TWS2020: Photos reveal endangered nyala in Ethiopian park

A trail camera study in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains has revealed the presence of endangered mountain nyalas in an area where the antelopes previously had not been known.

“They are usually found in an area farther away,” said Phyllis Gichuru, a master’s student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and one of the authors, who presented a poster on the ongoing research at The Wildlife Society’s virtual 2020 Annual Conference. Typically, mountain nyalas are found in more rugged areas with thicker vegetation.

Researchers were looking for a melanistic leopard they’d heard about but only saw some with more common colors. Credit: Chrystina Parks

She and her colleagues wanted to get a better idea of the types of mammals that live in Bale Mountains National Park, a large area southeast of the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa. They had heard of a black leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) in the area and a lion that was used to living in dense vegetation as opposed to the usual savannah were they are found. They were also curious to see if Ethiopian wolves (Canis simensis), listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, were in the area, even though they are typically found at higher elevations.

The Bale Mountains is a unique ecosystem but it’s also in demand for coffee growing and livestock herding. Gichuru also wanted to learn more about human-wildlife interactions in the area, which is the last remaining pristine Afro-alipine biodiversity hotspot, sitting in the largest most contiguous mountain range in Africa.

Crested porcupines (Hystrix cristata). Credit: Chrystina Parks

From December 2015 to March 2016, her colleagues Matt Thornton and Chrystina Parks set up about 80 cameras around the park. They collected photos from about 50 of them after some were stolen and others destroyed by cattle herds moving through the area in dryer months.

The team gathered enough information to look at 27 different species of mammals in the park, including the mountain nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni). Endemic to Ethiopia, the antelope is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to threats including hunting, habitat loss, grazing from cattle and habitat fragmentation. “We did not think we’d see mountain nyalas in that area,” Gichuru said.

A common genet. Credit: Chrystina Parks:

They also found evidence of wildlife such as lions (Panthera leo), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), Ethiopian genets (Genetta abyssinica) and leopards, though they didn’t see the melanistic individual they’d heard about.

Gichuru said the researchers are still analyzing the data, but preliminary results show that honey badgers (Mellivora capensis) and African civets (Civettictis civetta) are found more often at higher elevations. Human-wildlife conflicts seem to be ongoing in the area, involving a number of different species.

This research was presented at TWS’ 2020 Virtual Conference. Conference attendees can continue to visit the virtual conference and review Gichuru’s paper for six months following the live event. Click here to learn about how to take part in upcoming conferences.

Header Image: Mountain nyalas are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Credit: Chrystina Parks