In the remote highlands of Ethiopia lives the rarest canid on Earth: the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis). Today, less than 450 of these elegant animals survive.
Ethiopian wolves may look like foxes or jackals but DNA analysis shows that their closest relatives are actually the grey wolves of Europe. 100,000 years ago, a common ancestor of both the grey wolf and the Ethiopian wolf moved down from Europe into Africa. It came across an Afroalpine habitat that teemed with rodents. Its descendants stopped hunting in packs and became rodent-hunting specialists. The species evolved to become completely dependent on this abundant prey source. Then, at the end of the last ice age, the Afroalpine areas receded and the wolves became marooned in a few isolated mountain highland areas surrounding the Great Rift Valley. Now the wolves’ high-altitude sanctuaries are under siege from an ever-increasing human population and the species has been brought to the edge of extinction…
The people of the Ethiopian highlands are predominately goat and cattle herders. As they encroach on the wolves’ habitat, overgrazing and soil compaction drastically reduces the density of the wolves’ rodent prey. The herders also keep domestic dogs to help protect their animals from leopards and hyenas. These dogs lead semi-feral lives and often come into contact with the wolves. This is a problem because the dogs can easily transmit diseases such as rabies and canine distemper virus (CDV) to the wolves. Two rabies outbreaks in 2008 and 2009 plus a CDV outbreak in 2010 resulted in 26% of the wolves in the Bale Mountains disappearing. If the wolf population doesn’t have time to recover between disease outbreaks then impending extinction becomes a real possibility.
In November 2011, Rebecca Jackrel and I travelled to the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia, home to the largest remaining wolf population. Our aim was to spend five weeks photographing the wolves and documenting the work of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP). We raised the funds for this expedition through a Kickstarter campaign – a huge thank you to all the contributors who helped make the project a reality!
Despite the wolves’ solitary hunting habits, they are actually very sociable animals and form packs just like their grey wolf cousins. Our trip coincided with denning season and we were able to see firsthand how all members of the pack worked closely together to feed and care for the alpha female’s pups.
It was a wonderful privilege to witness the pups exploring the outside world for the first time and to watch them grow in strength and confidence each day.
Our trip also coincided with an exciting new initiative by the EWCP. They were trialing a new form of oral rabies vaccine to help protect the wolves against future rabies outbreaks. In order to gauge the effectiveness of the trial, they had to catch wolves that had been administered the vaccine and test to see if antibodies were present. Initial results were very encouraging which means the outlook for the species is a little brighter.
The ultimate aim of our Ethiopian Wolf Project was twofold: to raise public awareness for the plight of this little-known species and to raise funds and support for the EWCP. To this end, we teamed up with writer Jaymi Heimbuch to produce a beautiful and informative coffee table book. This large (360mm x 285mm), 152-page book features many spectacular pictures from our trip and lots of information about the wolves and the work of the EWCP. Best of all, 100% of the profit from sales goes directly to the EWCP! The book is now available to buy here: The Ethiopian Wolf: Hope at the Edge of Extinction.
A big thank you once again to everyone who has supported our project and to the EWCP for working tirelessly to protect the unique and beautiful Ethiopian wolf. You can view more Ethiopia photos here.