Wolves in Ethiopia Disappearing Thanks to Domestic Dog Diseases

ethiopian wolf photo

Photos by Rebecca Jackrel

Did you have any idea there are wolves in Africa? Jackals, sure. Painted dogs, yep. But wolves? Turns out the Ethiopian wolf is the only wolf species on the continent, and lives exclusively in the high-altitude areas of Ethiopia. But it is a hair's breadth away from disappearing entirely. Only 450 survive in small populations and the main threat: rabies from domestic dogs.

ethiopian wolf photo

The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program spoke at last weekend's Wildlife Conservation Network Expo about the status of these unusual animals.

Domestic dogs are used by herders to protect sheep and goats, and the land used for grazing is shared with these wolves. Coming into contact with unvaccinated dogs can mean death for not only one wolf, but the entire population in that area.

The EWCP is working hard to change this, starting with the herders and vaccinating domesticated dogs. Such a simple step is harder than it seems. Educating herders on vaccinations, getting out to the dogs, raising funds to get the vaccinations in the first place -- all of this is many hours of effort. Thus far, EWCP has managed to vaccinate an astonishing 65,000 domestic dogs. And yet, it's just a start.

Another important step is vaccinating the wolves themselves. EWCP has only recently been given permission by the Ethiopian government to vaccinate populations of wolves. The strategy is to get medicine into them while disturbing them as little as possible. The solution thus far is baiting.

ethiopian wolf photo

Rabies vaccinations can be given orally, so the team leaves out bits of bait containing a dose of medicine. The hope is that enough wolves from a population will eat the bait to protect that population should an outbreak hit. If EWCP can get even 40% of a pack vaccinated, they boost the chance of the pack surviving by 90%.

Rabies vaccinations can last up to 3 years, however, baiting is done on a rotating basis since it's a rather hit-or-miss strategy. K9s can eat more than 10 times the recommended dose without any negative side effects -- so essentially, the more baiting, the better the odds.

ethiopian wolf photo

Photo via Wikipedia CC

Another step in protecting the wolves is protecting the habitat in which they live. But protecting the habitat would do more than just boost the odds of wolves surviving. The wolves live in high-altitude mountain areas in Ethiopia, and that's where a significant amount of the fresh water comes from. By protecting habitat for wolves in Ethiopia, the water source for 85 million people would also be protected. A win-win for everyone.

The Ethiopian Wolf Project is partnering up with EWCP this November to help document the lives of these interesting animals (whose looks and habits remind me of part wolf, part coyote) as well as the efforts made by EWCP. We'll be getting updates and images from this trip over the coming months, so stay tuned.

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