Nechisar National Park

Nechisar National Park (also spelled as Nech Sar) is one of the National Parks of Ethiopia. Located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region (SNNPR) immediately to the east of Arba Minch, its 514 square kilometers of territory include the "Bridge of God" (an isthmus between Lakes Abaya and Chamo), and the Nechisar (English: white grass) plains east of the lakes. Park elevations range between 1108 and 1650 meters above sea level. Nechisar National Park was established in 1974. Under the management of African Parks since 2005, it is reportedly scheduled to hand over management to the Ethiopian government in June 2008.

History and management

In the lawless period at the end of the Derg rule and immediately afterwards, Nechisar suffered much damage. Park buildings located far from the headquarters were looted and damaged. Attacked by Borena Oromo, who in turn were victimized by neighboring ethnic groups, the Guji used the Park as sanctuary on several occasions, degrading the environment and contributing to the local extinction of many species. The Guji also acquired firearms during this period, and used them to resist eviction from the Park afterwards. In 2004/05, Refugees International criticized the eviction.

In 2005, the management responsibility for Nechisar National Park was handed over to African Parks Conservation. In consultation with the Ethiopian government and the sNNPR government they began attempting to address the problems with illegal operations in the park including the illegal cutting down of trees for firewood for Arba Minch, illegal fishing, illegal human settlement and cattle grazing inside the park. African Parks assigned a group of scouts to improve the protection of the area.

One of the major environmental concerns facing the park is illegal fishing operations on Lake Abaya and Chamo. According to Abera Adnew, deputy manager of Arba Minch Fishermen Cooperatives, "There are over 3000 illegal fishermen working on Lake Abaya,". The Arba Minch Fishermen Cooperative has attempted to address the problem but has faced much hostility from the illegal fisherman who depend on the fish stocks for their livelihoods. The problem is enchanced by water recession from the shore during the dry seasons and the volume has been diminishing in the last few years as tributary rivers were diverted for irrigation. A tributary, the Kulfo River, which once had an abundant fish population has dried out considerably during dry season. Some farmers in the park have taken advantage of the dry land on the shores and have begun banana cultivation in recent years referred to the locals as "soke".

The fishermen's association is licensed to work on Lake Chamo as well, but aside from conflicts with the fishermen, they have also faced hostility from Guji pastoralists. African Parks attempted to directly negotiate with the Guji communities in the park and according to the manager of Africa Parks, "We managed to have an agreement with the Guji people by the end of September 2004," John Mark said. The federal government requested a formal letter from the SNNPR government approving the negotiation between the Guji communities and Africa Parks. But the regional government would not approve the negotiation. That is the main reason why they are pulling out"

Tourism has increased dramatically in the park in recent years and since 2004 the number of tourists was doubling each year. It increased from 5300 tourists in 2005 to 20,500 in 2007.

Geography and landscape

The important regional centre to the park is Arba Minch in the Great Rift Valley. Approximately 15% of the park consists of lakes including Lake Abaya in the north and Lake Chamo in the south. Part of the habitat consists of the groundwater forest and shoreline of the lakes, but there are dry grassy plains, and most of the park is covered in thick bushland and the wooded valleys and foothills of the Amaro Mountains. The altitude ranges from 1,108m at the shore of Lake Chamo to 1,650m on Mount Tabala in the north-east, renowned for its hot springs.

The forest between the two lakes and by the Kulfo river is dominated by Ficus sycamorus which can grow up to 30m tall. Extensive areas to the west of Lake Abaya were cleared in the 1960s and 1970s to establish large-scale mechanized farms for cotton and other crops.

The freshwater swamps at the mouth of the Kulfo River and in Lake Chamo are dominated by Typha angustifolia, tall waterside grasses and the small leguminous trees, such as Aeschynomene elaphroxylon and Sesbania sesban. Taller trees found in the park include Dichrostachys cinerea, Acacia tortilis, Balanites aegyptiaca and less common Acacia nilotica. The southern part of the park is domainated by edaphic grassland and a calcareous black clay soil underneath with Dobera glabra, Acacia tortilis and the grass Chrysopogon aucheri forming much of the landscape.

Both Lake Abaya and Chamo have substantial fish populations, notably nile perch, which forms the basis of the local fishing industry. Crocodiles inhabit both lakes and there is a crocodile farm near Lake Abaya. At Chamo crocodiles are exploited for their skins.


Wildlife in the park include Plains Zebra, Grant's Gazelle, Dik-dik, and the Greater Kudu as well as one of the last three populations of the endangered Swayne's Hartebeest, endemic to Ethiopia. A stretch of the northwest shore of Lake Chamo is known as Crocodile Market, where hundreds of Crocodiles gather to sun themselves. The park also has notable populations of bushbuck, bushpig, Anubis baboon, velvet monkeys, African hunting dog, black-backed jackal and Burchell's zebra.

Nechisar National Park is considered an important habitat for bird populations particularly those migrating. It has a noted population of kingfishers, storks, pelicans, flamingos and fish eagles.

Falco naumanni and Circus macrourus are fairly common on passage and small numbers of Phoenicopterus minor occur on Lakes Chamo and Abaya. Species typical of bushland habitats include Phoeniculus somaliensis, Lanius dorsalis and Cisticola bodessa and the open plains support three species that are very unknown elsewhere in Ethiopia: an isolated population of Mirafra albicauda, the endemic Caprimulgus solalaand the rare C. stellatus. The south-western corner of Lake Abaya supports one of only two Ethiopian populations of Myrmecocichla albifrons. Other species of note include Accipiter ovampensis, Aviceda cuculoides, Gypaetus barbatus, Macheiramphus alcinus, Chelictinia riocourii, Francolinus levaillantii, Podica senegalensis, Serinus reichardi, Schoutedenapus myoptilus, and Coracina caesia.


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