Ethiopia’s Endemic Mountain Men

High in the Simien Mountains dominated by Ethiopia’s rocky highlands, hundreds of groups of Gelada baboons reside. Although referred to as ‘baboons’ they are not actually baboons but rather, the last surviving species of a group of grass-grazing primates which were once widespread. 

These primates are characterized by having thick fur to protect them against the cold mountain temperatures and very large gums with the males possessing fierce vampire-like canine teeth, displayed when threatened or ready to fight.

Geladas are the most land-dwelling primates after humans where they spend most of their day sitting down on the ground, plucking and munching on grass, making them relatively easy to track and follow. At night they sleep on small ledges off steep cliffs to hide against predators such as leopards and hyenas.

Both male and female geladas have a bald patch of raw skin displayed on their chest in the shape of an hourglass which is where they get their nickname ‘bleeding heart’ monkeys from. The colour of their raw skin changes depending on their hormone levels from light pink to a deep powerful red during their sexual prime.

Geladas are extremely social and tend to be quite vocal animals, having one of the most complex social structures in the animal kingdom. They usually live in small families consisting of one male and three to six females. However when food is abundant over 650 geladas could be seen gathered together. 

Although these numbers appear to be large, there are sadly said to be between just 100,000 to 200,000 geladas left in Ethiopia and in the world. Even these remote mountains are feeling the effects of human encroachment. With the rise in agricultural expansion and more competition from domestic livestock, geladas are being forced to move to less protective gorge slopes taking a toll on the overall numbers.

If you would like to volunteer in Ethiopia, the homeland of these rare primates, please visit our volunteering opportunities. 

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