abiyaya_2Abiyatta Shalla Lakes National Parks situated in the Great Rift Valley, only 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Addis Ababa, and in the Lake Langano recreational areas, the Abiyatta Shalla lakes national Park attracts numerous visitors. It was created primarily for its aquatic bird life, particularly those that feed and breed on lakes Abiyatta and Shalla in Large numbers. The park compresses the two lakes, the isthmus between them and a thin strip of land along the shorelines of each. Developments have been limited to a number of tracks on land, and the construction of seven outposts. While attention is focused on the water birds, the land area does contain a reasonable amount of other wildlife.

The two lakes are very different in character. Abiyatta is shallow at about 14 metres (260 metres (853 feet) and is calculated to hold a grater volume of water than all of the Ethiopian Rift valley lakes put together. Abiyatta is surrounded by gentle, grass covered slopes and swathed in acacia woodlands. Shalla exudes a sense of mystery and foreboding, surrounded as it is by steep, black cliffs and peaks that reflect in its deep waters, which are liable to be whipped up by sudden storms and flurries of wind. It contains nine small, is located islands, rarely visited since there are no boats on the lake. These islands provide an excellent breeding ground for many bird species.

The network of tracks in this park is always developing. At present you can enter at four different points, three of which are inter connected. Approaching from Addis you first reach the Horakello entrance, where the small Horakello stream flows between lakes Langano and Abiyatta. The steam mouth is a source of relatively fresh water, much frequented by water birds for drinking and bathing.

Abijatta itself is very alkaline but shallow, so flamingoes can be seen scattered over most of its surface, and especially along the windward edge where their algal food source concentrates. You can approach quite closely, but beware of treacherous deep and mud if the lake is low. Large numbers of boat grater and lesser flamingoes gather here, together with great white pelicans and a host of other water birds.

A tack which runs for 20 kilometers (12 miles) along the tree line of the eastern shore of Lake Abiyatta connects Horakello with the park headquarters further south at Dole. From here you can see other parts of Lake Abiyatta and some mammal species, especially Grant’s gazelle, warthog and occasionally the Oribi.

abiyata_1The headquarters houses a small museum, currently being upgraded, which gives an excellent idea of the wealth of birdlife in the park. There are over 400 species recorded here, almost half the number recorded for the whole country, A further track leads on from Dole to the shores of Lake Shalla where hot steam, mud and water bubble to the earth’s surface. Revered locally for their medicinal properties, the hot springs have a sense of primeval mystery about hem, especially in the cooler early mornings. They are relics of the massive volcanic activity that has formed this amazing country and landscape.

A further entrance to this park exists in the south, where a rough track leads to another small hot spring area at Ghike. There are plans to install a boat at the lake which will ferry small groups of people to the islands to observe the breeding colonies of thousands of great while pelicans and grater flamingoes. The grate white pelican colony is estimated to be visited by   up to 13000 pairs annually, and is the most important breeding site for the species in the world.

In association with the Abiyatta Shalla Lakes National Park is Senkello Swayne’s hartebeest Sanctuary, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the town of Shashemene, and close to the Chike entrance of the park. The sanctuary was established for this endemic subspecies of the hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus swaynei) which once roamed the plans of Somalia and Ethiopia in thousands, but is now restricted to four small localities in Ethiopia. The sanctuary is small but well worth a visit. Set beneath a small rounded hill, over 2,000 of these rich, chocolate colored hartebeest are packed into this area of wooded grassland, along with bohor reedbuck (Redunca), Oribi and many different species of birds.