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Researchers Discover New Populations of Ethiopian Wolves

  • Thursday, April 1, 1999

With the recent discoveries of Ethiopian wolves in several areas of the Wollo mountain range in northern Ethiopia, researchers have ratcheted up their population estimates of this rare candid species, from between 400 and 500 to as many as 650.

Early in 1998 a research team led by Dr. Claudio Sillero-Zubiri of Oxford University launched a 10-day search for Ethiopian wolves in the South Wollo range on a tip from a local government employee. They encountered droppings and numerous other signs of the animals; just hours before they were ready to depart, they spotted an adult male.

Encouraged by their findings and at the request of regional government authorities, a team traveled to four areas in North Wollo last fall. The surveyors were not disappointed, Sillero reported. They were able to confirm the existence of wolves in three areas and found a new population in the fourth.

The wolves, indigenous to Ethiopia, live in packs in the mountains and feed on rodents. As close relatives of the coyote and gray wolf, they comprise Africa's only true wolf species. Ethiopian wolves have been designated as critically endangered by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) and are protected under Ethiopian law.

The species, also known as the Simien jackal, was first found in the early 19th century in the Simien Mountains, where a population of less than 50 now exists. Bale Mountains National Park in southeast Ethiopia has the largest population, numbering between 150 and 180.

The latest discovery "places Wollo as the second region in importance for wolf conservation after Bale," Sillero said, "and significantly improves the overall conservation prognosis for the species."

Steps to protect the wolves are underway. "The program in the Bale Mountains," Sillero told the Wildlife News, "continues at a good pace," with the emphases on wolf monitoring, disease prevention and community education.

Karen Laurenson of the Institute of Zoology of the Zoological Society of London is overseeing the research team's examination of demographic trends among the wolf population. With partial support from AWF, she is assessing the impact of disease and of inbreeding with local dogs upon the wolves.

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