The Lone Wolf

Ethiopia and Losing Its Wilderness

In the isolated, remote and rugged mountains of Ethiopia lives the most endangered canid in the world: the Ethiopian Wolf. With a total population of 366, as of the last count by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this species is perilously close to dying out. There are no captive Ethiopian wolves in the world and the situation is becoming desperate. Out of that 366 it is estimated that there are only around 197 mature individuals, with most situated in the Bale Mountains.

Ethiopia has the fastest growing population of Africa with an annual increase of around 2.7%. The population stands at massive 86 million. The pressure from humans is squeezing the habitat of the Ethiopian Wolf to a smaller and smaller patch.

The greatest threat that plagues the wolves is dogs that are associated with the human population. The wolves come into contact with rabies and domestic distemper leading to a death rate of 75% when exposed.

The wolves live between 3000m and 4500m above sea level, but subsistence agriculture reaches heights of 3500m to 3800m thus creating a pressure on the wolves to find new and higher ranges.farm bale mountains

Photography - Will Burrard-Lucas

Photography – Will Burrard-Lucas

Habitat Loss and Fragmentation 

Half of the small population of wolves live in the Bale Mountains (400km southeat of Addis Ababa) The Ethiopian highlands are some of the most densely populated regions for agriculture in Africa. The habitat that is lost is also overgrazed by domestic livestock. The Afroalpine ecosystem that should dominate here has been fragmented into small islands bearing no resemeblance to the environment it previously was. The wolves prefer open grassland areas with herbaceous plants for the rodents, on which they prey on.  A lot of the heather and grasslands have been cleared to grow cereal crops or for grazing for cattle. There are further threats from more certain and damaging development from roads and commercial sheep farms.

Disease and genetic loss 

It is becoming an increasing problem that the Ethiopian wolf is hybridising with domestic dogs. It is unknown whether this is due to the small population and lack of suitable mates or the major prevalence of dogs. These hybrids are typically sterile. More strangely, this only seems to be occurring in the Bale Mountain population.

More worryingly over a twelve year study by the Zoological Society of London where 72 individuals from different populations were studied, it was found that there was very little breeding between populations resulting in reduced gene flow. Over the course of the study the Mount Choke population died out, ever highlighting the plight of these animals. It seems unlikely that these populations will breed without human intervention as the human population continues to expand making travelling more dangerous.

Photography - Will Burrard-Lucas

Photography – Will Burrard-Lucas

Conservation actions

The wolf, luckily, has full protection under Eithopia’s Wildlife Conservation Regulations of 1974 meaning that killing a wolf results in a sentence of 2 years.

In response to the problems of rabies outbreaks the dogs in the protected areas of Bale Mountains, Simien Mountains, Borena Saiynt, Guassa Community Conservation area, Arsi Moutains Park a vaccination programme of the dogs is being carried out. Along with this a sterilisation programme has been put in place in Bale.

The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) has been working to conserve these wolves since 1995. To further this, with help from the UK Wolf Conservation Trust (UKWCT) there are wolf monitors working in the areas they are found to collect data to detect signs of disease before it decimates the population. The teams have been directly involved in vaccinating 600 dogs in the surrounding villages of wolf populations.

Prehaps the most important key to conserving the species is education. The EWCP has been working with local communities to highlight the dangers of rabies, the impact and how it can be prevented.

It cannot be ignored that Ethiopia has huge humanitarian problems of its own. Famine, death, war, natural disasters and politicial repression. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in Africa and so the plight of the Ethiopian Wolf seems rather insignificant. With the work of the EWCP this might change and with donations from the Born Free Foundation these wolves may stand a chance. In 1983, the Wildlife Conservation Society established the Bale Mountains Research Project, which publicized the wolf’s plight and started a regular monitoring programme for the species.

Knowledge and Understanding

It is not just about saving the Ethiopian Wolf, it is about gaining knowledge, understanding and experience in how to protect other species that are coming under extinction due to the pressures we, as humans, are pressurising them. This animal is like many other species that I have highlighted; it is relatively unknown and without the protection now and into the future, the species could die out before we truly knew it.

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