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.