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.
The Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) protects endangered wildlife by supporting conservationists who ensure wildlife and people coexist and thrive. An incredible community of conservationists, supporters and staff all united by our passion for life.
Wildlife has been a major focus of conversations surrounding the pandemic, from its origins to its impacts and lessons for the future. We have seen some animals flourish where human activity has dwindled, while others have been less fortunate and may be at risk where tourism has vanished. Conservation action has of course also been affected, as a wide range of activities are no longer possible due to the risks of spreading infection. Our own work has been significantly disrupted in Ethiopia since April as a result of Covid-19.
2020 has so far seen a lot of disruption to our work, just as it has for many organisations. We’ve limited our fieldwork to ensure the safety of our teams and the local communities we work with, and international staff are unable to travel to Ethiopia. Fortunately, there are many tasks we can work on from home and we’ve taken advantage of the time to focus on our research outputs, aided greatly by the addition of researcher Beth Preston.
We are used to responding to large-scale threats to the wolves, like habitat loss and disease, but the acts of individuals can have a real impact, both good and bad. We have recently seen a worrying resurgence in behaviours that can threaten wolf survival.
An exciting discovery was recently made in the Bale Mountains, home to the largest Ethiopian wolf population.
An international team of researchers, supported by EWCP, visited the Fincha Habera rock shelter at the edge of the Web Valley, where their excavations revealed evidence of human occupation dating as far back as 47,000 years ago! This makes their finding the world’s oldest occupation of a residential site at high elevation, in this case an astonishing 3,469m above sea level.
The Amhara region encompasses most of Ethiopia’s highlands north and west of the Rift Valley. Here you can find the source of the Blue Nile, Lake Tana, and the breath-taking Simien Mountains, but also a less well-known Menz-Guassa Community Conservation Area (MGCCA). This highland plateau is diverse in wildlife and home to many animals found only in Ethiopia, such as the Ethiopian wolf, the gelada baboon, and several rodent species.
In March 2020 I had the privilege to spend a week with the EWCP team in the field, in the Bale Mountains National Park. I have been to several African countries before and Ethiopia proved to me again that each country is, without a doubt, uniquely special. I was fascinated by the Afroalpine landscape, amazed by their local cuisine and overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people I met.
Delanta is a small isolated Afroalpine flat south of Abune Yosef and Aboi Gara, home for 16-19 estimated wolves before 2016. Human settlement, farming and the encroachment of domestic animals, especially dogs, caused a canine distemper outbreak in 2017 that sadly decimated all the wolves of Delanta. After this disastrous event EWCP continued monitoring the habitat remotely with Wolf Ambassador Esubalew Milashu, hoping the area could serve as a potential wolf reintroduction site in future. Our Wolf Ambassadors are members of the community that act as ears and eyes in remote areas that are difficult for us to access regularly.
While slowly climbing the Ethiopian massif, in the north of the country, the world passes by my window. A land divided into infinite agriculture plots, dotted by small villages. Most crops have already been harvested and the fields are now ploughed. It’s the season for green peas, which later at our campsite are offered to us, toasted and accompanied by cloudy corofe, a local drink made out of barley.
With no more than 500 Ethiopian wolves left in the world in half a dozen populations, all exposed to domestic dogs that carry deadly diseases, it is paramount/essential? to stop them from getting infected. After successfully testing Virbac’s SAG2, an oral vaccine widely used to eradicate rabies in Europe , we can now protect the wolves without the need of manipulation and thus deliver protection before outbreaks happen.