MENZ GUASSA: SEARCHING FOR THE ETHIOPIAN WOLF – ETHIOPIA

Menz Guassa Ethiopian Wolf

Our travel blog about searching for the endangered Ethiopian Wolf and endemic Gelada Baboon of the Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area.

We visited Ethiopia for two weeks in October 2017. We’d originally planned a visit to Madagascar. But after an outbreak of the pneumonic plague spread through the country, our flights were cancelled. Although it was still possible to get to Madagascar, the cost of doing so was drastically higher and knowing we would be in remote areas for most of the trip, decided to delay our visit for a later date.

Having always wanted to visit Ethiopia, we found some very reasonable flights and booked our seats. We didn’t have a lot of time to plan where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see. Being avid wildlife and nature lovers, we decided to invest most of our time seeing the things we love the most!

Flying into the capital Addis Ababa, we’d booked a transfer to our hotel as our flight arrived around 2 am. After checking into our very average looking room, we went straight to sleep. The hotel had a fabulous restaurant with delicious traditional Ethiopian coffee, which we couldn’t get enough of at breakfast. They also offered a very reasonably priced vegan buffet lunch, which we also indulged in. The city was every bit as big and hectic as we thought it would be. Not being fans of big cities, we didn’t venture out too far. Instead, we used Addis as our hub, spending our time sitting on the sun terrace of the restaurant planning our trip. The frustrating thing about Ethiopia was the lack of information available to potential tourists. So, the time in Addis allowed us to put together a more solid itinerary.

We had read about a place called Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area, a 100sqkm protected area, northeast of Addis with a healthy population of Gelada Baboons. Not only that, but Menz -Guassa was one on the best places to see the Ethiopian Wolf. Three dozen of the estimated 400-500 endangered wolves surviving in the wild, inhabited the area. There was a very remote community-run lodge offering accommodation and guided walks around the area. So, we made a very sporadic decision to head a little off track in search of the world’s rarest canid.

Just to guarantee our seats, we took a taxi to the main bus station to buy our bus tickets a day in advance. The bus station was incredibly hectic, and to be honest, quite intimidating. Thankfully, our taxi driver helped us get our tickets. The following morning we reached the bus station at 5.30am. Our bus was due to leave at 6am, but in true African style, we left at 7am. We were the only foreigners on the bus which made for an interesting journey.

The drive took 7 hours on both sealed, unsealed, bumpy and dusty roads. In fact, we had never encountered so much dust in all of our travels! Dust, as we later discovered, would become a solid part of our lives for our entire stay in Ethiopia! The scenery we passed was beautiful, as we drove through hills, villages and farmland. We were dropped right outside the lodge where a guard showed us to our room. The accommodation was basic, with a communal kitchen and shower block, both in separate buildings.

Menz Guassa views

We were the only guests staying at the lodge, apart from two German’s – Torsten & Richard. They had taken a personal interest in the lodge and were there to offer assistance and guidance to the community lodge committee. We spent the evening wandering around the surroundings and chatting with our new German friends.

They have since setup ‘Grow My Future‘ their first community project in Ethiopia. “The volunteer-led foundation supports small-scale initiatives where people seek to sustainably use their natural resources while preserving the neighbouring wilderness”

The following day, we went on a full day hike with a local from the community. He didn’t speak much English but knew where we could find the Geladas. It took an hour or so of hiking along the mountains, with some reasonably sheer drops before we found our first Gelada family.

Gelada Baboons Menz Guassa

We were surprised at how close we could actually get to them and spent a lot of time taking photos and observing the families. We saw groups of males fighting, families grooming and babies hiding. It was truly an amazing experience.

Baby Gelada, Menz Guassa

On the way back to the lodge, we spotted a group of near two hundred Gelada’s. So, spent more time walking between them and taking photos. We knew there was a research centre about twenty minutes away in the nearest town Mehal Meda. The Geladas were quite habituated, which made photographing them easy.

Menz Guassa Gelada ethiopia

The males were particularly photogenic, with their long cape of hair that resembled a mane, fit for a shampoo commercial. And the large bright red almost hourglass-shaped patch of skin on their chest and neck glowing. It’s easy to see where they get their nickname Bleeding Heart Monkeys from.

Male Gelada Baboon Menz Guassa

The Gelada’s even considerately positioned for us in the colourful flora to feast. Gelada’s are actually the only primates that are primarily graminivores (grass grazers.) Grass blades are the main source of nutrition (90% of their diet) but they also happily eat flowers, roots and herbs.

Baby Gelada Menz Guassa

Eventually, we headed back to the lodge having had an amazing time with the Geladas. Sadly, our day exploring Menz Guassa didn’t produce an Ethiopian Wolf, but we did see lots of their main source of food.

Ethiopian Wolf food - Menz Guassa

We stood slightly deflated, on the side of the misty road at 6am waiting to flag our bus back to Addis Ababa. Suddenly, we couldn’t believe our eyes as Africa’s most endangered carnivore trotted out of the mist only 50m away. The Ethiopian Wolf of Menz Guassa appeared out of nowhere and Chris chaotically rushed for our camera, before sprinting for some sort of vantage point. Amazingly, we got a couple of photos before he/she was lost to the mist again. In all the commotion, our bus arrived allowing us no time to savour the moment. Just a frantic dash to board or wait another 24hrs! We couldn’t believe our luck, we had seen one of the rarest species on earth.

Menz Guassa Ethiopian Wolf

We left Menz Guassa and headed down the bumpy road back to Addis, so happy with the past few days. Even experiencing a little more wildlife on the way back!

For us, Menz Guassa was the perfect way to start our travels in Ethiopia. It was a great decision to get a little off track! Next up, Blue Nile Falls & Lake Tana.


Getting to & from Menz Guassa

Addis Ababa – Menz Guassa

Buses from Lamberet Bus station run the 7 hour route from Addis Ababa to Mehal Meda daily departing at 6:00am-7:00am. Ask to be dropped off at Menz Guassa Community Lodge. All bar one of people on our bus spoke no English at all, so communicating this with the driver was tricky. We strongly recommend having your hotel write it all in Amharic for you so you can just show the driver.

We took a taxi to Lambaret Bus station the day before and the taxi driver (who we arranged through our hotel in Addis) helped us purchase the bus tickets.

Menz Guassa – Addis Ababa

From Menz Guassa, we took the same bus back to Addis. However the bus starts further north at Mehal Meda, so the lodge arranged for one of their team to go and buy our ticket the night before, so we were guaranteed seats. If you choose to wait and on the side of the road and flag a bus down, it will likely be full when it passes and may not stop to pick you up.

Accommodation

The accommodation at Menz Guassa is basic but adequate, with private rooms and a separate shower and toilet block. As there’s no restaurant, so you must take your own food (we purchased in Addis beforehand). The communal kitchen and eating area had good cooking facilities.

Remember, you need to pre-book this accommodation and experience.

Best time to visit

As a whole the drier months from mid-October through to April are the best time to visit Ethiopia. During the rainy season (June – October), trails can be wet, muddy and misty.

How much time do you need

We had one full day in Menz Guassa and it took a full day to travel each way. As with any wildlife experience, the more time the better and we wish we’d had longer here. We recommend 2-3 full days at Guassa to give yourself a good chance to see the wildlife and explore the spectacular scenery.

Tips and Essential Information

  • If heading back to Addis take only take a small bag with you with essentials, rather than carrying your big packs.
  • As the weather in the mountains changes quickly, you should bring clothes for every occasion particularly wet weather gear. Depending on the time of year of your visit will dictate what you need. Our November visit was freezing from early evening through til mid-morning. So check ahead to see what temperatures to expect on your visit.
  • Take enough cash to pay for everything you need here. Tips are appreciated.
  • Download Maps.me to your phone so that you have offline maps. We love pinning our journeys as we travel.
  • Stock up on snacks and water before you leave. There are no shops here! So buy all you need in advance.
  • For the best chance of seeing an Ethiopian Wolf in Menz Guassa, have some flexibility in your itinerary and allow a few days to visit the lodge.

Packing Essentials

  • A good pair of ‘broken-in’ hiking boots. By this we mean don’t just buy a new pair and use them for the first time on your treks. It’s a recipe for blisters and potential discomfort.
  • Decent socks for hiking and for the freezing nights
  • Thermals. The afternoons and nights were super cold and we wished we had thermals with us
  • A decent beanie or buff
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Biodegradable wet wipes
  • Antibacterial hand wash
  • Head torch
  • Quick-dry travel towel
  • Pre-charge you camera batteries/phone as you’ll want to take a lot of pictures.
  • If you have a passion for wildlife photography, we highly recommend taking a decent zoom lens. You can generally get quite close to the Geladas but the rest of the wildlife isn’t as habituated. We shoot the majority of our wildlife pics with a Canon 100-400mm.

Planning a trip to Ethiopia? Check out our other Ethiopian blogs:

Hiking the Simien Mountains

Blur Nile Falls & Lake Tana

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