Ethiopian wolf

The Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) is a canid native to the Ethiopian Highlands. It is similar to the coyote in size and build, and is distinguished by its long and narrow skull, and its red and white fur.[5] Unlike most large canids, which are widespread, generalist feeders, the Ethiopian wolf is a highly specialised feeder of Afroalpine rodents with very specific habitat requirements.[6] It is one of the world's rarest canids, and Africa's most endangered carnivore.[7]

The species' current range is limited to seven isolated mountain ranges at altitudes of 3,000–4,500 m, with the overall adult population estimated at 360–440 individuals in 2011, more than half of them in the Bale Mountains.[2]

The Ethiopian wolf is listed as endangered by the IUCN, on account of its small numbers and fragmented range. Threats include increasing pressure from expanding human populations, resulting in habitat degradation through overgrazing, and disease transference and interbreeding from free-ranging dogs. Its conservation is headed by Oxford University's Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, which seeks to protect wolves through vaccination and community outreach programs.[2]

Ethiopian wolf[1]
Temporal range: Late Pleistocene - Recent
Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis citernii)
Southern Ethiopian wolf (C. s. citernii), Sanetti Plateau
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
C. simensis
Binomial name
Canis simensis
Ruppell, 1840
Canis simensis subspecies range
Ethiopian wolf range
  • C. sinus Gervais, 1855
  • C. semiensis Heuglin, 1862
  • Simenia simensis Gray 1868
  • C. simensis (Gray, 1869)
  • C. walgé (Vulpes waglé) Heuglin, 1862
  • C. walgié Heuglin, 1862
  • Vulpes criensis or C. crinensis (Erlanger and Neumann, 1900)
  • C. citernii de Beaux, 1922.



Alternative English names for the Ethiopian wolf include Abyssinian wolf, Simien fox, Simien jackal, Ethiopian jackal, red fox, red jackal,[8] Abyssinian dog[9] and cuberow.[10]

Indigenous names

Indigenous names for Canis simensis[8][11]
Linguistic group or area Indigenous name Literal translation
Amharic ቀይ ቀበሮ (Ky kebero)
ዋልጌ (Walgie)
Red jackal
Oromo Jeedala fardaa
Horse's jackal[a]

Historical account

The earliest written reference to the species comes from Solinus's Collectanea rerum memorabilium from the third century AD:[7][12][b]

Neue Wirbelthiere zu der Fauna von Abyssinien gehörig (1835) Canis simensis
Rüppell's depiction of the species (1835).
Original Translation
Lupos Ethiopia mittit, cervice iubatos et tanto varios ut nullum eis colorem dicunt abesse. Ethiopicis lupis proprium est, quod in saliendo ita nisus habent alitis, ut non magis proficient cursu quam meatu. Homines tamen numquam impetunt. Bruma comati sunt, aestate nudi. Ethiopes eos vocant theas. Ethiopia produces wolves with manes, so diversely coloured, men say, that no hue is lacking. A characteristic of Ethiopian wolves is that they leap so high that they seem to have wings, going further than they would by running. They never attack men, however. In winter, they grow long hair; in summer, they are hairless. The Ethiopians call them theas.
Powell-Cotton (1902) Canis simensis
Mounted specimen (1902), one of the first post-1835 specimens to reach Europe

The species was first scientifically described in 1835 by Eduard Rüppell,[14] who provided a skull for the British Museum.[10][15] European writers traveling in Ethiopia during the mid-19th century (then called Abyssinia) wrote that the animal's skin was never worn by natives, as it was popularly believed that the wearer would die should any wolf hairs enter an open wound,[16] while Charles Darwin hypothesised that the species gave rise to greyhounds.[17][c] Since then, it was scarcely heard of in Europe up until the early 20th century, when several skins were shipped to England by Major Percy Horace Gordon Powell-Cotton during his travels in Abyssinia.[10][15]

The Ethiopian wolf was recognised as requiring protection in 1938, and received it in 1974. The first in-depth studies on the species occurred in the 1980s with the onset of the American-sponsored Bale Mountains Research Project. Ethiopian wolf populations in the Bale Mountains National Park were negatively affected by the political unrest of the Ethiopian Civil War, though the critical state of the species was revealed during the early 1990s after a combination of shooting and a severe rabies epidemic decimated most packs studied in the Web Valley and Sanetti Plateau. In response, the IUCN reclassified the species from endangered to critically endangered in 1994. The IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group advocated a three-front strategy of education, wolf population monitoring, and rabies control in domestic dogs. The establishment of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme in Bale soon followed in 1995 by Oxford University, in conjunction with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA).[7]

Soon after, a further wolf population was discovered in the Central Highlands. Elsewhere, information on Ethiopian wolves remained scarce; although first described in 1835 as living in the Simien Mountains, the paucity of information stemming from that area indicated that the species was likely declining there, while reports from the Gojjam plateau were a century out of date. Wolves were recorded in the Arsi Mountains since the early 20th century, and in the Bale Mountains in the late 1950s. The status of the Ethiopian wolf was reassessed in the late 1990s, following improvements in travel conditions into northern Ethiopia. The surveys taken revealed local extinctions in Mount Choqa, Gojjam, and in every northern Afroalpine region where agriculture is well developed and human pressure acute. This revelation stressed the importance of the Bale Mountains wolf populations for the species' long-term survival, as well as the need to protect other surviving populations. A decade after the rabies outbreak, the Bale populations had fully recovered to pre-epizootic levels, prompting the species' downlisting to endangered in 2004, though it still remains the world's rarest canid, and Africa's most endangered carnivore.[7]

Taxonomy and evolution

Ethiopian wolf skull: Despite its close relation to the grey wolf, convergent evolution has resulted in a skull similar in shape to that of jackals and the South American maned wolf.[19]
Phylogenetic tree of the extant wolf-like canids
Caninae 3.5 Ma

Dog Tibetan mastiff (white background).jpg

Gray wolf Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate I).jpg

Himalayan wolf Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate III).jpg

Coyote Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate IX).jpg

African golden wolf Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate XI).jpg

Ethiopian wolf Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate VI).jpg

Golden jackal Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate X).jpg

Dhole Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate XLI).jpg

African wild dog Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate XLIV).jpg


Side-striped jackal Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate XIII).jpg

Black-backed jackal Dogs, jackals, wolves, and foxes (Plate XII).jpg

Phylogenetic relationships between the extant wolf-like clade of canids based on nuclear DNA sequence data taken from the cell nucleus,[20][21] except for the Himalayan wolf, based on mitochondrial DNA sequences.[21][22] Timing in millions of years.[21]

Although fossil records exist of wolf-like canids from Late Pleistocene Eurasia, no fossil records are known for the Ethiopian wolf. In 1994, a mitochondrial DNA analysis showed a closer relationship to the gray wolf and the coyote than to other African canids, and C. simensis may be an evolutionary relic of a gray wolf-like ancestor's past invasion of northern Africa from Eurasia.[23]

See further: Canis evolution

Due to the high density of rodents in their new Afroalpine habitat, the ancestors of the Ethiopian wolf gradually developed into specialised rodent hunters. This specialisation is reflected in the animal's skull morphology, with its very elongated head, long jaw, and widely spaced teeth. During this period, the species likely attained its highest abundance, and had a relatively continuous distribution. This changed about 15,000 years ago with the onset of the current interglacial, which caused the species' Afroalpine habitat to fragment, thus isolating Ethiopian wolf populations from each other.[6]

The Ethiopian wolf is one of five Canis species present in Africa, and is readily distinguishable from jackals by its larger size, relatively longer legs, distinct reddish coat, and white markings. John Edward Gray and Glover Morrill Allen originally classified the species under a separate genus, Simenia,[24] and Oscar Neumann considered it to be "only an exaggerated fox".[25] Juliet Clutton-Brock refuted the separate genus in favour of placing the species in the genus Canis, upon noting cranial similarities with the side-striped jackal.[26]

In 2015, a study of mitochondrial genome sequences and whole genome nuclear sequences of African and Eurasian canids indicated that extant wolf-like canids have colonised Africa from Eurasia at least five times throughout the Pliocene and Pleistocene, which is consistent with fossil evidence suggesting that much of African canid fauna diversity resulted from the immigration of Eurasian ancestors, likely coincident with Plio-Pleistocene climatic oscillations between arid and humid conditions. According to a phylogeny derived from nuclear sequences, the Eurasian golden jackal (Canis aureus) diverged from the wolf/coyote lineage 1.9 million years ago, and with mitochondrial genome sequences indicating the Ethiopian wolf diverged from this lineage slightly prior to that.[27]:S1 Further studies on RAD sequences found instances of Ethiopian wolves hybridizing with African golden wolves.[28]

Admixture with other Canis species

In 2018, whole genome sequencing was used to compare members of the genus Canis. The study supports the African golden wolf being distinct from the golden jackal, and with the Ethiopian wolf being genetically basal to both. There are two genetically distinct African golden wolf populations that exist in northwestern and eastern Africa. This suggests that Ethiopian wolves – or a close and extinct relative – once had a much larger range within Africa to admix with other canids. There is evidence of gene flow between the eastern population and the Ethiopian wolf, which has led to the eastern population being distinct from the northwestern population. The common ancestor of both African golden wolf populations was a genetically admixed canid of 72% grey wolf and 28% Ethiopian wolf ancestry.[29]


As of 2005,[1] two subspecies are recognised by the Mammal Species of the World Volume Three (MSW3).

Subspecies Trinomial authority Description Range Synonyms
Northern Ethiopian wolf
C. s. simensis

(Nominate subspecies) Keberow

Rüppell, 1840 Northwest Rift Valley: Simien Mountains, Mount Guna, Guassa Menz, north and south Wollo highlands C. s. crinensis (Erlanger & Neumann, 1900)

C. s. semiensis (Heuglin, 1862)
C. s. simensis (Gray, 1869)
C. s. walgi (Heuglin, 1862)

Southern Ethiopian wolf
C. s. citernii

Ethiopian wolf

de Beaux, 1922 This canid was initially classed as a distinct subspecies on account of its bright red coat, though this characteristic is unreliable as a taxonomic distinction. However, its nasal bones are consistently longer than those of the nominate subspecies.[5] Southeast Rift Valley: Arsi and Bale Mountains


Canis simensis fuertes
Painting (1926) by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

The Ethiopian wolf is similar in size and build to North America's coyote; it is larger than the golden, black-backed, and side-striped jackals, and has comparatively longer legs. Its skull is very flat, with a long facial region accounting for 58% of the skull's total length. The ears are broad, pointed, and directed forward. The teeth, particularly the premolars, are small and widely spaced. The canine teeth measure 14–22 mm in length, while the carnassials are relatively small. The Ethiopian wolf has eight mammae, of which only six are functional. The front paws have five toes, including a dewclaw, while the hind paws have four. As is typical in the genus Canis, males are larger than females, having 20% greater body mass. Adults measure 841–1,012 mm (33.1–39.8 in) in body length, and 530–620 mm (21–24 in) in height. Adult males weigh 14.2–19.3 kg (31–43 lb), while females weigh 11.2–14.15 kg (24.7–31.2 lb).[5]

The Ethiopian wolf has short guard hairs and thick underfur, which provides protection at temperatures as low as −15 °C. Its overall colour is ochre to rusty red, with dense whitish to pale ginger underfur. The fur of the throat, chest and underparts is white, with a distinct white band occurring around the sides of the neck. There is a sharp boundary between the red coat and white marks. The ears are thickly furred on the edges, though naked on the inside. The naked borders of the lips, the gums and palate are black. The lips, a small spot on the cheeks and an ascending crescent below the eyes are white. The thickly furred tail is white underneath, and has a black tip, though, unlike most other canids, there is no dark patch marking the supracaudal gland. It moults during the wet season (August–October), and there is no evident seasonal variation in coat colour, though the contrast between the red coat and white markings increases with age and social rank. Females tend to have paler coats than males. During the breeding season, the female's coat turns yellow, becomes woolier, and the tail turns brownish, losing much of its hair.[5]

Animals resulting from Ethiopian wolf-dog hybridisation tend to be more heavily built than pure wolves, and have shorter muzzles and different coat patterns.[30]


Canis simensis Bale Mountains National Park 8 cropped
Southern Ethiopian wolf in the Bale Mountains

Social and territorial behaviours

The Ethiopian wolf is a social animal, living in family groups containing up to 20 adults (individuals older than one year), though packs of six wolves are more common. Packs are formed by dispersing males and a few females, which with the exception of the breeding female, are reproductively suppressed. Each pack has a well-established hierarchy, with dominance and subordination displays being common. Upon dying, a breeding female can be replaced by a resident daughter, though this increases the risk of inbreeding. Such a risk is sometimes circumvented by multiple paternity and extra-pack matings. The dispersal of wolves from their packs is largely restricted by the scarcity of unoccupied habitat.[31]

These packs live in communal territories, which encompass 6 km2 (2.3 sq mi) of land on average. In areas with little food, the species lives in pairs, sometimes accompanied by pups, and defends larger territories averaging 13.4 km2 (5.2 sq mi). In the absence of disease, Ethiopian wolf territories are largely stable, but packs can expand whenever the opportunity arises, such as when another pack disappears. The size of each territory correlates with the abundance of rodents, the number of wolves in a pack, and the survival of pups. Ethiopian wolves rest together in the open at night, and congregate for greetings and border patrols at dawn, noon, and evening. They may shelter from rain under overhanging rocks and behind boulders. The species never sleeps in dens, and only uses them for nursing pups. When patrolling their territories, Ethiopian wolves regularly scent-mark,[32] and interact aggressively and vocally with other packs. Such confrontations typically end with the retreat of the smaller group.[31]

Reproduction and development

The mating season usually takes place between August and November. Courtship involves the breeding male following the female closely. The breeding female only accepts the advances of the breeding male, or males from other packs. The gestation period is 60–62 days, with pups being born between October and December.[33] Pups are born toothless and with their eyes closed, and are covered in a charcoal-grey coat with a buff patch on the chest and abdomen. Litters consist of two to six pups, which emerge from their den after three weeks, when the dark coat is gradually replaced with the adult colouration. By the age of five weeks, the pups feed on a combination of milk and solid food, and become completely weaned off milk at the age of 10 weeks to six months.[5] All members of the pack contribute to protecting and feeding the pups, with subordinate females sometimes assisting the dominant female by suckling them. Full growth and sexual maturity are attained at the age of two years.[33] Cooperative breeding and pseudopregnancy have been observed in Ethiopian wolves.[34]

Most females disperse from their natal pack at about two years of age, and some become "floaters" that may successfully immigrate into existing packs. Breeding pairs are most often unrelated to each other, suggesting that female-biased dispersal reduces inbreeding.[35] Inbreeding is ordinarily avoided because it leads to a reduction in progeny fitness (inbreeding depression) due largely to the homozygous expression of deleterious recessive alleles.[36]

Hunting behaviours

Rare Ethiopian Wolf Feeding, Bale, Ethiopia (9681610337)
Southern Ethiopian wolf feeding, Bale Mountains.

Unlike most social carnivores, the Ethiopian wolf tends to forage and feed on small prey alone. It is most active during the day, the time when rodents are themselves most active, though they have been observed to hunt in groups when targeting mountain nyala calves.[37] Major Percy-Cotton described the hunting behaviour of Ethiopian wolves as thus:

... they are most amusing to watch, when hunting. The rats, which are brown, with short tails, live in big colonies and dart from burrow to burrow, while the cuberow stands motionless till one of them shows, when he makes a pounce for it. If he is unsuccessful, he seems to lose his temper, and starts digging violently; but this is only lost labour, as the ground is honeycombed with holes, and every rat is yards away before he has thrown up a pawful.[38]

The technique described above is commonly used in hunting big-headed African mole-rats, with the level of effort varying from scratching lightly at the hole to totally destroying a set of burrows, leaving metre-high earth mounds.

Wolves in Bale have been observed to forage among cattle herds, a tactic thought to aid in ambushing rodents out of their holes by using the cattle to hide their presence.[5] Ethiopian wolves have also been observed forming temporary associations with troops of grazing geladas.[39] Solitary wolves hunt for rodents in the midst of the monkeys, ignoring juvenile monkeys, though these are similar in size to some of their prey. The monkeys, in turn, tolerate and largely ignore the wolves, although they take flight if they observe feral dogs, which sometimes prey on them. Within the troops, the wolves enjoy much higher success in capturing rodents than usual, perhaps because the monkeys' activities flush out the rodents, or because the presence of numerous larger animals makes it harder for rodents to spot a threat.[40]



Canis simensis -Simien Mountains, Ethiopia-8
Northern Ethiopian wolf in the Simien Mountains

The Ethiopian wolf is restricted to isolated pockets of Afroalpine grasslands and heathlands inhabited by Afroalpine rodents. Its ideal habitat extends from above the tree line around 3,200 to 4,500 m, with some wolves inhabiting the Bale Mountains being present in montane grasslands at 3,000 m. Although specimens were collected in Gojjam and northwestern Shoa at 2,500 m in the early 20th century, no recent records exist of the species occurring below 3,000 m. In modern times, subsistence agriculture, which extends up to 3,700 m, has largely restricted the species to the highest peaks.[41]

Tachyoryctes macrocephalus
Big-headed mole rat (Tachyoryctes macrocephalus), one of the Ethiopian wolf's primary prey animals

The Ethiopian wolf uses all Afroalpine habitats, but has a preference for open areas containing short herbaceous and grassland communities inhabited by rodents, which are most abundant along flat or gently sloping areas with poor drainage and deep soils. Prime wolf habitat in the Bale Mountains consists of short Alchemilla herbs and grasses, with low vegetation cover. Other favourable habitats consist of tussock grasslands, high-altitude scrubs rich in Helichrysum, and short grasslands growing in shallow soils. In its northern range, the wolf's habitat is composed of plant communities characterised by a matrix of Festuca tussocks, Euryops bushes, and giant lobelias, all of which are favoured by the wolf's rodent prey. Although marginal in importance, the ericaceous moorlands at 3,200-3,600 m in Simien may provide a refuge for wolves in highly disturbed areas.[41]


In the Bale Mountains, the Ethiopian wolf's primary prey are big-headed African mole-rats, though it also feeds on grass rats, black-clawed brush-furred rats, and highland hares. Other secondary prey species include vlei rats, yellow-spotted brush-furred rats, and occasionally goslings and eggs. Ethiopian wolves have twice been observed to feed on rock hyraxes and mountain nyala calves. In areas where the big-headed African mole-rat is absent, the smaller East African mole-rat is targeted. In the Simien Mountains, the Ethiopian wolf preys on Abyssinian grass rats. Undigested sedge leaves have occasionally been found in Ethiopian wolf stomachs. The sedge possibly is ingested for roughage or for parasite control. The species may scavenge on carcasses, but is usually displaced by dogs and African golden wolves. It typically poses no threat to livestock, with farmers often leaving herds in wolf-inhabited areas unattended.[5]

Range and populations

Six current Ethiopian wolf populations are known. North of the Rift Valley, the species occurs in the Simien Mountains in Gondar, in the northern and southern Wollo highlands, and in Guassa Menz in north Shoa. It has recently become extinct in Gosh Meda in north Shoa and Mount Guna, and has not been reported in Mount Choqa for several decades. Southeast of the Rift Valley, it occurs in the Arsi and Bale Mountains.[42]

Summary of current status of Canis simensis[43]
Area Habitat Population size estimates Status Importance Threats Conservation
Simien Mountains, North Gondar Patches connected by corridors, totalling 273 km² 102 (as of 2010) Stable? The second-largest population, the most genetically diverse, is a tourist attraction. Human disturbance, road traffic, extensive agriculture, habitat degradation, Helichrysum encroachment into rodent habitat, disease, and competition/predation by golden wolves The entire range is within the Simien Mountains National Park, and has been monitored regularly since 2003.
Mt. Guna, South Gondar An isolated patch, estimated at less than 20 km2 by 2004 As of 2011, no sightings have been made, despite intensive monitoring during two field visits. Extinct Small population, habitat loss, isolation, and possible competition with abundant golden wolf populations An ORDA Biodiversity Conservation Project is active in the area, in conjunction with woreda and kebele governments, and supported by the Guna Highland Water enterprise.
North Wollo Highlands Patchily distributed in an area of 140 km2 19-23 (as of 2000) Possibly declining, otherwise stable, as of 1998 Isolation, habitat degradation, human-wildlife conflict, and road encroachment The Frankfurt Zoological Society and its associates are working to create the Abuna Yoseph Community Conservation Area, which is to encompass about a third of the wolf's range in North Wollo.
South Wollo highlands Patches connected by corridors, totalling 243 km2 16-19 (as of 2000) Stable? After Simien, the second-largest area north of the Rift Valley Overgrazing, ploughing, persecution, and local negative attitudes The local ericaceous forests and grasslands are under the protection of the Borena Saiynt Regional Park from agriculture as low as 3,200 m. The EWCP and the FZS have been involved in educational programs and wolf monitoring in the Denkoro area.
Guassa Menz, North Shoa A single patch of 112 km2 As of 2010, an estimated 40% have been missing since a canine distemper outbreak was detected in local dogs. Although diminishing from disease, the population is healthy and stable. A core population with ideal habitat, it is increasingly a tourist attraction. Human disturbance, rabies, Helichrysum encroachment into rodent habitat, and road traffic The wolf's range is protected by community resource management, and the Guassa Community Conservation Area. Educational campaigns are undertaken in schools near wolf ranges.
Arsi Mountains, Bale 870 km2 54 wolves in 9 packs, as of 2007-2010 Probably declining The third-largest population, in the second-largest Afroalpine area in Ethiopia Habitat degradation, expanding agriculture, and road traffic Protected within the Arsi Mountains Regional Park
Bale Mountains, Bale 1,141 km2 About 250 adults and subadults Declining, but stable in long term The largest population, with the highest density of prey Disease (rabies and distemper) and agricultural expansion Most of the species' habitat occurs within the Bale Mountains National Park.


The Ethiopian wolf has been considered rare since it was first recorded scientifically. The species likely has always been confined to Afroalpine habitats, so was never widespread. In historical times, all of the Ethiopian wolf's threats are both directly and indirectly human-induced, as the wolf's highland habitat, with its high annual rainfall and rich fertile soils, is ideal for agricultural activities. Its proximate threats include habitat loss and fragmentation (subsistence agriculture, overgrazing, road construction, and livestock farming), diseases (primarily rabies and canine distemper), conflict with humans (poisoning, persecution, and road kills), and hybridisation with dogs.[44]


Rabies outbreaks, stemming from infected dogs, have killed many Ethiopian wolves over the 1990s and 2000s. Two well-documented outbreaks in Bale, one in 1991 and another in 2008-2009, resulted in the die-off or disappearance of 75% of known animals. Both incidents prompted reactive vaccinations in 2003 and 2008-2009, respectively. Canine distemper is not necessarily fatal to wolves, though a recent increase in infection has occurred, with outbreaks of canine distemper having been detected in 2005-2006 in Bale and in 2010 across subpopulations.[45]

Habitat loss

During the 1990s, wolf populations in Gosh Meda and Guguftu became extinct. In both cases, the extent of Afroalpine habitat above the limit of agriculture had been reduced to less than 20 km2. The EWCP team confirmed the extinction of a wolf population in Mt. Guna in 2011, whose numbers had been in single figures for several years. Habitat loss in the Ethiopian highlands is directly linked to agricultural expansion into Afroalpine areas. In the northern highlands, human density is the among the highest in Africa, with 300 people per km2 in some localities, with almost all areas below 3,700 m having been converted into barley fields. Suitable areas of land below this limit are under some level of protection, such as Guassa-Menz and the Denkoro Reserve, or within the southern highlands, such as the Arsi and Bale Mountains. The most vulnerable wolf populations to habitat loss are those within relatively low-lying Afroalpine ranges, such as those in Aboi Gara and Delanta in North Wollo.[46]

Population fragmentation

Some Ethiopian wolf populations, particularly those in North Wollo, show signs of high fragmentation, which is likely to increase with current rates of human expansion. The dangers posed by fragmentation include increased contact with humans, dogs, and livestock, and further risk of isolation and inbreeding in wolf populations. Although no evidence of inbreeding depression or reduced fitness exists, the extremely small wolf population sizes, particularly those north of the Rift Valley, raise concerns among conservationists. Elsewhere, the Bale populations are fairly continuous, while those in Simien can still interbreed through habitat corridors.[47]

Encroachment within protected areas

In the Simien Mountains National Park, human and livestock populations are increasing by 2% annually, with further road construction allowing easy access to peasants into wolf home ranges; 3,171 people in 582 households were found to be living in the park and 1,477 outside the park in October 2005. Although the area of the park has since been expanded, further settlement stopped, and grazing restricted, effective enforcement may take years. As of 2011, about 30,000 people live in 30 villages around and two within the park, including 4,650 cereal farmers, herders, woodcutters, and many others. In Bale there are numerous villages in and around the area, comprising over 8,500 households with more than 12,500 dogs. In 2007, the estimate of households within wolf habitat numbered 1,756. Because of the high number of dogs, the risk of infection in local wolf populations is high. Furthermore, intentional and unintentional brush fires are frequent in the ericaceous moorlands wolves inhabit.[48]


Ethiopian wolves & Zebu
Ethiopian wolves resting alongside grazing zebu

Although wolves in Bale have learned to use cattle to conceal their presence when hunting for rodents, the level of grazing in the area can adversely affect the vegetation available for the wolves' prey. Although no declines in wolf populations related to overgrazing have occurred, high grazing intensities are known to lead to soil erosion and vegetation deterioration in Afroalpine areas such as Delanta and Simien.[49]

Human persecution and disturbance

Direct killings of wolves were more frequent during the Ethiopian Civil War, when firearms were more available. The extinction of wolves in Mt. Choqa was likely due to persecution. Although people living close to wolves in modern times believe that wolf populations are recovering, negative attitudes towards the species persist due to livestock predation. Wolves were largely unmolested by humans in Bale, as they were not considered threats to sheep and goats. However, they are perceived as threats to livestock elsewhere, with cases of retaliatory killings occurring in the Arsi Mountains. The Ethiopian wolf has not been recorded to be exploited for its fur, though in one case, wolf hides were used as saddle pads. It was once hunted by sportsmen, though this is now illegal. Vehicle collisions killed at least four wolves in the Sanetti Plateau since 1988, while two others were left with permanent limps. Similar accidents are a risk in areas where roads cut across wolf habitats, such as in Menz and Arsi.[30]

Hybridisation with dogs

Incidences of Ethiopian wolf-dog hybridisation have been recorded in Bale's Web Valley. At least four hybrids were identified and sterilised in the area. Although hybridisation has not been detected elsewhere, it could pose a threat to the wolf population's genetic integrity, resulting in outbreeding depression or a reduction in fitness, though this does not appear to have taken place.[30]

Competition with African wolves

Encounters with African wolves are usually agonistic, with Ethiopian wolves dominating African wolves if the latter enter their territories, and vice versa. Although African wolves are inefficient rodent hunters and thus not in direct competition with Ethiopian wolves, it is likely that heavy human persecution prevents the former from attaining numbers large enough to completely displace the latter.[50]


Simien Fox Stamp (1987)
Ethiopian wolf, depicted on a 1987 postage stamp

The Ethiopian wolf is not listed on the CITES appendices, though it is afforded full official protection under Ethiopia's Wildlife Conservation Regulations of 1974, Schedule VI, with the killing of a wolf carrying a two-year jail sentence.[2]

The species is present in several protected areas, including three areas in South Wollo (Bale Mountains National Park, Simien Mountains National Park, and Borena Saiynt Regional Park), one in north Shoa (Guassa Community Conservation Area), and one in the Arsi Mountains Regional Park. Areas of suitable wolf habitat have recently increased to 87%, as a result of boundary extensions in Simien and the creation of the Arsi Mountains Regional Park.[2]

Steps taken to ensure the survival of the Ethiopian wolf include dog vaccination campaigns in Bale, Menz, and Simien, sterilization programs for wolf-dog hybrids in Bale, rabies vaccination of wolves in parts of Bale, community and school education programs in Bale and Wollo, contributing to the running of national parks, and population monitoring and surveying. A 10-year national action plan was formed in February 2011.[2]

The species' critical situation was first publicised by the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1983, with the Bale Mountains Research Project being established shortly after. This was followed by a detailed, four-year field study, which prompted the IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group to produce an action plan in 1997. The plan called for the education of people in wolf-inhabited areas, wolf population monitoring, and the stemming of rabies in dog populations. The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme was formed in 1995 by Oxford University, with donours including the Born Free Foundation, Frankfurt Zoological Society, and the Wildlife Conservation Network.[2]

The overall aim of the EWCP is to protect the wolf's Afroalpine habitat in Bale, and establish additional conservation areas in Menz and Wollo. The EWCP carries out education campaigns for people outside the wolf's range to improve dog husbandry and manage diseases within and around the park, as well as monitoring wolves in Bale, south and north Wollo. The program seeks to vaccinate up to 5,000 dogs a year to reduce rabies and distemper in wolf-inhabited areas.[2]

In 2016, the Korean company Sooam Biotech was reported to be attempting to clone the Ethiopian wolf using dogs as surrogate mothers to help conserve the species.[51]


  1. ^ This is in reference to the Ethiopian wolf's reported habit of following mares and cows about to give birth to feed on the afterbirth.[11]
  2. ^ Some naturalists ascribe this description to the African wild dog.[13]
  3. ^ This was later proven incorrect in 2010, when SNP studies showed that the dog's sole ancestor is the grey wolf.[18]


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Further reading

External links

African golden wolf

The African golden wolf (Canis anthus), also known as the Egyptian jackal or grey jackal, , is a canid native to north and northeastern Africa. The species is the descendant of a genetically admixed canid of 72% grey wolf and 28% Ethiopian wolf ancestry. The species is common in north-west and north-east Africa, occurring from Senegal to Egypt in the east, in a range including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya in the north to Nigeria, Chad and Tanzania in the south. It is a desert-adapted canid, and is common in plains and steppe areas, including ones lacking abundant water. In the Atlas Mountains, the species has been sighted in elevations as high as 1,800 metres. It is primarily a predator, targeting invertebrates and mammals as large as gazelle fawns, though larger animals are sometimes taken. Other foodstuffs include animal carcasses, human refuse, and fruit. The African wolf is a monogamous and territorial animal, whose social structure includes yearling offspring remaining with the family to assist in raising their parents' younger pups.It was previously classified as an African variant of the Eurasian golden jackal, with at least one subspecies (Canis anthus lupaster) having been classified as a grey wolf. In 2015, a series of analyses on the species' mitochondrial DNA and nuclear genome demonstrated that it was in fact distinct from both the golden jackal and the grey wolf, and more closely related to grey wolves and coyotes. It is nonetheless still close enough to the golden jackal to produce hybrid offspring, as indicated through genetic tests on jackals in Israel and a 19th-century captive crossbreeding experiment. As the IUCN's golden jackal page has not been updated since 2008, it has yet to recognise the distinctiveness of the African golden wolf; thus its conservation status has not been evaluated and no reliable population estimates are available.It plays a prominent role in some African cultures; in North African folklore, it is viewed as an untrustworthy animal whose body parts can be used for medicinal or ritualistic purposes, while it is held in high esteem in Senegal's Serer religion as being the first creature to be created by the god Roog.

Bale Mountains

The Bale Mountains (also known as the Urgoma Mountains), in the Oromia Region of southeast Ethiopia, south of the Awash River, are part of the Ethiopian Highlands. They include Tullu Demtu, the second-highest mountain in Ethiopia (4377 meters), and Mount Batu (4307 meters). The Weyib River, a tributary of the Jubba River, rises in these mountains east of Goba. The Bale Mountains National Park covers 2,200 square kilometers of these mountains. The main attractions of the park are the wild alpine scenery, and the relative ease with which visitors can see unique birds and mammals.

The Bale Mountains are home to many of Ethiopia's endemic animals, notably the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), found on the Sanetti Plateau. The park also contains the Harenna Forest, situated to the south of the mountains, which is a largely unexplored area thought to contain many undiscovered species of reptile as well as lions, leopards and various types of antelope. Besides wildlife, the National Park offers trekking opportunities from the park headquarters at Dinsho. (Dodola is also a useful base for exploring these mountains.)

The largest group of Ethiopian wolves is found here. Other characteristic large mammals are mountain nyalas, Menelik's bushbucks, warthogs, and bohor reedbucks.

The Juniper-Hagenia forests lie between 2,500 and 3,300 m and are mostly found on the northern slopes. An unusual plant of the Dinsho area is the white-flowered Abyssinian rose. The alpine moorland of the Saneti Plateau is covered in heath-like vegetation broken by heather plants and stands of giant lobelia which grow up to 6 meters high. One of the most common and distinctive plants throughout the Bale region is the red-hot poker, an aloe which can be identified by its orange spear-shaped flowers.

Bale Mountains National Park

Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP) is a national park of Ethiopia. The park encompasses an area of approximately 2,150 square kilometres (530,000 acres) in the Bale Mountains and Sanetti Plateau of the Ethiopian Highlands.

The park's Afromontane habitats have one of the highest incidences of animal endemicity of any terrestrial habitat in the world. The park was nominated to the World Heritage Tentative List in 2009.

Big-headed African mole-rat

The big-headed African mole-rat, (Tachyoryctes macrocephalus), also known as the giant root-rat, Ethiopian African mole-rat, or giant mole-rat, is a rodent species in the family Spalacidae.

It is endemic to Ethiopia's Bale Mountains. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland, where it can reach densities of up to 2,600 individuals per square kilometre. It is threatened by habitat loss. Where the two species overlap, it is the main prey of the endangered Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis).Big-headed African mole-rats are highly distinctive in their large size, especially that of their heads. They are a mottled golden-brown in color, and are soft-furred.While the other mole-rats not only live but also feed underground, this species mostly forages above ground, by digging a new tunnel to a patch of herbage. It forages for about 20 minutes, until it has exhausted the supply of herbs about its tunnel, after which it blocks the tunnel it has built from the inside. It mostly eats grasses and herbs, with some individuals feeding mostly on roots. It retains its specialisations for digging tunnels because of the constant threat of predators, especially the Ethiopian wolf, which is specialised to a diet of mole-rats. Ethiopian wolves catch mole-rats by ambushing them after they have constructed a new foraging tunnel, chasing them into their tunnel, and then vigilantly waiting for them to resurface. These mole-rats have evolved defenses other than flight, though, being very cautious and having incisors large enough to severely injure potential predators.


The biological family Canidae

(from Latin, canis, “dog”) is a lineage of carnivorans that includes domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals, dingoes, and many other extant and extinct dog-like mammals. A member of this family is called a canid (, ).The cat-like feliforms and dog-like caniforms emerged within the Carnivoramorpha 43 million years before present. The caniforms included the fox-like genus Leptocyon whose various species existed from 34 million years ago (Mya) before branching 11.9 Mya into Vulpini (foxes) and Canini (canines).Canids are found on all continents, having arrived independently or accompanied human beings over extended periods of time. Canids vary in size from the 2-m-long (6 ft 7 in) gray wolf to the 24-cm-long (9.4 in) fennec fox. The body forms of canids are similar, typically having long muzzles, upright ears, teeth adapted for cracking bones and slicing flesh, long legs, and bushy tails. They are mostly social animals, living together in family units or small groups and behaving co-operatively. Typically, only the dominant pair in a group breeds, and a litter of young is reared annually in an underground den. Canids communicate by scent signals and vocalizations. They are very intelligent. One canid, the domestic dog, long ago entered into a partnership with humans and today remains one of the most widely kept domestic animals.


Canis is a genus of the Canidae containing multiple extant species, such as wolves, coyotes, jackals, dingoes, and dogs. Species of this genus are distinguished by their moderate to large size, their massive, well-developed skulls and dentition, long legs, and comparatively short ears and tails.

Claudio Sillero-Zubiri

Claudio Sillero-Zubiri was born in Argentina and is a British zoologist. He is a Research Fellow at Oxford University's WildCRU, the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, and Lady Margaret Hall. He is the Chair of the IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group, and Head of Conservation of the Born Free Foundation. He is internationally recognized for his work with carnivore conservation, and in particular the endangered Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis).

He studied at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, then obtained his Ph.D. at Oxford University in 1994 with a study on the behavioural ecology of the Ethiopian wolf. Academic interests are the behavioural ecology of carnivores, conservation biology and population biology, with a particular interest in the Canidae.

His work includes the conservation of endangered species, protected areas management, and wildlife surveys for 15 years spanning three African countries and Argentina. In 1998 he received the Whitley Award for Animal Conservation from the Royal Geographical Society for his work in Ethiopia.

Becoming increasingly involved in the relationships between protected areas and their surrounding rural communities, he is now working with biodiversity conservation policies and practices, particularly in South America, India and Ethiopia, culminating in his current work on the resolution of conflict between wildlife and human interests.

His work with the IUCN Canid Specialist Group began in 1995 as Conservation Officer, assisting with various conservation programmes and coordinating the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP). In 2000 he became Deputy Chair of the CSG and in 2004 edited the second edition of the IUCN Canid Action Plan. He is currently the Chair of the Canid Specialist Group, and Editor of the Canid Biology and Conservation journal. He is also active in several other IUCN Specialist Groups.

Dr. Sillero Zubiri is frequently a keynote speaker at the annual Wildlife Conservation Network expo.

Dada Gottelli

Dada Gottelli is a British Zoologist. She is a Senior Research Technician with the Institute of Zoology, the research division of the Zoological Society of London. She has worked with the endangered Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), the Serengeti cheetah and the Atlantic salmon.

She studied at La Plata University.

Environmental issues in Ethiopia

As in many neighboring countries, most environmental issues in Ethiopia relate to deforestation and endangered species.

Ethiopian Highlands

The Ethiopian Highlands is a rugged mass of mountains in Ethiopia, situated in the Horn region in northeast Africa. It forms the largest continuous area of its elevation in the continent, with little of its surface falling below 1,500 m (4,900 ft), while the summits reach heights of up to 4,550 m (14,930 ft). It is sometimes called the Roof of Africa due to its height and large area. Most of the Ethiopian Highlands are part of central and northern Ethiopia, and its northernmost portion reaches into Eritrea.


Foxes are small-to-medium-sized, omnivorous mammals belonging to several genera of the family Canidae. Foxes have a flattened skull, upright triangular ears, a pointed, slightly upturned snout, and a long bushy tail (or brush).

Twelve species belong to the monophyletic "true foxes" group of genus Vulpes. Approximately another 25 current or extinct species are always or sometimes called foxes; these foxes are either part of the paraphyletic group of the South American foxes, or of the outlying group, which consists of bat-eared fox, gray fox, and island fox. Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica. By far the most common and widespread species of fox is the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) with about 47 recognized subspecies. The global distribution of foxes, together with their widespread reputation for cunning, has contributed to their prominence in popular culture and folklore in many societies around the world. The hunting of foxes with packs of hounds, long an established pursuit in Europe, especially in the British Isles, was exported by European settlers to various parts of the New World.

Guassa Community Conservation Area

The Guassa Community Conservation Area (GCCA) is one of the oldest known common property resource management in Sub-Saharan Africa. It has been the focus of an indigenous natural resource management institution, known as “Qero,” system for over 400 years It is located 80 km off the main highway, and is home to numerous endemic birds and wildlife species, including the iconic Ethiopian wolf and the Ethiopian gelada. The high altitude Afro-alpine Festuca grassland, or ‘Guassa” grass gives the area its name.

Himalayan wolf

The Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus) is a canine of debated taxonomy. It is distinguished by its genetic markers, with mitochondrial DNA indicating that it is genetically basal to the Holarctic grey wolf, genetically the same wolf as the Tibetan wolf, and has an association with the African golden wolf (Canis anthus). There are no striking morphological differences between the wolves from the Indian Himalayas and those from Tibet. The wolf is found in northern India in the Ladakh region of eastern Kashmir, and the Lahaul and Spiti region in the northeastern part of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh . It is also found in the Himalayan regions of Nepal.


Jackals are medium-sized omnivorous mammals of the genus Canis, which also includes wolves, coyotes and the domestic dog. While the word "jackal" has historically been used for many small canids, in modern use it most commonly refers to three species: the closely related black-backed jackal and side-striped jackal of sub-Saharan Africa, and the golden jackal of south-central Eurasia, which is more closely related to other members of the genus Canis.

Jackals and coyotes (sometimes called the "American jackal") are opportunistic omnivores, predators of small to medium-sized animals and proficient scavengers. Their long legs and curved canine teeth are adapted for hunting small mammals, birds, and reptiles, and their large feet and fused leg bones give them a physique well-suited for long-distance running, capable of maintaining speeds of 16 km/h (9.9 mph) for extended periods of time. Jackals are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk.

Their most common social unit is a monogamous pair, which defends its territory from other pairs by vigorously chasing intruding rivals and marking landmarks around the territory with their urine and feces. The territory may be large enough to hold some young adults, which stay with their parents until they establish their own territories. Jackals may occasionally assemble in small packs, for example, to scavenge a carcass, but they normally hunt either alone or in pairs.

Pack (canine)

Pack is a social group of conspecific canids. Not all species of canids form packs; for example, small canids like the red fox do not. Pack size and social behaviour within packs varies across species.

Simien Mountains National Park

Simien Mountains National Park is one of the national parks of Ethiopia. Located in the Semien (North) Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, its territory covers the Semien Mountains and includes Ras Dashan, the highest point in Ethiopia.

It is home to a number of endangered species, including the Ethiopian wolf and the walia ibex, a wild goat found nowhere else in the world. The gelada baboon and the caracal, a cat, also occur within the Simien Mountains. More than 50 species of birds inhabit the park, including the impressive bearded vulture, or lammergeier, with its 10-foot (3 m) wingspan.The park is crossed by an unpaved road which runs from Debarq, where the administrative headquarters of the park is located, east through a number of villages to the Buahit Pass (4,200 m), where the road turns south to end at Mekane Berhan, 10 kilometers beyond the park boundary.

Wildlife of Ethiopia

Ethiopia has a large variety of indigenous plant and animal species. In some areas, the mountains are covered with shrubs such as pyracantha, jasmine, poinsettia, and a varied assortment of evergreens. Caraway, carcade, cardamom, chat, coriander, incense, myrrh, and red pepper are common. The lakes in the Great Rift Valley region abound with numerous species of birds, and wild animals are found in every region. Among the latter are the cheetah, lion, civet, serval, African bush elephant, bushpig, gazelle, antelope, ibex, kudu, dik-dik, oribi, reedbuck, Somali wild ass, Grévy's zebra, hyena, baboon, and numerous species of monkey. As of 2002, there were at least 277 species of mammals, 262 species of birds, and over 6,600 species of plants throughout the country.

Will Burrard-Lucas

Will Burrard-Lucas (born September 1983), is a British wildlife photographer and entrepreneur. He is known for developing devices, such as BeetleCam and camera traps, which enable him to capture close-up photographs of wildlife.


A wolfdog is a canine produced by the mating of a domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) with a gray wolf (Canis lupus), eastern timber wolf (Canis lycaon), red wolf (Canis rufus), or Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) to produce a hybrid.

Extant Carnivora species

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