Gambella National Park, or is a 4,575-square-kilometre national park in Ethiopia, near the South Sudanese border. It is the nation’s largest national park.
Gambella is located several hundred kilometers from Addis Ababa, and features swamps and wetlands. The Akobo, Alero, Baro, and Gilo rivers all run through the park, supporting a variety of plant communities and wildlife.
Gambella was established in 1974, but is not fully protected and has not been effectively managed for much of its history.
Fauna and flora
Gambella has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Ethiopia. According to the African Conservation Foundation, the park is home to 69 species of mammals, as of 2012.
In 2015, an article published by Natural Resources said Gambella had 41 large mammal species, the most common of which include: African elephant, African buffalo, bushpig, common warthog, giraffe, hippopotamus, kéwel, Nile lechwe, sable, tiang, topi, and waterbuck. Predators and primates include: cheetahs, leopards, lions, mantled guereza, olive baboons, patas monkeys and spotted hyenas.
The park also hosts herds of Bohor reedbuck, bushbuck, Lelwel hartebeest, oribi, reedbuck, roan antelope, and white-eared kob. The white-eared kob migration is Africa’s second largest mammal migration.
In 2015, African Parks and the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority surveyed the park’s giraffe population for the first time, and estimated there were between 100 and 120 giraffes. Gambella’s giraffes were once thought to belong to the Nubian subspecies. Gambella’s rivers host amphibians, freshwater fish (including perch), and reptiles, including Nile crocodiles.
327 bird species, including seasonal migrants, have been recorded, including the African skimmer, black-faced firefinch, Carmine bee-eater, cisticolas, crowned cranes, Egyptian plover, exclamatory paradise whydah, green bee-eater, pelicans, approximately 40 species of raptors, red-necked buzzard, red-throated bee-eater, storks, warblers, and vultures.
The rare shoebill stork, Basra reed warbler, and black-winged pratincole have been recorded, the former species just once since the 1960s.
Gambella’s swamps and wetlands support 490 plant species. Plant communities include floodplains, forests with savanna grasses, shrublands, and deciduous woodlands.
Native grasses can grow more than 3meters (9.8 ft) tall. Plant species along the Akobo and Baro rivers include: Acacia victoriae, Arundo donax, shenkorageda (Saccharum officinalis), and temba (Pennisetum petiolare). The invasive Eichhornia crassipes (water hyacinth) has also been reported.
Efforts to reduce poaching doubled the number of wild animals in the park between 2008 and 2012.
Gambella was established during 1974–1975 to protect habitat and wildlife, especially the Nile lechwe and white-eared kob, two endangered antelope species.
Animal populations in the park have declined because of agriculture, cotton farming, hunting, poaching and the creation of refugee camps, especially following the 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia and by displaced Sudanese. Illegal deforestation by local communities has also led to conflict.
In 2012, Bantayehu Wasyihun, head of the park’s office, said infrastructure development was underway to make Gambella more accommodating to tourists. The conservation organization African Parks and Addis Ababa University’s Horn of Africa Research Centre worked with park officials to draft plans to improve Gambella’s security and structure.