For one thing, our trip to the Simien Mountains to capture and collar wolves definitely did not start smoothly… Right before our departure from Dinsho, we were still desperately looking for some crucial missing equipment, our internal flight was suddenly cancelled, the car waiting for us up there broke down right after loading up the field material… It would take a few days for everything to settle down and for all the people involved to be able to gather in Simien Mountains. The Bale team, which consisted of me, Muktar (EWCP veterinary team leader) and Alo (EWCP monitoring team leader and expert trapper), finally joined our Science Director, Jorgelina, and the Amhara and Simien team already camping in Kechemo Buahit, the territory of the first targeted pack.
As promised, I returned to Ethiopia, this time during the wolf breeding season. And I decided to do exactly like the wolf monitors do and go to the Web Valley on horseback! Alongside the Sanetti Plateau—the largest Afroalpine plateau in Africa—, Web is the most important Ethiopian wolf study site in Bale Mountains. The ride from the EWCP Headquarters near Dinsho to the Sodota Camp in Web takes about 3 hours. By car, it takes only 40 min. But we would take a longer road, “the road for horses”, as Hamza, one of the wolf monitors, explained.
This new documentary from BBC Earth explores the diversity of canid species, the reasons for their success and the threats they face.
From an old shipping container to a crucial field lab!
All the way back in 2020, work began to install a brand new field lab at EWCP HQ in Dinsho, Bale Mountains National Park. A facility was sorely needed as a base of veterinary operations, to process and store samples, and conduct post-mortems. The project started with the arrival of a repurposed shipping container, freshly customised and kitted out at the Born Free Foundation’s Kotteh Wildlife Rescue Sanctuary near Addis, by a team headed by Bereket Girma.
When I described my new position in EWCP and mentioned that I would be going to Ethiopia to work on Ethiopian wolves, my friend Emilie exclaimed: “oh! so you are a biologist studying an endangered species in a war zone!” I froze… Was that really what I would be doing? Technically, yes, the Ethiopian wolf is classified as “Endangered” and indeed, Ethiopia is currently having some conflicts… so she was correct in a sense. What would the reality be like over there?
Rabies has always been a huge threat to the wolves, able to rip through populations and devastate numbers. Late last year, in the Bale Mountains’ Web Valley, an alert came in from the settlement of Lencha. A young female Ethiopian wolf had been seen in close proximity to villagers’ homes, seemingly in very poor condition and displaying abnormal behaviour. This raised alarm bells for the staff at EWCP and the Bale Mountains National Park, who quickly rallied to the scene to assess the situation.
By Dr Jorgelina Marino
At the peak of the rainy season the EWCP team have been busy in the highlands of Delanta in North Wollo. Until recently one of the epicentres of the war, signs of fighting are still evident. Particularly in the nearby Gashena town, a strategic location at the crossroads to three main cities, taken and recovered three times at the cost of many lives.
The Bale Mountains receives me with their familiar contours against the crisp blue sky. At the EWCP headquarters, the place I love and call home, a warthog keeps me company. Eric and the team have left ahead of me to start the wolf captures in earnest before Ramadan begins.
Ethiopia and its people are facing very troubling and unsettling times. Fortunately all EWCP staff, their families, our close colleagues and partners are well, and this is a welcome relief to us all.
Ethiopian wolves may not look like the first animals you think when you hear the word wolf, but these rare canids are as much a wolf as any other. One of previously four Canis species in Africa (now just two following the recent reclassification of black-backed and side-stripped jackals), they are readily distinguishable from jackals by their larger size, relatively longer legs, distinctive reddish coat and white markings. Although often called the Simien fox or red fox (ky kebero in Amharic, Jeedala Faarda in Oromic), DNA phylogenetic analysis has revealed that the Ethiopian wolf is more closely related to the grey wolf and the coyote than to any African canid. Most likely, the Ethiopian wolf evolved from a grey wolf-like ancestor that crossed to northern Africa via land bridges from Eurasia as recently as 100,000 years ago, when Afroalpine habitats in Ethiopia covered vast extensions.