Where the World’s Only Grass-Eating Monkeys Thrive

A protected, high-altitude savanna in Ethiopia is helping ‘bleeding heart’ geladas survive—for now.

Admassu Getaneh marches past flowering herbs and thick grass along the edge of a plateau in the central Ethiopian Highlands. Morning sun glints off his Kalashnikov rifle. At his feet basalt pillars plunge down to East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Soon an unearthly screeching will begin as hundreds of primates awaken from their nightly cliffside slumber and vault onto the plateau like an army of furry circus performers. But Getaneh isn’t here to see that.

Short and slight in camouflage gear, Getaneh turns his back to the escarpment. He raises his binoculars. “I can see all the action this way,” he explains. Theropithecus gelada, sometimes called the bleeding heart monkey, may not draw Getaneh’s attention. But his presence helps explain why geladas here thrive.

On and off for nearly half a millennium, rural enforcers have done what he’s doing today: patrolling the perimeter of a 42-square-mile high savanna called the Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area, or simply, Guassa. Getaneh, a hired gun and former soldier, is here to make sure that no one steals or ruins the grass.

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