Photo credit: Eliza Richman
Although formally established in 1966 and gazetted in 1969, the Simien Mountains National Park has been managed since 1944. The area was then a royal hunting ground and when the Department of Forestry, Game and Fishery within the Ministry of Agriculture was established that year, conservation efforts focused on the regulation of game hunting. However, as hunting increased and the growing population put increasing pressure on land and resource use, it became apparent that wildlife conservation areas such as the Simien Mountains needed to be formally established to conserve these precious resources. UNESCO missions visited Ethiopia in 1963 and 1965 and recommended the establishment of the Simien Mountains National Park. The park was officially established in 1966.
Dr. B. Nievergelt, of the University of Zurich, visited the Simien Mountains in 1968 and carried out an intensive assessment of the area. Several years later, as a result of his findings he put forward a number of conservation-oriented development measures. At about the same time, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, then president of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), visited the park. In 1974, the Pro-Simien Foundation was established in Switzerland with the aim of supporting research in the area. As a result, various studies were carried out including an assessment of soil erosion, village profiles, preparation of topographic maps and the first management plan.
The Simien Mountains National Park was legally gazetted in 1969, along with the Awash National Park and remained the only two national park gazetted in Ethiopia prior to 2006. The park was initially managed by the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Organization (EWCO) and until 1977 expatriate wardens were assigned with support from WWF and the American Peace Corps. In 1978, the Simien Mountains National Park became one of the first two UNESCO natural World Heritage Sites to be listed. Accordingly, more intensive technical assistance was provided for park development from 1981. However, the area was soon caught up in the civil war between the previous Marxist military (‘Derg’) government and opposition groups from 1976 to 1991 and park infrastructure was severely damaged. After 1991, management efforts were reinstated, but funding was extremely limited.
In 1997, park management responsibility was transferred from EWCO to the Amhara National Regional State (ANRS) under the Government decentralization initiatives and then fell under the responsibility of the semi-autonomous Amhara Parks Development and Protection Authority (PaDPA).
SMNP has been the recipient of support from the Austrian Government since 1997 through a series of projects which provided park infrastructure as well as considerable support to park-associated communities in the form of community tourism and other alternative livelihoods development. Efforts to develop general management plans began in 2000 and was revived in 2006: a 10-year plan was finally endorsed by the Amhara NRS in 2009.