Photos: In Ethiopia, a Close-Up for the Gelada

Times photographer Damon Winter describes a trip to Ethiopia's Simien Mountains and an encounter with the gelada. (Photo: Flickr)

The New York Times

By Damon Winter

I was in Ethiopia last November for a monthlong assignment for The Times on art in Africa. The final leg of our trip sent us to Ethiopia, where we took a quick detour to the Simien Mountains, full of deep gorges and intricate mazes of canyons. The mountains are home to the gelada, sometimes called bleeding heart baboons because of a red patch on the chest of the males. (They are actually not baboons, though they are closely related.) They live exclusively on the short, tough grasses that grow on the Simiens’ slopes.

I guess the gelada are so used to visitors that they hardly notice people anymore. They move in large bands from one patch of grass to another, and you can walk alongside the group and watch a complete range of social behavior unfold right in front of you. You can see the delicate dance between male and female that defines their social structure, and watch the alpha males defend their territory and their harem from aggressors.

On my last morning there, I found one band grazing in a small field of grass near a cliff edge. After watching for about an hour in the field, I wandered over to the edge of the cliff and sat down to take in the view. Within about 20 minutes, the entire band of geladas had shifted positions and encircled me. It was as if I was just a part of the landscape.

Click here to view the slide show at The New York Times.

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