email a friend
printable version
Location Ethiopia, Tigray
Central coordinates 37o 54.00' East  13o 59.76' North
IBA criteria A3
Area 570,000 ha
Altitude 600 - 1,900m
Year of IBA assessment 1996

Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society

Site description The moist, fertile Shire lowlands are in the Western Zone. They are in the lower reaches of the wide Tekeze valley (at 600 m) between Enda Selassie at 1,900 m on the northern rim of the Tekeze gorge, Sheraro to the north-west and Birkuta to the west, near the border with Eritrea. Enda Selassie is c.200 km north of Gondar and 50 km west of Axum. The Shire lowlands are relatively under-populated compared to the rest of Tigray Region. They represent the easternmost extension of the Sudano–Sahelian zone. The higher, eastern section of Shire is on the western extension of the plateau where the terrain is flat to undulating. Towards the Tekeze and its larger tributaries, fairly deep valleys break the land, and several have cut through thick layers of red fossil soils which are almost sterile and support little or no vegetation. The lower western Shire lowlands, towards the border with Eritrea, comprise flatter plains, but with some higher hills such as Tsada Emba (White mountain).

The area supports a range of vegetation-types. On the higher eastern plateau, now mostly cultivated, wooded grassland thrives. Marshes with patches of tall sedges and bulrushes are formed in the shallow valleys where drainage is impeded. Forest patches are found above 1,000 m and comprise broad- to fine-leaved deciduous species. Most of the areas on broken terrain below 1,500 m are covered in AcaciaCombretum woodland with large trees of baobab Adansonia digitata and Tamarindus indica. Important species include the threatened African blackwood Dalbergia melanoxylon, the economically exploited frankincense tree Boswellia papyrifera, and the source of gum arabic, Acacia senegal. Much of the remaining area would naturally be covered in edaphic tall grassland, with some patches of woody species such as Balanites aegyptiaca. The Kunama people have long inhabited this area: they used to be hunter-gatherers until other groups recently moved into the area, and they then adopted a more sedentary, cultivation-oriented existence. The other traditional groups of the whole western lowlands are pastoralists; these include the Beni Amer based to the north in Eritrea, and the Benshangul and Gumuz peoples to the south. These groups bring large numbers of sheep, goats, cattle and camels into the Tekeze lowlands to make use of seasonal grazing/browsing. The flatter areas on both the plateau and the lowlands towards the Eritrea and Sudan borders are extensively cultivated, primarily for cotton, sorghum and sesame, and mostly by people from the highlands.

Key Biodiversity See Box and Table 3 for key species. The avifauna at this site is poorly known. A survey in 1992 recorded 152 species, including several species of the Somali–Masai biome, such as Uraeginthus cyanocephalus and Vidua fischeri. Other interesting birds include Falco ardosiaceus, Ptilopachus petrosus, Pluvianus aegyptius, Merops orientalis, Phoeniculus purpureus and Laniarius erythrogaster.

Non-bird biodiversity: A record of the snake Naja haje represents the first for Ethiopia. The forests and woodlands in the area support the endemic tree Albizia malacophylla malacophylla and the threatened African blackwood Dalbergia melanoxylon.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Senegal Eremomela Eremomela pusilla resident  1996  present  A3  Least Concern 
Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver Plocepasser superciliosus resident  1996  present  A3  Least Concern 
Black-rumped Waxbill Estrilda troglodytes resident  1996  present  A3  Least Concern 

Protected areas

Protected area Designation Area (ha) Relationship with IBA Overlap with IBA (ha)  
Shire Wildlife Reserve 75,300 protected area contained by site 75,300  


IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Artificial - terrestrial   94%
Shrubland   5%

Land use

Land-use Extent (% of site)
agriculture -

References Cossins (undated), Imperial Ethiopian Government (1973), Olson (1976), Pankhurst (1996).

Contribute  Please click here to help BirdLife conserve the world's birds - your data for this IBA and others are vital for helping protect the environment.

Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2016) Important Bird and Biodiversity Area factsheet: Shire lowlands in the Tekeze valley. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife