By Sandra Lai
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.
After Bale Mountains, the Simien Mountains host the second most important population of Ethiopian wolves. These rare animals are endemic to the Ethiopian Highlands, that is, they are found nowhere else in the world. The Simien Mountains, a World Heritage Site, is the inspiration behind their scientific name, Canis simensis – a species described in 1840 from a specimen collected there by German naturalist Eduard Rüppell. Compared to wolves in Bale, which are diurnal and relatively easy to find, Simien wolves are notoriously shy and difficult to observe. Reproduction is also not as good as in Bale: litter sizes are always small—seldom more than three pups—and several packs are not able to produce a litter each year. Wolf packs therefore remain small. In addition, some areas in Simien Mountains withstood many months of brutal fighting during the Tigray war until very recently. Recent research across the world have highlighted that human disturbance may shift animal activity to the night, with potential negative consequences on reproduction and survival. To address this question, after obtaining approval from the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority, EWCP launched in early March 2023 a GPS collaring study of Ethiopian wolves in Simien Mountains. This is the first time Ethiopian wolves are tracked after the first study conducted in 1988-1992 by Claudio in the sourhern slopes of Bale’ Sanetti Plateau using VHF collars.
By Sandra Lai
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.