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The Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP) is a protected area of approximately 2,200 km2 and is located 400 km southeast of Addis Ababa in Oromia National Regional State in south-eastern Ethiopia. It belongs to the Bale-Arsi massif, which forms the western section of the south-eastern Ethiopian highlands.
The BMNP covers the largest area higher than 3000m above sea level (asl) in Africa. The highest peak in the BMNP, Tullu Dimtuu, at an altitude of 4377m asl, is the second highest peak in Ethiopia. The park includes an Afroalpine plateau over 3500m asl, which is the largest area of Afroalpine habitat on the African continent, as well as a major section of moist tropical forest, the second largest in Ethiopia.
The BMNP comprises of three major zones:
I. The Gaysay grasslands. The landscape of the northern Gaysay section extends from one mountain range to another with a central broad flat valley with an altitude ranging from 3000 and 3550m asl. The southern ridge of the Gaysay area, which is relatively dry, is mainly covered with Juniperus procera, a nationally protected species. The relatively wet northern ridge is largely occupied by Hagenia abyssinica and Hypericum revolutum. The flat valleys of Gaysay are dominated by species of the genera Ar temisia, Helichrysum, Ferula and Kniphofia.
II. The central part of the park, an Afroalpine plateau, lies between 2800m asl in the north and 4377m asl. to the south. The northern escarpment of the Sanetti Plateau is dominated by Juniperus spp. followed by Hagenia-Hypevicum stands at the higher altitudes (between 3350-3500 m). The area between 3550m and 4000m asl. is covered by Erica shrub on ridges and Helichrysum moorland in the valleys. The flat mountaintop is covered by Helichrysum moorland dotted with Lobelia spp. Much of the Sanetti plateau lies over 4000m asl. and there are several peaks ranging from 4050m (Worgona and Wasema) to Tullu Dimtuu at 4377m.
III. The southern escarpment is covered by one of the most extensive and large natural forests remaining in Ethiopia, the Harenna Forest, which extends between 39°-40°E and 6°-7°N. The slope of the southern escarpment falls rapidly in altitude from the tree line at 3200m to 2000m within a distance of only 8 km, producing a rapid and spectacular change in landscape, habitat, and species composition.
In the 1960's the area was surveyed by two British naturalists and, due to the increasing pressure from pastoralists settling permanently in the area, a boundary was proposed for a Park. Following the inception of the Bale Mountains National Park in late 1969 there has been a succession of Park Wardens (from Ethiopian nationals) initially Peace Corp volunteers until 1973. So far, the Park has never been formally gazetted or effectively managed. In the last decade, many pastoralists, agriculturalists and timber users have moved into the area and natural resources use has increased exponentially throughout the park.
A General Management Plan (GMP) for the BMNP was approved by the President of the Oromia National Regional State in 2007, laying out a 10-year vision and strategies for addressing the problems and issues facing the BMNP. The establishment of the plan was participatory, involving stake-holders from all levels of government bodies, local communities, technical experts and the private sector. Currently a participatory boundary re-demarcation process is underway, and the important step of having the BMNP formally gazetted is given a high priority.
The Bale Mountains National Park is universally valuable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its spectacular scenery. Its high mountains, sweeping valleys, dramatic escarpment and wide expanses of forests provide visitors with a diversity of vistas unique to the Ethiopian highlands. The Bale Mountains ecosystem and its associated diversity of habitats are an internationally recognised centre for endemism and biodiversity, with a quarter of mammals and 6% of birds in the area being Ethiopian endemics. There are also a number of rare endemic amphibians. The area contains the entire global population of the Giant Molerat (Tachyoryctes macrocephalus), the largest global populations of endangered Ethiopian Wolves (Canis simensis) and Mountain Nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni). Indeed it has been estimated that more mammal species would go extinct were the habitats of the Bale Mountains to disappear, than if the any other area of equivalent size on the globe were to disappear. Further, the Bale Mountains harbour 40% of the 1000 known species of medicinal plants in Ethiopia, and the largest remaining natural stand of wild coffee genetic stock. Half the park is montane forest, including both cloud forest and moist tropical forest - the second largest in Ethiopia and the origin of Ethiopian wild coffee.
The mountains and forests of this ecosystem are also a critically important water catchments area for southern Ethiopia and western Somalia, supplying perennial water to 12 million people in the lowlands of Ethiopia and Somalia.
Ethiopia currently has eight World Heritage Sites, of which seven are listed under the Cultural Heritage Criteria and only one the Natural Heritage Criteria. Although Ethiopia has rich and important natural heritage sites, the inscription of this category on WHL is underrepresented. Listing Bale Mountains National Park as a WHS is further justified for both of the reasons above.
The conditions of integrity require that the area essential for maintaining the beauty of the property are included in the proposed site. The entire Afro alpine plateau above 3000m is within the proposed boundary of the BMNP, as is the escarpment which provides scenic vistas of the moist tropical forest below. BMNP is of sufficient size (2200 km2) and is not only including landscape-scale areas of exceptional natural beauty, but also to justify its existence as a conservation area.
The proposed site is not only the most important, but is also the only, site where in situ conservation of a number of mammal, bird, plant, and amphibian species can take place. It is the most important site for in situ conservation of the IUCN - listed critically endangered Ethiopian Wolf, as well as the most important site, by virtue of being the largest intact expanse of Afro-alpine remaining, for the in situ conservation of the diversity of species associated with this habitat type.
At present, the legal status of this protected area is unclear and must be resolved. The area was declared a National Park by the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organisation and has been managed as a protected area since then. However it was never properly gazetted by the government. The mandate to manage protected areas in Ethiopia changed from a federal to regional system in 1997, and the proposed site is currently managed by the regional Oromia Agricultural & Rural Development Bureau. They, along with partner organisations have recently ratified a General Management Plan (GMP) for the BMNP.
This strategic plan lays out a vision for the development and management of the proposed site, and outlines specific actions required to fulfil this vision. The plan was developed using a participatory process, and aimed to ensure that all the Park's stakeholders contributed to its formulation. Formal gazettement of the National Park is seen as a priority action, and nomination on the WHS tentative list is seen as a first step in helping to achieve this goal.
Bale Mountains National Park can be compared in global terms with the following sites:
1. Simien National Park, Ethiopia (1978) Natural Heritage Site
This site is smaller in size and consists important Afro-alpine vegetation as well as endemic species, and spectacular landscapes. BMNP protects a more significant, in terms of size, area of Afroalpine vegetation, and is home to a different assemblage of endemic species. Furthermore BMNP encompasses approx. 900 km2 of moist Afro-tropical forest with its associated endemic species, many of which are found nowhere else.
2. Rwenzori National Park, Uganda (1994)
This park is smaller in size than BMNP. It was included in the list of WHS to protect mountain and forest habitats and their associated fauna1 and floral communities.
3. Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve (1981)
This park is also smaller than Bale Mountains National Park and its included in the WHL to protect high elevation grassland plateau, forest and the associated rich fauna and flora.
4. Kilimaniaro National Park, Kenya (1987)
This park was inscribed to the WHL because of its exceptional natural beauty, rare and endangered plants and animal species similar to BMNP.