Less than 50 years ago, Gambela National Park, spreading over 5061 sq km and abutting the even larger Boma National Park of South Sudan, was considered one of Ethiopia’s richest places for large mammals. Elephants, lions, leopards, giraffes, buffaloes, topis, tiang (a subspecies of tsessebe antelope), roan antelope, hartebeests, white-eared kob, Nile lechwe and waterbucks were found here in huge numbers.
Then to both Ethiopia and neighbouring Sudan (now South Sudan) came decades of war, civil unrest and refugees, and with these Gambela National Park was largely forgotten and abandoned. War and wildlife generally don’t mix well and experts quite logically assumed that the wildlife of both Gambela and Boma national parks would have been decimated. But then in 2007, as peace started to return to the wider region, conservationists from the New York–based Wildlife Conservation Society embarked on aerial surveys of South Sudan’s Boma National Park. They were shocked to find that the wildlife had not merely survived the dark years of violence but that it was flourishing.
The wildlife they found was astonishing, including over a million white-eared kob, tiang and Mongalla gazelles. In addition to the antelope species, there are thought to be over 8000 elephants, 8900 buffalo and 2800 ostrich as well as lions, leopards, giraffes, hippos and numerous other species. Between 2007 and 2012 the focus was all on Boma park, but logic always said that the wildlife would likely be following the rains and grazing over the border and into Gambela. Today surveys are also taking place here, and the first indications are that Gambela park may just be equally rich in wildlife.