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A New Dawn for Ethiopian Wolves

31st December 2016
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A wolf family lost in a sea of "guassa" tussocks in the Simien Mountains National Park.

Thanking all our partners and supporters from around the world for helping EWCP help the last surviving Ethiopian wolves.

 2016 was a difficult year for Ethiopian wolves in their stronghold in the Bale Mountains, with disease remaining their most serious threat. But we will start the New Year with renewed energy, having reently expanded our footprint to new Afroalpine areas, with a larger-than-ever team of passionate Ethiopian conservationists and the essential support of our partners in the Ethiopian government.

Without your support Ethiopian wolves will soon dissapear, and the Roof of Africa will never be the same.

With gratitude and wishing you great things for 2017,

Claudio & the EWCP team.

 EWCP team in the Simien Mountains, December 2016.

Copyright © 2016 A WildCRU endeavour in partnership with Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and Regional Governments. Chie­y funded by Born Free. Under the aegis of IUCN/SCC Canid Specialist Group.

Contact us: EWCP, Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Tubney House, Tubney, Oxon OX13 5QL, UK. +44 1865 611113; info@ethiopianwolf.org

Let’s save the wolves of Delanta

25th September 2016
Categories: Disease control

By Jorgelina Marino

The news reached us swiftly thanks to EWCP’s early alert system, with the involvement of our local Wolf Ambassadors: several dead Ethiopian wolves had appeared in Delanta, a small Ethiopian wolf enclave in the Wollo Highlands. After a swiftly arranged field trip, and lab confirmation of rabies in some of the brain samples collected, an emergency response to vaccinate the few remaining wolves unleashed. As we speak, an EWCP team led by Eric Bedin is fighting to contain the disease. Over the past week they captured and vaccinated a young female wolf and one adult male.  These two vaccinated wolves might hold the key for the persistence of the Delanta population.

It is with mixed feelings that we report this news. We are proud of our readiness to monitor and react to threats, but also sad to witness how the accumulation of threats is bringing the Delanta wolves a few steps closer to extinction….  Recent losses of important wolf habitat had reduced the Delanta population to fewer than 15 wolves. We will keep you and the Ethiopian authorities informed of how the intervention pans out. Together we can bring about a sustainable solution for the long-term survival of wolves in the remote and beautiful Delanta range.

Photos: Delanta campsite, team eating local yogurt, and a wolf running away after the vaccination (by E Bedin and F Lema).

Oral vaccines to the rescue - why research is important

15th September 2016
Categories: Disease control

By Claudio Sillero

An important scientific paper has just been published in the Vaccine journal, reporting on the trials EWCP has been undertaking of an oral rabies vaccine in to protect Ethiopian wolves form rabies. With permission from our government partners we have tested bait preferences and the delivery of the vaccines in a few wolf packs in the Bale Mountains.  This is the first trail of its kind. Never before the SAG2 rabies vaccine had been tested on wild populations of an endangered species, even though this same oral vaccine has helped to eradicate rabies in red foxes and raccoons over vast areas of USA and Europe.

After this successful test, backed up by the international community via the peer review system, oral vaccination can turn our disease fighting strategy from being reactive, to being proactive. Why wait for the next outbreak to take hold when we can offer the last few hundred surviving Ethiopian wolves effective protection? 

We are working with our partners on an integrated disease management plan that would reduce the prevalence of dog related diseases, bringing benefits to wildlife, people and their livestock. Oral vaccination could spare many from a hideous and certain death and deliver a concrete financial benefit.

Read the scientific paper and the related news

 

Photos: Ethiopian wolves comsuming the oral vaccine and the team preparing the vaccine with gaot meat, the preffered bait.

First test of oral rabies vaccine brings hope to the world’s rarest canid

1st September 2016
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Research published this week in the journal Vaccine reports field trials of the oral vaccine SAG2 in Ethiopian wolves, Africa’s most threatened carnivore and the world’s rarest canid.

The trials, undertaken by the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme  in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, are the first ever conducted in wild populations of an endangered carnivore.

Researchers from Ethiopia and the UK tested various ways to deliver the SAG2 vaccine in three wolf packs. Of 21 wolves trapped after vaccinations, 14 were positive for a biomarker indicating that the animal had ingested the bait; of these, half showed antibody titres in blood above the universally recognised threshold, and 86% had levels considered sufficient to provide protective immunity to wildlife. Wolves were closely monitored after the vaccination, and all but one of the wolves vaccinated were alive 14 months later (higher than average survival).

Oral vaccination proved to be the answer to controlling rabies in wild populations of red foxes and northern raccoons in Europe and North America, but the approach has never been tested in wild populations of endangered carnivores such as Ethiopian wolves and African wild dogs, which are at risk of extinction because of outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Claudio Sillero, EWCP Director, said: ‘We now have a safe vaccine, a suitable bait, an efficient delivery method, and trained monitoring teams in place – all crucial steps which open up the possibility for scaling up the oral vaccination and protecting the wolf populations at risk, before disease strikes again.’

EWCP Head Wolf Monitor Alo Hussein, said: ‘In spite of investing in excess of US$30,000 a year vaccinating thousands of domestic dogs, it has been impossible to attain a level of dog vaccinations that would remove the risk of wolves getting infected, due to the large and dynamic dog population in the Bale Mountains.’

Professor Tony Fooks, of the Animal and Plant Health Agency, said: ‘These preliminary results using an oral vaccination strategy to protect Ethiopian wolves against rabies are encouraging and provide proof-of-principle for the use of this approach in wild canids.’

Dr Fekede Regassa, of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, said: ‘Since 1990, four major rabies outbreaks led each time to the crash of the Bale Mountains wolf population, the world’s largest, typically killing 50-75% of the subpopulation affected. EWCP vaccinates wolves reactively whenever a rabies outbreak is confirmed, contributing to contain the disease, but only after many wolves die – by the time rabies is detected, the virus is well established, and as wolves are highly social, it spreads fast.’

For more information:

"Feasibility and efficacy of oral rabies vaccine SAG2 in endangered Ethiopian wolves" [link to 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.08.021] by Sillero-Zubiri, C, Marino J, Gordon CH, Bedin E, Hussein A, Regassa F, Banyard A and Fooks AR, doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2016.08.021, appears in Vaccine, Volume 34, issue 40 (2016), published by Elsevier

EWCP annual report 2016 at a glance

10th July 2016
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For the full report click here

The EWCP has expanded on various fronts during the last 12 months, including new personnel, more Wolf Ambassadors, and site-specific projects addressing emergent conservation needs outside EWCP’s base in the Bale Mountains. The priority, however, was to sustain a strong presence in Bale, where we weathered one of the most devastating outbreaks of CDV among Ethiopian wolves. Thirty-four wolf carcasses were found between September 2015 and March 2015, and another 31 adult wolves were unaccounted for in 17 focal packs in the Web Valley, Sanetti Plateau and East Morabawa. On average these populations declined in size by 52%, with respect to the previous year. In a positive spin, at least 28 pups outlived the outbreak bringing hopes for a population recovery. Our fight against infectious diseases included the vaccination of over 5,000 domestic dogs, in and around Bale Mountains National Park; the successful completion of an oral wolf vaccination trial; and a pilot of a CDV vaccine for Ethiopian wolves. With our partners in the federal government, park authorities and NGOs we have drafted an integrated disease control plan which is pending approval. 

We are working closely with new protected areas in Arsi and South Wollo; we assessed the quality of Mt Choke as a potential reintroduction site; and worked with communities in North Ethiopia to create more sustainable and alternative livelihoods, compatible with Afroalpine conservation, such as helping establish local producers of fuel-saving stoves and honey. Our education programme reached 19 target schools across Ethiopia and many highland communities coexisting with the wolves. We are seeing the fruits of several small-scale conservation projects implemented by Nature Clubs with the support of EWCP. Fulfilling our pledge to help build capacity in Ethiopia’s environmental sector we supported the work of 10 researchers, mostly Ethiopian nationals, investigating topics of relevance for Afroalpine conservation. None of all these would have been possible without the generous support of all our donors, to whom we are grateful.

Canine distemper outbreak in Bale leaves wolves in a fragile state

1st June 2016
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By Eric Bedin

When I started working in Bale in January 2014, Ethiopian wolf numbers were at their peak in three sub-populations monitored by EWCP for more than 20 years. Everybody was happy. I also remember, however, alarm bells ringing, with the certainty that wolves at high density are more vulnerable to disease infection - a pattern observed over and over.

Sadly, our nightmare became true: at the end of the summer rabies spread rapidly among the wolves of the Sanetti Plateau and West Morebawa. Rapid intervention to vaccinate 106 wolves, coordinated with the Bale Mountains National Park and the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, helped to contain the outbreak. At the time we estimated that the affected populations had declined by a third, and thought that the worst was behind us, as we optimistically observed many packs producing pups and the population growing.

In September 2015, however, the finding of two wolf carcasses in the Web Valley marked the start of the most dramatic outbreaks of CDV recorded in Bale Mountains. The outbreak reached wolves in Web, East Morebawa and Sanetti, halving their numbers. It was with huge sadness that we recorded the death of many wolves which, few months ago, we had vaccinated against rabies.

Towards the end of the outbreak, permission was given to vaccinate a limited numbers of wolves against CDV, as part of an ongoing trial to test the efficacy of the vaccine on Ethiopian wolves. The results were promising. And the field teams report that an important number of pups are still alive, bringing hopes for a brighter future for the wolves of Bale.

Photo: In January a tagged female wolf which we know well, left her natal pack and was observed foraging with this large adult male, probably seeking establish a new territory


A long-lasting and widespread distemper outbreak

25th May 2016
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By Eric Bedin and Alo Hussein 

In the Bale Mountains, September marks the onset of the wolf breeding season. After a frantic mating period, finely synchronized within each subpopulation, this is the time when wolf monitors look for signs of denning behaviour and pregnancies. This time round their schedule changed dramatically. On 30th September, our guards in Web Valley camp alerted us of a young wolf that had died the previous night. Three days later another carcass was found nearby. Our team conducted detailed post-mortem examinations and collected samples, and by early October the Animal and Plant Health Agency in the UK confirmed canine distemper virus (CDV) as the cause of these two deaths.

From the first death to March we found 34 wolf carcasses, including eight tagged animals, and 17 young wolves born on the previous breeding season. All 14 carcasses that could be sampled and tested were positive for CDV (and negative for rabies), and the timing and location of the deaths gave us some light into the transmission path (see map). The first casualties were detected in Web Valley (where the disease persisted for nearly three months) and the carcasses found in East Morabawa were from wolves that died around the same time. While it was unclear how the virus reached the Sanetti Plateau three months later (possibly via the Central Peaks) this was the outcome that we had feared the most: after the recent rabies outbreak, any additional mortality could have dramatic consequences for this population.  The field team found the last wolf carcass on 23th March, when the epizootic was clearly dying out.

Coming to terms with the impact of the last die off: How many wolves are left in Bale?

24th May 2016
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By Jorgelina Marino and Eric Bedin

EWCP has monitored Ethiopian wolves in the Bale Mountains since 1987 and, as result, this is one of the best known populations of any threatened carnivore in the world. Following standard protocols, and after investing many hours observing selected packs (over 2,380 hours of observations by seven monitors in the last 12 months), we get to know the composition of some 20 focal packs in three core populations extremely well. By calculating annual changes in the size of these populations, we build time series that help us visualize long-term trends (see time line ). We also follow other 30 peripheral packs in Bale, at lower intensity.  

 Our monitoring work this year was marked by a devastating outbreak of canine distemper virus (CDV). In the last six months we found 34 wolf carcasses, and an additional 31 adult wolves were unaccounted for in 17 wolf packs from Web, Sanetti and East Morabawa. This mortality represents an average decline of 52% of the adult wolf population across these three sub-populations, in comparison with the number of wolves present in the previous breeding season. Towards the end of the outbreak in March there were 23 pups alive in eight of our focal packs.

 This population decline is comparable to that recorded during the CDV outbreaks of 2005 and 2010. In the aftermath of the die off we estimate that there are currently 130 adult wolves in the Bale Mountains (not including the pups born this year). This is about half of a population of 250-300 wolves that would live in Bale in normal circumstances (i.e., carrying capacity). Whilst wolf numbers have eventually recovered from similarly severe outbreaks in the past, the wolf population in Bale is currently fragile -any additional mortality at this time could have disproportionate consequences. In order to avoid new epizootics, preventive vaccination of wolves is an urgent priority. We are currently working with the Ethiopian authorities on an integrated disease management plan for Ethiopian wolves to that effect.

Saving fuel, saving wolves: Two new fuel-saving stove producers near wolf range

7th October 2015
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demonstrtaing at marketBy Fekadu Lema and Jorgelina Marino

The uncontrolled extraction of ‘charranfe’ bushes, dominant Afroalpine vegetation north of the Rift Valley, is degrading wolf habitat in several populations. Firewood collection, a task mostly performed by women and children, is as a result becoming more time consuming, increasingly occupying time available for other activities. It was with great excitement that last year we announced our ‘Fuel Saving Initiative’ to promote the use of MIRT® stoves, which consume half of the firewood required by traditional cooking methods.These stoves also cook faster, and reduce indoor air pollution.

Thanks to our efforts and with the support of GIZ (German Corporation for International Cooperation), these fuel-saving stoves are now being produced locally in two wolf areas. This followed a long process that involved choosing and training the producers, and the complex logistics involved in setting up their workshops. These entrepreneurs started to trade the stoves, and are targeting consumers on the fringes of the wolf areas. Simultaneously, EWCP is advertising the benefits of fuel-saving stoves in many local markets and schools with practical demonstrations, and organizing a system of subsidies to support buyers in target areas. After a very successful year, EWCP secured a grant extension from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Foundation to help more stove producers start up their businesses.

Photo: EWCP North Ethiopia team visited local markets in Delanta Sanka, Kimer Dingay and Mokesh to do practical demonstrations of the MIRT® stoves, handing out a specially designed brochure. EWCP Education and Outreach Officer Fekadu Lema, in the new project vehicle. ©EWCP 

Emergency intervention to control rabies in the Bale Mountains

7th October 2015
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by Claudio Sillero and Eric Bedin 

EWCP intervened quickly to avoid widespread mortality among Ethiopian wolves in Bale, thanks to the early detection of infected wolves. As soon as rabies was confirmed in brain samples from the carcasses found in Sanetti Plateau (by the EPHI and APHA laboratories in Ethiopia and the United Kingdom respectively), an action plan with immediate actions to tackle the outbreak was developed and authorized by the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Authority (EWCA). The plan followed policy and routine methodologies identified in the Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP) Management Plan and the National Action Plan for Ethiopian Wolf Conservation. The most immediate response was the vaccination of wolves around the infected packs, using 2ml of Merck’s Nobivac Rabies vaccine.

Vaccination started on 11 August 2014 with an Emergency Response Team composed by EWCP staff (capture and logistic teams), EWCA (veterinarian) and BMNP (expert and scouts), under the coordination of Claudio Sillero (EWCP Director), Eric Bedin (EWCP Coordinator) and Fekede Regassa (EWCA Veterinary Officer). After a first wave of infection in the Sanetti Plateau, rabies was confirmed in samples from the Morabawa population, and the vaccination team followed promptly.  Wolves were also vaccinated in the Web Valley, to safeguard this important population. For the last vaccination campaign in the Web Valley in early March, EWCA authorized Leta Edea (EWCP vet) to be in charge of the vaccination, recognising the professionalism of the EWCP team.

In total one hundred and six wolves were vaccinated in Bale between August 2014 and March 2015, representing roughly a third of the Bale population. As no pack went extinct as a result of the outbreak, and breeding success was good, the Sanetti population may be already in the way to recover.

We are grateful to WCN and the Born Free Foundation that were able to step in and raise emergency funds for the vaccination operation at very short notice. Additional emergency funding was provided by the Zoological Society of London, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Lobelia Press, Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations (ZGAP), John Stuelpnager, Houston Zoo, Saint Louis Zoo, Jan Richardson, Meryt and Peter Harding, the French Association of Zoo Vets (AFVPZ) Dakota Zoo Conservation Fund, and many others.

We were able to start vaccinating quickly thanks to the generous and efficient support of the logistic teams of Merck MsD Animal Health (Rabivac IM vaccine) and Virbac (SAG2 oral vaccine). All biological samples were analysed by the Ethiopian Public Health Institute in Addis Ababa and the Animal and Plant Health Agency in the UK.

Tracking the outbreak

5th October 2015
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By Eric Bedin and Jorgelina Marino

Also see the route of rabies in our Wolf Mapper

The monitoring team found the first Ethiopian wolf carcass in the Sanetti Plateau in July 2015, within the range of the BBC pack –which we started monitoring 20 years ago. Monitoring intensified and in August we found two dead juveniles in nearby Garba Gurracha pack, which finally testified to the beginning of a rabies outbreak, kick-starting the emergency vaccination intervention that followed.

Carcasses were found in and around Sanetti until mid-October 2014, signalling the end of a first wave of infection. In January 2015 dead wolves started appearing in Morabawa, another core area for Ethiopian wolves in Bale. The sequencing in the lab of the rabies virus found in the retrieved carcasses showed that this was indeed a separated rabies ingression into the wolf population. While the vaccination team moved to Morabawa, three juvenile wolves were found dead in Sanetti as late as March 2015. No further carcasses were found since then. 

In total, between July 2014 and March 2015 we found 22 wolf carcasses (eight of which tested positive for rabies; others were too decomposed to provide suitable samples), and observed six sick animals, effectively signalling this as the most strenuous and hectic year in the life of EWCP. None of the dead or sick animals had been previously vaccinated against rabies.

Photo: Whenever a wolf carcass is found, a detailed post mortem is conducted and brain samples tested for rabies virus.  ©EWCP

Celebrating EWCP 20th Anniversary

4th October 2015
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By Zelealem Tefera, Born Free Foundation Ethiopia

Can you see the wolf? ... No I can’t, where is it? Far in the horizon was the answer. This dialogue took place when Claudio and I were looking for wolves in the Guassa Plateau in 1995. I was amazed how someone could spot an animal so far away just by the slightest movement it was making, and even know what the species was. The love and intimacy that has grown between the wolves and a man and the resulting conservation actions now span twenty years. The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) was set up to protect the Ethiopian wolf from extinction. Fewer than 500 individuals live in highly human-dominated landscapes, with the safest strongholds in Bale and Simien Mountains. From its inception in the 1980s EWCP has focused in the conservation of the unique Afroalpine habitat by using the wolf as a flagship. In the early 1990s it was the only field conservation initiative in Ethiopia, managing through a difficult period when other projects were discontinued. 

EWCP’s contribution is not limited to the protection of the Ethiopian wolf. Unlike other conservation projects EWCP has contributed to training and building Ethiopians capacity in the field of conservations biology, a profession which is sadly neglected. I would go as far as saying that more PhD and MSc studies have been carried out on Ethiopian wolves than on any other Ethiopian endemic, and this was possible by the support and supervision provided by Claudio and EWCP. I include myself as a pioneer beneficiary, initially as a collaborator, then as a graduate student and later working for EWCP and as Frankfurt Zoological Society country representative (EWCP’s longest serving NGO partner). EWCP’s ecological monitoring and environmental education components are the longest running such activities in the country, and other similar conservation projects are learning from EWCP’s experience.

In a nutshell, I would say that in the last 20 years EWCP has contributed tremendously to our understanding of species and biodiversity conservation in Ethiopia, and we are grateful for those who founded the programme, working tirelessly in difficult conditions to save one of our nation’s unique flagship endemics, the majestic Ethiopian wolf.

Photo: Young Zelealem standing next to Lobelia rynchopetalum in the Sanetti Plateau, 1986 © JC Hillman

The emergency intervention so far

15th April 2015
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Since the first wolf carcass was found in Bale in July 2014, EWCP has worked frantically to contain the spread of rabies and to minimize its awful impacts.

In Ethiopia field teams lead by Eric Bedin (EWCP Field Coordinator) implemented four intensive wolf vaccination campaigns, and many domestic dogs were vaccinated in surrounding villages. In the UK and abroad, I contacted our loyal supporters to appeal for extra help to implement the emergency intervention.

We are grateful to all the individuals and organizations that contributed financially and to everyone in the EWCP family for their hard work.

The intervention was the most intensive in the history of EWCP, reaching 21 wolf packs and protecting 106 wolves, around a third of the whole Bale population. In the Sanetti plateau, a prime wolf area and the epicenter of the outbreak, more than half of all the wolves are now vaccinated.

The analyses of demographic data will give us soon a better idea of the overall mortality, but as far as we know, no wolf family has gone extinct during this epizootic. This is a great achievement, supported by the targeted vaccination strategy, aimed at protecting the dominant pair in each pack, thus ensuring social stability and succesful breeding. We will bring you news of this year’s breeding very soon.

Claudio Sillero

The epizootic spreads to Morabawa, the vaccination team follows

20th February 2015
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On the 23th of January, three months after the last wolf carcass was found, EWCP Monitors discovered a new casualty. The new death had occurred 7 months later, and 35 km west of the index case –the first wolf to die of rabies.

The revelation that the outbreak reached the Morabawa population prompted the Emergency Response Team to re-group. On the 4th of February the team captured and vaccinated the first wolf -an adult female from the Weshema pack. After 10 days of sleepless nights, 25 wolves were vaccinated against rabies in 7 wolf families in the Morabawa popualtion (Fulbana, Wesema, Waota, Leliso, Gurati, Duna and Huke).

The vaccination intervention covered many of the packs living in Morabawa, and around half of all the wolves in this local population. We are confident that the battle against rabies in Morabawa is won...

Eric Bedin and Claudio Sillero

Huge efforts to curtail rabies in Bale

5th November 2014
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Since the first wolf carcass tested positive for rabies in late July 2014, the Emergency Response Team, organized by EWCP with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and the Bale Mountains National Park, has been working relentlessly.

In August 2014 the team vaccinated 44 wolves from 7 packs in the Sanetti plateau, the centre of the epizootic. As a result, more than half of all the Sanetti wolves are now protected. In September and October 2014, the vaccination expanded to Web Valley and East Morabawa in order to protect these core populations from an eventual infection through habitat corridors connecting them with the Sanetti plateau (20 animals vaccinated in 5 packs, adding to the protection delivered during the previous oral vaccine trails).

The last carcass, found in October the 20th, was that of an adult female living west of the Sanetti epicentre, with estimated time of death of late September. No more carcasses have been found since then. 

The team, however, will not stop searching for carcasses, keeping a close eye on all the wolf families. We cannot rest until we are sure that the epizootic is over…

We are grateful for any the support you may provide,

Claudio Sillero and Eric Bedin

A new outbreak of rabies in Ethiopia threatens the survival of the Ethiopian wolf

14th October 2014
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A few weeks ago, our greatest fear was realized when a dead wolf tested positive for the disease. Since then there have been another six confirmed deaths.

Immediately we sought permission from the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority to intervene and set up an Emergency Response Team with the Bale Mountains National Park. We have been busy battling wet and blustery weather at 4,100 meters to capture and vaccinate the wolves of Sanetti Plateau.

We need your help to fund this intervention and stop this outbreak in its tracks, but also to vaccinate domestic dogs in nearby villages and monitor the wolves' health throughout the next year. You can donate via Paypal, WCN (USA) or Born Free Foundation (UK). Please use the Donate links below.

Lobelia Press has generously offered to donate to the emergency efforts 100% of proceeds from any copies of Lobelia Press's award-winning The Ethiopian Wolf: Hope at the Edge of Extinction purchased from the official website.

I hope together we can give the Ethiopian wolves a future.

The wolves and the EWCP Team will be grateful for any support you may provide.

Claudio Sillero
Founder & Director Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme