Although land-locked thanks to Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia, Ethiopia is a huge country on the horn of Africa, of strategic importance today and throughout recorded history. Essentially a mighty plateau dropping into burning desert to the north and fertile valleys to the south, Ethiopia is the tenth-largest country in Africa, about twice the size of Texas—but it is the continent’s second-most populous. Habitat loss has thus been a key issue for many years, and although we as hunters recognize Ethiopia as home to some of Africa’s greatest prizes, the political reality is that her outfitting industry is very small – just a handful of operators in a truly vast country. This is problematic. Ethiopia’s safari industry isn’t large enough to have economic clout and, indeed, hunting has been on-again, off-again since sport hunting was formally opened during the latter days of Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign.
Hunting has now been open for a dozen years straight, probably an Ethiopian record, and there seems to be political will to maintain hunting as part of Ethiopia’s conservation efforts, with today’s outfitters now operating in—and maintaining—specific concessions. That’s good, but the reality is that only a small fraction of potential areas are being utilized, and the country-wide animal quotas are very conservative. Game laws are perhaps the most draconian on the African continent. Full licenses, by species, must be purchased up front, and minimum days are required not just for the most desirable species, but also for an area change to be allowed so as to increase the bag. These factors combine to make Ethiopia one of the most specialized and most costly of all safari destinations.
In spite of these complications, Ethiopia is an exceptional and extremely important safari destination. Most who have hunted there, including myself, consider Ethiopia the most beautiful country in Africa. She not only counts among her indigenous rarities some of Africa’s greatest prizes, but she also offers a unique mix of game, ranging from ‘East African’ specialties to animals formerly hunted only in Sudan. In the high mountains south-east of Addis Ababa, and the forested hills farther west, across the Rift Valley, one finds mountain nyala, by most reckoning Ethiopia’s greatest bounty—and one of Africa’s top trophies. With very limited permits and the few outfitters now managing specific areas, mountain nyala hunting is actually better today than ever before. The high country may also yield the dark Menelik’s bushbuck, and the leopard population has a surprising percentage of melanistic or black leopards.
Again, much of Ethiopia is currently not sport-hunted at all, although her outfitters continue the search for new game areas. The Gambella region to the south-west, not currently hunted, has recently been proved to hold populations of both Nile lechwe and white-eared kob, neither species previously huntable for nearly thirty years. The search also continues for good areas for lesser kudu, Abyssinian greater kudu, and Nile buffalo. In time there may be more opportunity in Ethiopia, but right now, in addition to the central high country, the two other most important hunting areas are the Omo Valley in the far south, and the Awash/ Danakil area in the north. The Omo region is great general bag area, offering an interesting combination of Ethiopian, Kenyan, and Sudan species, including both greater and lesser kudu, northern Grant’s gazelle, tiang, Guenther’s dik-dik, and some Nile buffalo. The Awash region and the blistering Danakil Depression is more specialized, but also holds both varieties of kudu, Beisa oryx, Cordeaux’ dik-dik, northern gerenuk, and Soemmering’s gazelle. Although elephant hunting is currently closed, south-western Ethiopia was the last place where a concentration of truly heavy ivory was located. Lion hunting remains open, and although the countrywide quota is tiny, Ethiopian lions have the genetics for exceptional manes. It is a country that every African addict must visit at least once…but it is also a country that requires multiple safaris to properly explore.