ETHIOPIAN WOLVES ► Distribution & status
Ethiopian wolves are very localized endemics confined to Afroalpine pockets in the highlands of Ethiopia. Habitats suitable for wolves extends from above the tree-line at about 3,000m up to 4,500m, but subsistence agriculture reaches up to 3,500-3,800m in many areas, restricting wolves to higher ranges.
The surviving populations are confined to a few mountain ranges in Gondar, Wollo, Shoa, Arsi and Bale Regions (see map). The largest population is found in the Bale Mountains National Park in the southeast. Remnant populations occur in the Simien Mountains, Mount Guna, North and South Wollo, Menz, all north of the Rift Valley, and in the Arsi Mountains to the south. Recently extinct in Gosh Meda (North Shoa), and absent from Mt Choke, Gojjam, where it was reported until early this century.
There are no recent records of the species at altitudes below 3,000m, although specimens were collected at 2,500 m from Gojjam and northwestern Shoa at the beginning of the century. Reports in the Simien Mountains exist since the species was first described in 1835. .
• Habitat loss and fragmentation
The highlands of Ethiopia are among the most densely populated agricultural areas within Africa today. Remnants of Afroalpine ecossytems increasingly resemble islands hemmed in by degrading areas that act as ecological boundaries. The risk of local extinctions is increased by this process of insularization, and the resulting susceptibility to human persecution, inbreeding, disease, and natural catastrophes.
Much of the Ethiopian wolves' decline during the last few decades is the result of habitat destruction, particularly in northern Ethiopia. Heather and grasslands have been cleared and ploughed to grow cereal crops and provide grazing. At least two local wolf populations in Shoa and Wollo have been extirpated in recent times due to habitat degradation, and the ranges of other wolf populations have been reduced and fragmneted. Extensive overgrazing by cattle may have a significantly unfavourable impact on rodent popualtions.
• Human factors
In addition to habiat degradation and loss caused by people, there are other derived threats. Increased expoure of livestock to wild carnivores results in stock losses and escalation of human-wildlife conflicts. In northern Ethiopia such conflicts lead to wolf persecution, although wolves rarely predates on livestock. With expanding road construction across Afroalpine ranges, the frequency of wolves killed by cars may also increase. Warfare in the 1980s also affected wolf conservation because of reduced budgets, the use of land mines and indiscriminate killings in Afralpine areas.
• Domestic dogs
Even when people tolertaes wolves human presence may have secondary effects on the survival of wolves through the presence of domestic dogs. Ethiopian wolves are affected by domestic dogs by direct competition and agression; by dogs acting as vectors of disease; and by introgression and outbreeding depression. In the Bale Mountains some animals with unsual apperances were confirmed to be wolf-dog hybrids by genetic studies.
With the remaining wolves concentrated in a few relict populations, any of these populations could be eradicated by the sudden outbreak of disease. Rabies is the most dangerous disease that may affect the Ethiopian wolf. Rabies epizootics have caused serious declines in Bale Mountains populations in the early 1990s and again in 2003 (see Mortality & pathogens).
See Distribution & status publications.