In the April 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine, you will be able to find an article about the Menz Guassa Community Conservation Area, home of the gelada baboon or the bleeding heart monkey. Located a few hours drive away from Addis Ababa, it had been on our to-do list for the past three years we have been living in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, after a first rather unfortunate attempt where we fell victim to the terrible road conditions left us with three flat tyres at one go and a failed long weekend trip. However, this time, on a deadline, and with better tyres, we set off to find this remarkable area where the community and the wildlife have found a way to co-exist.
After a very bumpy ride from Addis Ababa, we arrived at the cozy lodge the community has built to welcome visitors and where you can hire local guides to explore the area further. We were lucky to spot a large troupe of geladas right as we arrived at the lodge on the road. They are incredibly calm and have almost no issues with humans so it is possible to get very close to them (despite this, please do remember that they are wild animals and they should never, ever be touched and it is important to give them the distance they want.) The large males have manes that give them a very lion-like look and huge incisors. These are used only for protection as the geladas are very much vegetarians.
The Guassa Community Conservation Area is managed by the local community who have taken it upon themselves to recognize the importance of protecting the highland grassy hills where these baboons live. Without tourism, they would very likely be hunted or killed by the local villagers as they are known to raid crops. Guassa is the name of the long grasses which are also used by the locals to create baskets. We hurriedly took our guide and went on a short hike at sunset. We did spot the same troupe of gelada baboons but sadly, the wild cat which had been spotted the previously day stayed out of our grasp.
The next day, we set off for a longer hike where we observed yet another troupe of baboons. My husband also spotted a duiker and klipspringer but neither of us managed to take a photos of these elusively shy animals. Despite the high altitude, the fresh air and the commanding views of the valley below kept us in great spirit and as we trampled through the long grasses to come upon the geladas, it felt like very little effort had been expended. Unfortunately, our stay was very short (only one night) but we were so pleased to have made it to Menz Guassa. Although the views are not as spectacular as in the Simien Mountains, it is a community-based effort that is well-worth the drive to experience a chance to spend some time with the charismatic bleeding heart baboon which can only be found in the highlands of Ethiopia.