Theropithecus gelada gelada | Northern Gelada
Best spot: Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Seeing this Species
Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Simien Mountains National Park (SMNP) is one of the best spots to see the Northern Geladas in the wild, with almost guaranteed sightings of large bands of them along the main road or hiking trail running through the park. SMNP is in northern Ethiopia and protects approx. 220 sq km of afro-alpine grassland and forest. The park has some of the most scenic hiking trails in Africa, with the escarpment dropping over 1,000 m in vertigo inducing cliffs and gullies along the northern ridgeline. The park also protects the rare Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis) and Walia Ibex (Capra walie).
The closest town to SMNP is Debark, a bustling agricultural town, with several tour operator offices and budget accommodations catering to independent travellers. There are several ways to visit SMNP and see the Northern Geladas:
Staying in a lodge, such as Limalimo Lodge or Simien Lodge and hiring a 4WD to enter the park. A stay of at least two nights is recommended, with a full day in the park searching for the Northern Geladas.
Independently, staying in Debark town and hiring a 4WD, catching a shuttle bus or a local bus into the park.
A multi-day hike with an accredited tour company organised in Debark or Gondar. Trekkers stay at several camps throughout the park with multiple hiking itineraries and durations available.
All visitors must pay entry fees (90birr per person per day) and hire a National Park scout (400birr per day) prior to entering the park (Dec-18 costs). Fees are paid at the National Park office located on the main road as you enter Debark town on the left-hand side. Keep all payment receipts for entry to the park.
Those not travelling as part of an organised tour or hike, will also need to hire a guide (500birr per day) from the National Park office. The guide will assist with translation and help you plan your expedition in search of the Northern Geladas. Most organised tours and hikes include the cost of a guide, scout, and entry but it’s worth confirming this with your tour operator to avoid any surprises on the day.
It is recommended that you bring enough cash with you to pay for the entry fees above, as well as any tips. There is a Commercial Bank of Ethiopia ATM further along the Debark main road, which accepts international Mastercard, however, it is not guaranteed to have cash available.
We stayed at the luxurious Limalimo Lodge, which is located outside the park but has sweeping views over the escarpment edge. Limalimo Lodge is a 5-star eco-resort and is considered one of the best lodges in Ethiopia. Double cabins start at $370 USD, which includes all food and drinks. We saw several Northern Geladas (at a distance) from the terrace, whilst having an afternoon beer. It is not possible to walk outside the lodge without your guide and scout.
The Simien Lodge in Bayut Ris, is located on the western edge of the park and we were told you stand a better chance of seeing big gelada groups at the lodge given its location. Accommodation is more basic than Limalimo but reviews suggest they are of good quality. Rates start at $130 USD for a double room in low season, peaking at $280 USD in high season, with breakfast included.
You can walk from both lodges in search of the Northern Geladas, however, if your time is limited, you stand a better chance of seeing them by hiring a 4WD and looking for them along the unpaved road that runs east-west through the park. Let your guide know you are on an expedition to search for the geladas and they can take you directly to the most likely spots to find them. The cost of the 4WD hire varies from location to location, but we paid $140 USD for a day trip from Limalimo lodge.
If you are travelling independently and staying in Debark, there is the option of catching a local bus/truck into the park, but you aren’t guaranteed to find a ride back. We saw lots of trucks full of locals heading back through the National Park towards Debark. Simian Lodge offer a shuttle transfer from Debark to their lodge or to Sankabar Camp, where you have a chance of spotting the Northern Geladas on a day hike.
You also stand a good chance of seeing large troops of geladas on a multi-day hike, particularly in the Sankabar Camp area. There are several well-run trekking companies that can organise multi-day hikes in the Simiens, many are located in Gondar, as well as Debark. Bring a hat or sunscreen, as well as wet weather gear and a warm jacket, as it gets very cold at night at this altitude. The Simien Mountains National Park website is a useful resource for trekking routes, camping options, what to pack and other activities in the area.
Gondar is the main gateway city to the area, located approximately 100km south of Debark on a paved road. Gondar has an airport and regular bus connections to other towns in northern Ethiopia and the capital Addis Ababa. Gondar is a worthwhile stop in itself, given its rich history and well-kept castles. Limalimo Lodge and Simien Lodge offer transfers in the order of $40 USD pp one way from Gondar to the SMNP, which take around 2 hours. Independent travellers can catch regular minibuses to Debark throughout the day. Those on an organised trek from Gondar will typically have a transfer included in the price.
Probability of success: ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
Overlapping species: There are four other taxa of primates in Simien Mountains National Park :
Olive Baboon (Papio anubis)
Hamadryas Baboon (Papio hamadryas)
Grivet Monkey (Chlorocebus aethiops)
Guereza (Colobus guereza guereza)
The Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area, to the north-east of Addis Ababa, is another protected area where geladas can be found, and it is also home to the Ethiopian Wolf. Further information can be found at the Conservation Area’s useful website.
Taxonomy & Occurrence
There are two subspecies of the Gelada: Northern Gelada (Theropithecus gelada gelada) is found to the north of Lake Tana and west of Tekezé River) while the Southern Gelada (T. g. obscurus) is found to the south of Lake Tana and East of Tekezé River in Ethiopia .
Geladas are the only extant member of genus Theropithecus. They are easily distinguished from other primate species due to the cape of long, golden hair over their shoulders and the bright red patch of skin on the chests (the reason it is sometimes referred to as the Bleeding Heart Monkey). Geladas are highly sexually dimorphic, with males significantly larger than females .
Geladas are endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia, with the main population confined to high, afro-alpine grassland escarpments near deep gorges . Geladas are the last surviving species of grazing primates that were once numerous across East Africa . They are highly social, living in complex multi-level societies or ‘bands’, which typically range from 30 to 250 individuals .
IUCN Conservation Status
Listed as Least Concern, but Northern Gelada numbers are probably in decline due to the restricted range and loss of suitable habitat . They face competition from expanding farmlands and livestock grazing, forcing many populations to the least desirable and inaccessible escarpment areas.
Map © Brad Smith
The incredible view from Limalimo Lodge terrace
Hiking in Simien Mountains National Park
Landscape view of Simien Mountains National Park
 Mittermeier R.A., Rylands A.B. and Wilson D.E., 2013 - Handbook of the Mammals of the World: Primates. Vol. 3. Lynx Edicons: Barcelona
 Bergman T.J. and Beehner J.C., 2013. Theropithecus gelada Gelada; pp. 240-244 in Butynski T.M., Kingdon J. and Kalina J. (eds), Mammals of Africa: Volume II: Primates. Bloomsbury Publishing. London.
 Fashing P.J., Nguyen N., Burke R., Mekonnen A. and Gippoliti S., 2019. Theropithecus gelada gelada. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019. Accessed on 28/06/2020.
 Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, 2020. Simien Mountains – Mammals. Accessed 21/06/2020.
Page Last Updated: 10 July 2020