The Endangered Ethiopian Wolf: Life, Threats, and Conservation

Updated on July 29, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

An Ethiopian wolf
An Ethiopian wolf | Source

An Endangered Animal of Africa

The Ethiopian wolf lives only at high elevations in mountainous regions of Ethiopia. It's a slender creature with long legs, a pointed, fox-like face, and red-brown fur on much of its body. It's classified as a wolf even though it resembles a coyote in size and shape. It's a pack animal and is very social, but it hunts for food alone instead of hunting cooperatively with the rest of its pack. The animal is sometimes known as an Abyssinian wolf, a Simien fox, or a Simien jackal. Its scientific name is Canis simensis.

Fewer than 450 Ethiopian wolves exist, including juveniles. The number may be significantly smaller than 450 at the moment due to the recent outbreak of disease. Loss of habitat to agriculture, the spread of rabies and canine distemper from domestic dogs, persecution by humans, and hybridization with dogs have all served to reduce the wolf population to a dangerously low level.

An Ethiopian wolf skull, showing the long and narrow muzzle with widely spaced teeth
An Ethiopian wolf skull, showing the long and narrow muzzle with widely spaced teeth | Source

Until recently, the Ethiopian wolf was said to be the only wolf in Africa. In 2015, an animal formerly known as the golden jackal was reclassified as the African golden wolf due to its genetic characteristics.

Physical Appearance

For many people, the most noticeable features of an Ethiopian wolf are probably its slender form, its long and narrow muzzle, and its pointed ears. The upper surface of the animal is reddish brown in colour while the undersurface is white. White stripes or patches are often visible on the neck and upper chest. The wolf has a bushy tail which contains a mixture of white, brown, and black fur. The last section of the tail is predominantly black.

An EthiopIan wolf is about the same size as a coyote. As in most members of the dog family, the males are generally larger and heavier than the females. An average male is around 16 kg (35 pounds) in weight, while an average female weighs about 13kg (29 pounds).

Location of Ethiopia in Northeastern Africa

Canis simensis is often considered to be the most endangered member of the Family Canidae, or the dog family. It lives in small, widely separated populations and is exposed to some serious environmental threats. There are currently no members of the species in captivity.

Habitat

Ethiopian wolves live at high alpine elevations which are at least 3,000 metres (9,840 feet) above sea level. Their habitat is either open moorland with very low vegetation or grassland with low shrubs and widely spaced giant lobelia plants. These areas have a large population of rodents for the wolves to hunt. The wolves live at such a high elevation that the ground vegetation is frozen in the early morning, an unusual sight in most parts of Africa.

There are currently six groups of Ethiopian wolves. The largest is found in the Bale Mountains in southern Ethiopia. When there is no disease outbreak, around 250 to 300 wolves may live here. The second largest group is łocated in the Simien Mountains in northern Ethiopia (about 25 animals). Smaller groups live in the North Wollo and South Wallo highlands, Guassa-Menz, and the Arsi Mountains.

Hunting for Prey

Diet

The adult wolf's long, narrow muzzle and its widely spaced teeth are thought to be adaptations for handling prey efficiently. Most of the diet consists of three types of animals—mole rats, grass rats, and Starck's hares.

In the Bale Mountains, the wolves' favourite food is the giant mole rat, a large rodent which lives in a ground burrow. The mole rat's eyes are placed high on its head, enabling it to peer out of its burrow to look for food and danger, briefly surface to grab hold of some nearby plants, and then drag them back into the burrow to eat.

Unfortunately for the mole rat, a wolf may not only see it but also hear its movements. The wolf often approaches its potential prey with admirable stealth and patience. Wolves sometimes take a more active approach in their search for food by digging into the mole rat's burrow, however.

By analyzing the wolves' feces, researchers know that the animals sometimes catch other kinds of prey, including the rock hyrax, young geese, and eggs. They've occasionally been seen hunting cooperatively to catch larger prey such as big hares and young antelopes. Very rarely, some wolves catch livestock. Most livestock kills in the wolves' habitat are caused by hyenas and jackals, however. In some parts of Ethiopia the common mole rat replaces the giant mole rat in the wolves' diet.

Ethiopian wolf and prey
Ethiopian wolf and prey | Source

The scientific name of the giant mole rat is Tachyoryctes macrocephalus. It's also known as the big-headed mole rat. Like the Ethiopian wolf, it's classified as an endangered animal.

Giant Mole Rats: A Favourite Prey Animal

The Wolf Pack

The Ethiopian wolf pack consists of a small group of adults and juveniles. Once a year there may be pups in the group as well. In general, the pack contains as few as three to as many as thirteen individuals. In areas which don't contain many rodents, however, wolves have been discovered living in pairs.

The pack is led by a dominant female and has a hierarchy. The dominant female often mates with the dominant male. She sometimes mates with a male from a different pack, however. Two to six pups are born in a den after a gestation period of two months. The pups are frequently moved from one den to another. Dens are dug near protective rocks, such as in a crevice or under a large boulder.

All pack members help to rear the pups, regurgitating food for the youngsters and giving older pups whole rodents. The pack members also guard the den. Younger females in particular may take care of the pups, allowing their mother to leave for a while. Pups have even been observed suckling from some of their babysitters. These females are thought to have lost or deserted their own babies.

Male wolves stay with the pack as they grow up, but females generally leave when they are about two years old. They either join another group of wolves or live between territories until a vacancy in a pack becomes available. More males exist than females, which is thought to be due to the death of female wolves when they are not part of a pack.

Adults and Pups

Daily Life of an Ethiopian Wolf

Ethiopian wolves are diurnal (active during the day). The pack owns and defends a territory. At dawn and dusk and occasionally at noon, the pack members patrol their area. They mark it as theirs with urine and feces. They also deposit a secretion from the scent glands in their paws as they scratch. The wolves emit a variety of vocalizations to advertise their territory. Meetings between neighbouring packs may involve aggression.

During the day, the wolves hunt alone for relatively small animals which they can catch without help from their pack. Some biologists think that the Ethiopian wolf pack evolved not to make hunting large animals possible, as in many other social predators, but to maintain a large enough territory to support a good population of rodents for the wolves to eat.

After a separation, the wolves congregate and greet other members of their pack enthusiastically. Their greetings involve licking and mouthing the muzzles of other wolves, squealing, tail wagging, rolling on the ground, and social chasing. The wolves spend the night sleeping in the open, often close to other animals in their pack and with their tails curled around their faces. Only the pups and their mother sleep in a den.

A Vocalizing Animal in the Bale Mountains

Ethiopian Wolves and Geladas: An Unexpected Association

Ethiopian wolves live in the same habitat as gelada monkeys, which are also known as gelada baboons or simply geladas. The monkeys forage on grass and herbs. A young gelada makes a good meal for a wolf. Geladas are normally very wary of the wolves when there are young monkeys in their group.

In 2015, it was reported that one group of geladas with babies had been observed allowing solitary Ethiopian wolves to mingle with them. The wolves almost always avoided attacking the youngsters. They also changed their hunting behaviour when they were surrounded by monkeys, moving slowly and calmly through the group.

Observations have shown that geladas make it easier for the wolves to find their rodent prey. The wolves that were studied had a 67% success rate at catching rodents when they mingled with the monkeys compared to a 25% success rate when they hunted alone. Researchers theorize that this may be because the geladas disturb the rodents or because the presence of the geladas obscures the presence of a wolf. Geladas live in large groups consisting of 200 or more animals.

This is a female gelada. Males have red chest patches.
This is a female gelada. Males have red chest patches. | Source

Although geladas are closely related to baboons, they are classified in a different genus. Geladas belong to the genus Theropithecus while baboons belong to the genus Papio.

Habituation of Geladas

Geladas are primates like us. Some of the news headlines about the gelada-wolf association stated that the geladas had "domesticated" the wolves, just as early humans domesticated dogs. The headlines were certainly catchy, but they were also misleading, as biologists have pointed out. Although the wolves benefit from the relationship, the geladas apparently don't. (This assumption may change as more research is done.) Instead of domestication of wolves, the situation is really a case of monkey habituation. The wolves have habituated the monkeys to their presence by repeatedly behaving in a non-threatening way.

A giant lobelia in Bale Mountain National Park, one home of Ethiopian wolves
A giant lobelia in Bale Mountain National Park, one home of Ethiopian wolves | Source

Major Population Threats: Rabies and Canine Distemper

The presence of domestic dogs can create big problems for Ethiopian wolves, since rabies is widespread in the local dog populations. Rabies caught from a farmer's dog is a very serious threat to the survival of the wolf packs. Once one wolf is infected the rabies virus passes through the rest of the pack as the wolves lick and greet each other.

According to the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP), in 1990 and 1991 rabies in the Bale Mountains wolves killed whole packs. In 2003 to 2004 another outbreak of the disease reduced the population in the area by 76%. The rabies threat hasn't been eliminated. In 2014-2015 yet another outbreak occurred.

Canine distemper transmitted by domestic dogs is also a serious problem. A 2016 outbreak had a major effect on the Bale population, reducing the adult population to half of its original value. The Bale habitat normally has 250-300 wolves but currently has an estimated 130 adults and 28 pups.

So far, when the wolf population has crashed due to disease it has recovered. This may not always be the case, however. As the EWCP researchers say, the Bale population is in a "fragile" state at the moment. An outbreak of disease in the near future could be devastating.

Ethiopian wolves are the guardians of the roof of Africa. By protecting them we safeguard many fascinating Afroalpine endemics from extinction.

— EWCP (Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme)

Other Threats to the Wolf Population

Despite the high elevation of their habitat, Ethiopian wolves often encounter livestock and domestic dogs. In the region occupied by the wolves, sixty percent of the land above 3,200 metres or 10,500 feet in elevation has been converted to farmland for agriculture. In the past the wolves were killed by farmers, but today the animals are more often tolerated. They are sometimes seen hunting for their rodent prey amongst livestock, ignoring the farm animals. Nevertheless, the farms reduce the land available for the wolves. They also increase the chance that the wolves will interact with dogs.

A less serious problem is that wolves are sometimes killed by traffic on roads travelling through their habitat. Adults don't seem to have any predators, but animals like hyenas and eagles will try to grab the pups.

Research shows that the wolves in the Bale Mountains—where most Ethiopian wolves live—have very little genetic diversity. In addition, the six groups of wolves in Ethiopia are isolated from each other, which prevents the mixing of genes. Healthy animal populations have a good variety of genes and characteristics, which helps a population as a whole to resist harmful changes in the environment.

The Importance of Conservation

Conservation organizations are monitoring the Ethiopian wolf situation, running education and research programs, trying to protect the wolves from disease, and attempting to conserve their habitat.

Vaccination and Other Conservation Strategies

The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme has set up vaccination programs for domestic dogs to reduce the incidence of rabies. In 2004 the EWCP captured, vaccinated, and released seventy-two wolves against rabies. Wolves were also vaccinated in the 2014-2015 outbreak. In 2016, oral canine distemper vaccines for wolves and dogs and injected vaccines for wolves were investigated and may be used in the future.

Vaccination to protect wolves is a helpful and important strategy for saving them. However, the human and dog population is increasing in the wolves' habitat, making it difficult to provide an adequate number of vaccinations for domestic dogs. The EWCP is trying to teach farmers other ways to protect their animals besides using dogs and to convince them they shouldn't replace their dogs when the dogs die. The programme is also helping some farmers to find alternate livelihoods.

Alternate and safer habitats for the wolves are being explored. In addition, wolf education programs have been created for school children. The EWCP captures and sterilizes dog-wolf hybrids once they are definitely identified before releasing them again. These hybrids form in the western area of the Bale Mountains habitat when a female wolf mates with a male dog.

Hopefully the efforts to save the Ethiopian wolf will be successful. It's a fascinating animal and an important part of nature. Its disappearance from the Earth would be very sad.

References

  • Dartmouth College. (2015, June 22). Wolves are better hunters when monkeys are around: An unexpected co-existence in the Ethiopian highlands. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150622085224.htm
  • Canis simensis facts from the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
  • Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, or EWCP

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Linda Crampton

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      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 13 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the comment, Cynthia. It sounds like your dog had an interesting character!

      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 13 days ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        Thank you for writing this article about the fascinating ethiopian wolf. I enjoyed how you brought out the 'idiosyncrasies' of this variety of wild dog that were certainly unknown to me-- particularly about the links with the monkeys, but also around the interesting matrilineal system (if it can be called that?).

        Your description of the social greeting rituals-- squealing, 'social chasing', etc. sounded so much like our little poodle-schnauzer cross. She would inevitably squeal when meeting up with unknown dogs, and chase her buddies around when we came across them on walks. The squealing was not well tolerated by our neighbours, and we had no success in helping her overcome that completely.

        I learned a lot, Linda-- I always do from your articles!

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 2 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Ethiopian wolves are an important part of their environment. One way in which they help humans is by keeping the population of certain rodents under control.

      • profile image

        lindalee123456 3 weeks ago

        why do we need to save the Ethiopian Wolves?

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I'm glad the information was helpful.

      • profile image

        Devon 2 months ago

        thanks for the great information helped a lot on my research paper

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Mary. Thank you once again for the visit. I would love to visit parts of Africa in order to see the wildlife. As you say, there's so much to learn about the continent!

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 7 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        I just finished reading a novel based on Ethiopia and I came back to have a good feel of the area. There is so much to learn about Africa and the wilderness. Thanks again for this.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much, Mary.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 12 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        This is really interesting. I don't think I know much about how animals live. You just opened a whole new world for me.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the visit and the comment, AnimalWrites. It will certainly be very sad if the wolves become extinct. As you say, they play an important role in their ecosystem, and they are beautiful animals.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Tom. Yes, I hope the wolves can be removed from the "Endangered" category very soon. It's such a shame that animals like these are in trouble. Thanks for the votes!

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I could watch the videos for a long time, too, GoodLady! They are interesting, and it's fascinating to watch the movement of the wolf as it's hunting. Thank you for the comment.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Grace Writes. Thanks for the visit and the comment. It's nice to meet you!

      • AnimalWrites profile image

        AnimalWrites 6 years ago from Planet Earth

        Thank you for all this great information on the Ethiopian wolf. I also didn't know that they are the only wolf species in Africa. It will be tragic is such beautiful creatures, and animals that are such an important part of their ecosystem, are allowed to become extinct

      • kashmir56 profile image

        Thomas Silvia 6 years ago from Massachusetts

        Hi Alicia,

        An interesting and informative hub on these beautiful wolves which i to thought they looked a lot like a fox.I enjoyed reading and learning about these fascinating Ethiopian wolves and hopefully they will be able to survive and some day be off the endangered animal list .

        Vote up and more !!!

      • GoodLady profile image

        Penelope Hart 6 years ago from Rome, Italy

        Such an interesting story about such a beautiful, rare, precious creature in lovely wonderful lands. Loved the David A video, made me want to be there and watch the wolves forever! Thank you so much. I'm truly fascinated by survivors.

      • Grace Whites profile image

        Grace Whites 6 years ago from Manalapan, New Jersey, USA

        Thank you for an informative post about Ethiopian wolf. you know I'm just curious about this animal and glad to read some useful information in your hub.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the vote and the share, Peggy! I hope that Ethiopian wolves survive, too. They are fascinating animals!

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

        Hi Alicia,

        What an informative hub about an endangered animal of which I was unfamiliar. I watched each and every video and read your words with interest. I hope that these magnificent creatures survive. Votes up and SHARED.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you, Eddy! I appreciate your comment and vote very much.

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

        Another true gem from you .

        I am voting up plus bookmarking.

        Keep them comng Alicia.

        Take care and enjoy your day.

        Eddy.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the votes, mar. Yes, I think that Ethiopian wolves are beautiful creatures, and I think they're very interesting to watch as well. I hope that you have a good evening too, mar!

      • marcoujor profile image

        Maria Jordan 6 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

        Dear Alicia,

        I especially loved how the wolves greet each other in the AM with squealing, tail wagging and social chasing. They certainly are a beautiful creature and I appreciated learning about them in your informative hub.

        Voted UP and UABI-- have a good evening, mar.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the kind comment and the rating, Prasetio. I hope that you have a great day too!

      • prasetio30 profile image

        prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

        I had never know about this, Alicia. Thanks for presenting this hub very well in detail and I learn new things related with animal kingdom. My friend, you have done a great job here. Rated up and have a nice day!

        Prasetio

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        It is a sad situation, Silvers-Jain8. Hopefully ways will be found to protect the wolves and other endangered animals. Thank you for your comment.

      • Silvers-Jain8 profile image

        Silvers-Jain8 6 years ago from MA

        Thank you for contributing this piece. I had no idea that these beautiful creatures even existed! This saddens me, because this is a escalating problem everywhere. It's like man and animals cannot coexist. We're more of a problem then these animals ever will be. This was a very nice hub ^-^.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you, drbj. I appreciate the comment and the vote!

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

        These wolves are beautiful, Alicia, and they do resemble large foxes with their coloring and pointed faces. Thank you for this revealing and interesting hub and videos. Voted up, m'dear.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Ehtesham12. Thank you for the visit, the comment and the vote. I appreciate them all.

      • Ehtesham12 profile image

        Ehtesham12 6 years ago from Islambad

        Thanks for this wonderful hub.Voted up

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you for the comment, Wesman Todd Shaw! I share your opinions about wildlife and its protection.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

        Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Thank you very much for this wonderful hub! I'm very fond of such critters. I'm rather NOT fond of persons or organizations that disregard wildlife.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the comment, poetvix. Yes, Ethiopian wolves are social animals. I think it's very interesting that the wolves work together to help rear the pups.

      • poetvix profile image

        poetvix 6 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

        It's such a shame that any animal is endangered, but especially wolves. I have always liked them. They are so loyal to each other, at least in the fiction I have read. Thanks for such an informative article. It strikes me humans in the area should be glad for the rodent control! The videos were wonderful. I know they are wild and could be dangerous but I think they are very cute too. Really well done.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I agree, My Minds Eye53, Ethiopian wolves do look like a fox that has somehow been crossed with a coyote! The long muzzle is impressive. Like you, I hope that the wolves survive. Their very low population size is worrying. Thank you for the vote.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the visit and the comment, Augustine. I think that Ethiopian wolves are beautiful animals, too!

      • My Minds Eye53 profile image

        My Minds Eye53 6 years ago from Tennessee

        They look like a cross between a fox and coyote. Voted up and hope they survive.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Very true, My Minds Eye53! That's the way of life for a carnivorous animal. Thanks for commenting.

      • A.A. Zavala profile image

        Augustine A Zavala 6 years ago from Texas

        Such a beautiful animal! Thank you for sharing the history and details about this animal.

      • My Minds Eye53 profile image

        My Minds Eye53 6 years ago from Tennessee

        The wolves would eat the rats whether you are there or not - lol

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you very much for the lovely comment, the votes and the share, Nell! Yes, I felt very sorry for the rats in the videos, but unfortunately the food chain is part of nature. If the wolves couldn't eat rats and starved to death, I would be feeling sorry for the wolves!

      • Nell Rose profile image

        Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

        Hi, Alicia, that was awesome and fascinating! I sat and read every word and watched the video's. I loved the David Attenborough one, all those puppies! they are gorgeous, they look like a cross between a wolf and a fox as you said above, there are many names for them and I can understand why, you can't really put them in a category, but wolf habits shine out with these, and I love the way they hunt, poor rats! this was brilliantly detailed and I was enthralled don't tell everybody, but it was the best read of the day! (shush!) LOL! rated up, shared and everything, cheers nell

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