Ethiopian wolves are medium-sized canids, and have distinctive long legs and muzzles. They have tawny red coats, with pale ginger underfur.
As their name suggests, these wolves are native to Ethiopia, restricted to the highlands at altitudes of around 3,200 metres above sea level. Today they are confined to just seven mountain ranges, isolated by the surrounding agricultural development. Important populations are found in the Bale Mountains National Parks and north of the Rift Valley in the the Simien Mountains National Park.
Ethiopian wolves live in close-knit family groups, where only the dominant female breeds. For a few weeks at the end of the rainy season most of the mature females within an area are ready to mate. The dominant female will only accept the advances of the dominant male from inside the pack but will mate with any male from outside the pack. This is unusual behaviour for dogs as most species are monogamous but it is to avoid inbreeding. This mating system can result in some litters being fathered by more than one male. After a gestation period of 60-62 days, they give birth to between 2 and 6 pups, between October and December.
Their almost exclusive rodent diet has led to Ethiopian wolves evolving to resemble over-sized foxes rather than their closer canid relatives. They have elongated skulls, broad, pointed ears and slender muzzles. African mole rats and grass-rat species are both favourite prey.
The wolves are found primarily in Afroalpine grasslands and heathlands. They like to hunt for rodents in the short herbaceous grass, on flat or gently sloping plains.
Disease, especially rabies and to a lesser extent canine distemper, is a potential threat to all the Ethiopian wolf populations. A continuous loss of their habitat due to an increase in subsistence farming is a major threat: 60% of all suitable wolf habitat has been converted to agricultural land. Overgrazing by livestock exacerbates the habitat loss. Hybridization with domestic dogs has been a problem in the Bale region and could threaten the genetic integrity of the wolf population. The wolves are also known to suffer road deaths and persecution associated with conflicts over livestock losses.
A number of important solutions are under way to help protect the Ethiopian wolf, including:
1) a dog vaccination campaign in Bale and vaccination campaigns in response to rabies outbreaks in dogs close to wolves in other areas
2) sterilization of hybrid animals in Bale to maintain the genetic integrity of the wolves
3) vaccination of wolves in response to rabies outbreaks in parts of Bale
4) community and school education programmes
5) supporting the implementation of protected areas in Afroalpine areas of Ethiopia, and in collaboration with Frankfurt Zoological Society, helping protected areas including national parks and community based conservation areas
6) continuous surveys to check how the wolf populations are faring with the new conservation effort in place
Facing extinction in the roof of Africa: Measuring and predicting threats to Ethiopian wolf survival Jorgelina Morino, Ethiopia Small worldwide grant £5,000 For further free education resources visit the PTES education pages.