It is not surprising then that Ethiopian wolves are classified internationally as endangered.
The Ethiopian highlands are home to a unique variety of animals and plants as well as being one of the most densely populated rural areas in Africa. There, Ethiopian wolves are hanging on in perilous conditions in isolated ‘islands’ of landscape surrounded by growing human settlements. The pressure on the use of land is intense as local communities need space to farm and climate change potentially enables them to do so at higher altitudes that encroach ever further into the wolves’ territories. With so few wolves left in the wild, time is running out.
Finding solutions to this urgent conservation challenge requires a better understanding of the relationship between the wolves, how and why they behave as they do in their environment, and the needs of the local people.
With PTES support, Jorgelina Marino of the University of Oxford’s Wildlife and Conservation Unit is working with the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme. By establishing current and predicted rates of habitat loss in the region and predicting extinction risks for the remaining wolves there, Jorgelina is devising a wolf rescue plan that also ensures sustainable livelihoods for the local people.
The team has measured changes in land use from satellite images and amassed data about local human and livestock populations, traditional management systems, and the extent of conflict and retaliatory killings of wolves.
It appears that the best areas for wolves are above 3 000m, with wild and relatively wet climates. Only half of the most suitable land is above the level used for agriculture because so much has been converted to cropland, including important habitat corridors between wolf populations. Jorgelina is using this knowledge to identify the best places to reconnect fragmented areas of habitat, enabling the wolves to recolonize lost areas and interbreed.
Reuniting Ethiopian wolves with their lost cousins offers a real chance of a future for the species.