Geladas and the Endless Simien Mountains

It is without a doubt one of the exact photographs you wish to get when perched in the Simien mountains.

Admittedly the young and female Gelada baboons are pretty similar to their savannah cousins the Chacma baboon. It is a photographers duty to showcase what defines his subject, what separates it from others so it is the golden haired males that you focus on. With their incredibly long manes it almost looks like a lion from far and even has proclaimed the nickname, “Simien Lion”.

The other, and equally just as important, subject in this area is the Simien Mountains themselves. Falling away into the edge of your optic capacity it is a site that quite literally takes your breath away. Our goal is to combine the two in order to create something the viewer can lose themselves in.

The trick is to catch the Geladas as soon as they wake up and start to ascend the cliffs they spend the night on. Fear of predators such as leopard and hyenas mean that during the night, they are impossible to get to. However, the moment they reach the cliff edge in the morning when they start to get ready for the days rummaging and the moment they return to their safe heaven on the cliffs they tend to pause on the edge for some time to get the early morning sun or the last rays before the cold nights of the Simien Mountains.  It is this period which one gets a chance to combine these two spectacular elements of an image.

Geladas and the endless Simien Mountains.

Wild Eye - Ethiopia

On this day our timing was perfect. The Geladas were scaling the mountains as we arrived so we hurried into positions along the cliff to see if we could get one of the big male’s right on the edge.

Geladas can live in troops of up to 800 strong but these groups are divided into many smaller family units consisting of about 4 females, young and one dominant male. I found a group just like this sitting along the edge of the cliff. The male had his head buried in the grass having a short nap as if the wakeup call had come too early for him. Behind them lay a beautiful and undisturbed backdrop of the mountains so I decided we should wait for him to rise from his slumber. It wasn’t long until he did stir, getting a fright from electric youngsters in a sort of a maniac frenzy that seemed to ingulf them every ten minutes or so. Once awake he hopped up the cliff into the sunlight and realising the comfort of the warmth he had been missing out on, put on a perfect show for us for no less than 15 minutes. Occasionally he would courteously change his pose and on one occasion he confronted me as one of the crazed youngsters had almost run over me and let out a scream which then snowballed into panicked mothers with all fingers pointing at me. After holding my best “submissive look”, something I’m not that good at, for a good five minutes the “simien lion” let me off with a warning.

None the less the experienced far outweighed the images we finally got of these incredible creatures.


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