A cabin at Bale Mountain Lodge overlooks the mountains. (Bale Mountain Lodge)
Tim Johnson Special to the Star
BALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, ETHIOPIA-At first, it’s little more than a flash of fur, just a blot on the far side of the road, trotting hard and moving fast.
Its auburn coat standing out against the lunarlike landscape, the small animal pauses just for a moment, turns to face us, mouth set in what looks like a toothy grin, and eyes our Land Cruiser’s sleepy band of travellers. Then, in a moment, it dashes off before we can scramble for our cameras, running at a steady pace up and over a ridge, out of sight. By the time we spill clumsily out of the vehicle and walk with our sleep-stiffened joints across the frozen ground to where it once stood, that lone wolf is long gone.
I’ve just seen the Abyssinian red wolf — the world’s most endangered canine. With a habitat that’s now largely limited to the high plateau of Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park — a forbidding, otherworldly place some 4,000 metres above sea level — estimates vary on how many of these wolves remain, but everyone agrees it’s a few hundred, at most.
Cousins of both coyotes and jackals, some experts peg their population at fewer than 300, and dropping fast. I’m here to spot as many as possible, as well as a wide variety of other strange creatures that thrive in the rarefied air of this remote corner of Ethiopia.
With various ecosystems and altitudes packed into one park, the roughly 2,000-square-kilometre Bale Mountains National Park provides opportunities to view some of Africa’s most unusual animals, including the endemic big-headed mole rat, mongoose, jackal, honey badger, black-maned lion and the mountain-adapted leopard.