Awash National Park is located in the semi-arid lowlands of the northern Rift Valley, about 150 km east of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The landscape of the park consists largely of semi-arid thornscrub and is dominated by Mount Fantalle, a dormant volcano. The southern boundary of the park is formed by the Awash River, along which there is a zone of hybridization between anubis (Papio hamadryas anubis) and hamadryas (P. h. hamadryas) baboons that has been the subject of long-term investigation by the Awash National Park Baboon Research Project (ANPBRP), co-directed by Drs. Jane Phillips-Conroy and Clifford Jolly, since 1973. On the north, the park is bordered by the Kesem River (a tributary of the Awash), the Awara Melka State Farm and the accompanying village of Sabure, and an area of hot springs known as Filoha.
The topography of the northern part of Awash National Park reflects its history of volcanic activity, consisting largely of volcanic rocky outcrops, rolling hills, and several kilometer-long cliffs, inlcuding the one at Filoha. At Filoha lies the northern-most outpost of Awash National Park and a cliff commonly used as a sleeping site by hamadryas baboons. The region immediately surrounding the outpost includes approximately 5 km2 of natural hot springs and marshes and accompanying doum palm tree (Hyphaene thebaica) forests. Filoha is known locally for its medicinal hot springs, which local people visit both for its healing qualities and to water their livestock. The area surrounding the hot springs is largely a semi-arid thornscrub dominated by several species of shrubby Acacia.
A note on spelling: "Fil wuha" means "hot water" in Amharic, but the "w" often gets dropped and translations from Amharic to English vary greatly, thus the name of the outpost is alternately spelled "Filoha", "Filwoha", or "Filwuha".
The Awash region is characterized by two periods of seasonal rainfall: the long rains, occurring for two to three months between late June and September, and the short rains, occurring sporadically and intermittently between February and May. Of the 500-600 mm of annual rainfall reported by the park headquarters, the vast majority falls during the long rains, or wet season, of July and August. The drier months are generally about 2 degrees warmer (average afternoon shade temperature 34.4˚ C) than the rainy months (32.7˚ C), with a peak of dryness and temperature (averaging 36˚ C) in May and June, just before the beginning of the wet season.
Besides baboons, other commonly-observed fauna in the Filoha area include waterbuck, lesser kudu, warthogs, dik dik, spotted hyenas, jackals, crocodiles, raptors, a wide variety of water birds, and snakes such as puff adders and cobras. More rarely-observed fauna include greater kudu, bat-eared foxes, leopards, cheetah, and lions (which are heard on most nights from Filoha camp). The area is heavily used by nomadic Afar pastoralists, who bathe and water their livestock in the hot springs.
The Filoha outpost consists of four round stone huts owned by Awash National Park, three of which are inhabited by park scouts stationed at Filoha and the fourth of which is rented by the Filoha Hamadryas Project for use as a storage room and kitchen. We have built some basic structural elements at the field site, including a wooden and thatch shelter for our tents (where we sleep), a concrete table with benches, a shower stall, and a pit latrine. There is no electricity or plumbing at Filoha, but there is an unlimited supply of clean water in the hot springs and solar power available throughout most of the year. Recently, cellular coverage has extended to the Filoha region, and thus cellular phone calls and internet access via the cellular network is often possible at Filoha, especially from the top of the Filoha cliff.
At least five groups ("bands") of hamadryas baboons inhabit the Filoha region, both in and outside the park, and sleep on the numerous cliffs, each 5-10 km apart, that are scattered throughout the area. One of these cliffs is about 200 meters from the Filoha outpost (shown on left), and a second cliff is about 4 km to the west, at Wasaro (shown on right).
all text and photos copyright © Larissa Swedell