The semen highland massif is considered to be the finest scenery in all Africa and it is for this reason, and the fact that the area is the ethiopias geladahome of the wail Ibex, the semen fox and the Gelada Baboon.

The Gelada is not  in fact peculiar to the semen as is the exclusive Waila Ibex, but they are more numerous here than in their habitats some live at Debre Sina not far from Addis Ababa and others at Debre Libanos on the way to the Blue Nile; Valley gorges.

But in the Semen there may be as many as 20,000 and troops of 400 to gather may be seen they do not attack humans and more surprisingly the local people do not attack them thus they are very tame and will allow humans to approach quite close to the troop before moving nearer to the cliff edge.

Geladas live along the edges and steep slopes of precipices they never move far from the rim and thus their distribution is linear along the escarpment.  At night they climb down the steep cliff faces to caves where they roost on ledges often huddled close together for warmth as semen nights are frosty and bitterly cold.

Babies cling tight to their mothers even in sleep in the morning. In the warm sun they climb up again to the top of the cliff and spread out to feed.

Geladas are mainly vegetarian living on herbs grasses and roots but they also eat insects and locusts. They never eat meat or hunt or restricted diet they are obliged to spend a very high percentage of their lives foraging and browsing in order to obtain sufficient nutrients.

This may explain why they are so extremely peaceable by nature with very little squabbling even amongst themselves. They have no natural enemies except of course man who taken a fair toll with his rifle. The great mane of the adult male is used for traditional headdresses by highland warriors.

Their handsome appearance and the beauty of their habitat is one thing but perhaps the most fascinating aspect of these creatures is their social structure which is the most complex in the animal kingdom after that of man.

You see them grouped into herds of up to 400 or so individuals each of which is made up in turn of ‘’harems’’ which are groups of from two to eight females and young ones with one dominant male.

Young males get together in groups from the age when they finally leave their mothers until they are mature enough to become a follower. These various social groups all move and feed together only occasionally leaving the herd. They travel about three miles a day while feeding and sleep on ledges on the cliff face wherever they happen to be when night falls.

ethiopia geladas 1The relationships of the geladas are very delicately balanced to communicate their intentions. They have need of a fairly subtle range of signals.

They have therefore acquired a great diversity of social behavior patterns and vocalizations. Greater in fact than any other non-human primate.

For example where the olive baboon has fifteen contact calls and the coleus six, the gelada makes twenty seven distinct noises to hear him speak is as it were to listen to  a foreign language being spoken.

The expression on the face are infact signals it a distinct meaning. The raising of the eyebrows reveals two red triangles above the eyes a warning signal; the rolling back of the upper lip in a ghastly smile; a flash of red gums and white teeth signifies (as perhaps does the human smile) appeasement and thus avoids possible conflict.

So far the gelada is not on the endangered species list and now that he lives protected in at least one of his habitats one can hope that he never will be. However the occasional random slaughter for fun of these beautiful gentle and intelligent creatures should be curbed for obvious reasons.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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