I like tracking down unusual animals, and lammergeyers had been on my list (as had gelada) for some time. My trip to Jinbar Waterfall, in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, would, I hoped, prove the perfect opportunity to spot one of these gnarly, bone-eating scavengers.
The Simien Mountains of Northern Ethiopia (the highest peak of which is Ras Dashen at 4,550 metres) are separated from the surrounding lowlands by a prominent 2,000-metre high escarpment.
Ascend into the Simien Mountains, and walk to the cliff edge – don’t imagine there will be anything like a guardrail to prevent you from tumbling over the edge – and you will be able to stare 2,000 metres straight down. It’s like looking out the window of a plane.
The Simien Mountains were once inhabited by the Beta Israel (also known as Ethiopian Jews) who retreated into these mountains after being persecuted by the Christian Emperors of Ethiopia during the 14th and 15th Centuries CE. Most of the Beta Israel have since migrated to Israel.
In terms of animal life, the mountains are home to several unique species, including Gelada baboons, and Walia Ibex.
The sure-footed Walia Ibex, a type of mountain goat, relies on the steepness of the 2000-metre high escarpment to escape from predators including leopards, caracal, and the Ethiopian Wolf (another species that is unique to the Simien Mountains).
And the Lammergeyers?
Lammergeyers, also known as Bearded Vultures, are a type of scavenger bird that specialises in eating bones. Their diet comprises of up to 90% bone and bone marrow.
In fact they love bone so much they will even spit out any bits of meat they might accidentally ingest when dismembering a corpse.
They are also capable of swallowing a bone the size of lamb femur in one go.
One of the best places in the Simien Mountains to spot lammergeyers is the majestic Jinbar Waterfall. Which is lucky because I really wanted to go anyway.
Jinbar Waterfall can be accessed via a multi-day trek through the mountains, or by a 15-minute stroll from the Debark to Chennek Road.
We opted for the latter.
And sure enough, there, flying across the face of Jinbar Waterfall: lammergeyers!
Now if only there was a lamb femur around for them to devour. 🙂
The Simien Mountains are 150 km (2.5 hour drive) north of Gondar (a city famous for its castles). The mountains can be explored on a multi-day hike, or viewed from a car seat as part of a long day trip.
All visitors to Simien Mountains National Park must be accompanied by a scout (it’s a condition of entry to the park). The need for a scout with a large gun isn’t really clear – something about threats from bandits, or rebels, or leopards. I’m pretty sure our scout didn’t have any bullets in his gun.
Read more on Simien National Park in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.