500 m (4,921 ft), while the summits reach heights of up to 4550 m (14,928 ft). It is sometimes called the ROOF OF AFRICA due to its height and large area. Most of the Ethiopian Highlands are part of central and northern Ethiopia
Ethiopia
, and its northernmost portion reaches into Eritrea .

CONTENTS

* 1 History * 2 Physical geography * 3 Geology * 4 Climate
Climate
* 5 Ecology * 6 Fauna * 7 See also * 8 References * 9 External links

HISTORY

A coffee cup from the era of the Kaffa Kingdom

In the southern parts of the Ethiopian Highlands
Ethiopian Highlands
once was located the Kingdom of Kaffa , a medieval early modern state, whence the coffee plant was exported to the Arabian peninsula . The land of the former kingdom is mountainous with stretches of forest. The land is very fertile, capable of three harvests a year. The term "coffee" derives from the Arabic _qahwah_ ( قهوة) and is traced to Kaffa.

PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY

The Highlands are divided into northwestern and southeastern portions by the Main Ethiopian Rift , which contains a number of salt lakes. The northwestern portion, which covers the Tigray and Amhara Regions , includes the Semien Mountains , part of which has been designated the Semien Mountains National Park . Its summit, Ras Dashan (4550 m), is the highest peak in Ethiopia. Lake Tana , the source of the Blue Nile , also lies in the northwestern portion of the Ethiopian Highlands.

The southeastern portion's highest peaks are located in the Bale Zone of Ethiopia's Oromia Region . The Bale Mountains , also designated a national park , are nearly as high as those of Semien. The range includes peaks of over 4000 m. Among these are Mount Tullu Demtu (4337 m), which is the second-highest peak in Ethiopia, and Mount Batu (4307 m).

Most of the country's major cities are located at elevations of around 2,000–2,500 m (6,562–8,202 ft) above sea level, including historic capitals such as Gondar and Axum
Axum
.

GEOLOGY

Dendi Caldera, a collapsed volcano in the mountain region

The Ethiopian Highlands
Ethiopian Highlands
began to rise 75 million years ago, as magma from the Earth's mantle uplifted a broad dome of the ancient rocks of the Arabian-Nubian Shield . The opening of the Great Rift
Rift
Valley split the dome of the Ethiopian Highlands
Ethiopian Highlands
into three parts; the mountains of the southern Arabian Peninsula are geologically part of the ancient Ethiopian Highlands, separated by the rifting which created the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden
Gulf of Aden
and separated Africa
Africa
from Arabia.

Around 30 million years ago, a flood basalt plateau began to form, piling layers upon layers of voluminous fissure-fed basaltic lava flows. Most of the flows were tholeiitic , save for a thin layer of alkali basalts and minor amounts of felsic (high-silica) volcanic rocks, such as rhyolite . In the waning stages of the flood basalt episode, large explosive caldera -forming eruptions also occurred.

The Ethiopian Highlands
Ethiopian Highlands
were eventually bisected by the Great Rift Valley as the African continental crust pulled apart. This rifting gave rise to large alkaline basalt shield volcanoes beginning about 30–31 million years ago.

CLIMATE

Main article: Climate
Climate
of Ethiopia
Ethiopia

The predominant climate type of the Ethiopian Highlands
Ethiopian Highlands
is tropical monsoon, and have a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator.

ECOLOGY

Ethiopian Highlands
Ethiopian Highlands
with Ras Dashan in the background

Because the highlands elevate Ethiopia, located close to the equator , this has resulted in giving this country an unexpectedly temperate climate . Further, these mountains catch the precipitation of the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean
, resulting in a rainy season that lasts from June until mid-September. These heavy rains cause the Nile to flood in the summer , a phenomenon that puzzled the ancient Greeks , as the summer is the driest season in the Mediterranean climate that they knew.

The Ethiopian Highlands
Ethiopian Highlands
share a similar flora and fauna of other mountainous regions of Africa; this distinctive flora and fauna is known as Afromontane but from the time of the last Ice Age has been populated with some Eurasian (palearctic ) flora. The habitats are somewhat different on either side of the Great Rift
Rift
Valley that splits the highlands.

At lower elevations, the highlands are surrounded by tropical savannas and grasslands , including the Sahelian Acacia savanna to the northwest, the East Sudanian Savanna to the west, and the Somali Acacia- Commiphora bushlands and thickets to the northeast, east, south, and through the Rift
Rift
Valley.

The highlands themselves are divided into three distinct ecoregions , distinguished by elevation. The ETHIOPIAN MONTANE FORESTS lie between 1,100 and 1,800 meters elevation, above the lowland grasslands and savannas and extends to areas of similar habitat in Eritrea, Sudan, and Djibouti. This woodland belt has several natural plant communities, but has mostly been heavily grazed and converted to agricultural use now. _Kolla_, is an open woodland found at lower elevations, and dominated by species of _Terminalia _, _ Commiphora _, _ Boswellia
Boswellia
_, and _ Acacia
Acacia
_. _Weyna dega_ is a woodland found in moister and higher locations, dominated by the conifers _Afrocarpus gracilior _ and _ Juniperus procera _. The lower portion of the Harenna Forest is a distinct woodland community, with an open canopy of _ Warburgia ugandensis _, _Croton macrostachyus_, and _Syzygium guineese _, and _Afrocarpus gracilior_, with wild coffee (_Coffea arabica_) as the dominant understory shrub. The southwesterly winds bring rainfall from May to October with moisture from the Red Sea coming in from the east year round. Fauna at these elevations includes the endemic Harwood's francolin (_ Francolinus harwoodi _), Prince Ruspoli's turaco (_ Tauraco ruspolii _) and yellow-throated seedeater (_ Serinus flavigula _), along with the Djibouti francolin (_ Francolinus ochropectus _) in the Djibouti hills that are in the same general ecoregion.

The ETHIOPIAN MONTANE GRASSLANDS AND WOODLANDS is the largest of the highland ecoregions, occupying the area between 1800 and 3000 meters elevations. The natural vegetation was closed-canopy forest in moister areas, and grassland, bushland, and thicket in drier areas. However these hillsides have good fertile soil and are heavily populated, largely by farming communities so most of the region has been converted to agriculture with a few areas of natural vegetation remaining. Urban areas in this ecoregion include: Ethiopia's capital city and Africa's fourth largest city Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa
, the Amhara Region capital Bahir Dar with its island monasteries on Lake Tana , the old walled city of Harar
Harar
, the spa town of Ambo , Asella in the Arsi Zone , the trekking center of Dodola , the lakeside Debre Zeyit , the largest city in the southwest Jimma , the market town of Nekemte , and the capital of the Tigray Region , Mek\'ele . Awash National Park is a site for birdwatching.

Remaining woodland in the drier areas contains much endemic flora and primarily consists of _ Podocarpus _ conifers and _ Juniperus procera _, often with _ Hagenia abyssinica_. In the Harenna Forest , pockets of moist, closed-canopy forest with _ Pouteria _ and _ Olea _ are draped with lianas and epiphytes , while above 2400 metres, a shrubby zone is home to _Hagenia_, _ Schefflera _, and giant lobelias (_Lobelia gibberroa_), species which can be found on the East African mountains further south. The evergreen broadleaved forest of the Semien Mountains , between 2,300 and 2,700 meters elevation, is dominated by _Syzygium guineense_, _Juniperus procera_, and _ Olea africana _.

As the lower slopes of the mountains are so heavily populated even the high altitude moorlands are affected by human interference, such as the grazing of livestock and even farming. There are two protected areas of high moorland: Bale Mountains National Park in the southern highlands, accessible from Dinsho ; and Semien Mountains National Park , accessible from Gondar , which includes Ras Dashen. However even these parks are losing habitat to livestock grazing, while the lower elevation parks ( Harar
Harar
Wildlife Sanctuary , Awash National Park , Omo National Park , and Nechisar National Park ) are even less secure.

FAUNA

These slopes are home to a number of endemic reptiles, birds and animals including the endangered walia ibex (_Capra walie_) and the gelada baboon, whose thick fur allows it to thrive in the cooler climates of the mountains. These two species are only found on the northern side of the valley while another rare endemic the mountain nyala (_Tragelaphus buxtoni_) is restricted to the southern side, and now survives at higher altitudes than its original habitat as the lower slopes are heavily farmed. More widespread mammals found here include the mantled guereza (_Colobus guereza_), which is also threatened as its habitat disappears as is that of many other mammals of the highlands such as olive baboon (_Papio anubis_), Egyptian wolf (_Canis aureus lupaster_), African leopard (_Panthera pardus pardus_), Masai lion (_Panthera leo nubica_), spotted hyena (_Crocuta crocuta_), caracal (_ Caracal caracal_), serval (_Felis serval_), common duiker (_Sylvicapra grimmia_) and red river hog (_Potamochoerus porcus_). Birds include Rueppell\'s chat , the finch Ankober serin (_Serinus ankoberensis_), white-winged flufftail (_Sarothrura ayresi_), and blue-winged goose . The farmland is home to many butterflies, especially _ Papilio
Papilio
_, Charaxinae , Pieridae and Lycaenidae .

Above 3000 meters elevation lie the high ETHIOPIAN MONTANE MOORLANDS, the largest afroalpine region in Africa. The montane moorlands lie above the tree line, and consist of grassland and moorland with abundant herbs and some shrubs that have adapted to the high mountain conditions. There are several endemic animal species one of which, the Ethiopian wolf (_Canis simensis_), is critically endangered. Other endemics include the big-headed mole-rat (_Tachyoryctes macrocephalus_) which is common on the Sanetti Plateau in the Bale Mountains . The mountain nyala finds its way up to the high moorlands although it is more common at lower elevations. Wintering birds include wigeon (_Anas penelope_), shoveler (_Anas clypeata_), ruff (_Philomachus pugnax_) and greenshank (_Tringa nebularia_).

Other fauna in the area also includes aardvark , eagle , Ethiopian wolf , Egyptian wolf , gelada , secretary bird , Nubian ibex , and marabou stork and Ethiopian endemic species such as the shrew, _ Crocidura harenna _ and the narrow-footed woodland mouse (_Grammomys minnae _) and Menelik’s bushbuck (_ Tragelaphus scriptus
Tragelaphus scriptus
meneliki_), which is a subspecies with long, dark fur.

SEE ALSO

* Geography of