Following in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace
15 June 2023
The Ethiopian wolf is rare. Incredibly rare. In fact it is the world’s rarest canid, and the most endangered carnivore in Africa. The population is in a state of flux, but even the most optimistic estimates reckon less than 500 individuals remain. These are split between six highland pockets in Ethiopia, including the Bale and Simien mountain ranges. If you hope to see this majestic wolf in the wild, make it soon.
Since crossing the land bridge from the Middle East into what is now the African continent around 100,000 years ago, evolution has honed the hunting prowess of the ancestral grey wolf into the specialist rodent predator we see today. Longer legs and snout, tawny fur, smaller teeth and a lean agility suited to stalking low in the grassy heathland all make the Ethiopian wolf an efficient hunter of hyrax, giant molerats and grass rats.
Ethiopian wolves are facing a number of threats. The wolf packs’ habitat is endangered through human activity – population pressures mean that land is scarce so more and more people are forced to graze their livestock on virgin grassland. The remaining pockets of territory can realistically only support around 2000 wolves, and that is only if current measures to increase numbers are successful.
The wolf’s susceptibility to diseases such as rabies and canine distemper, brought into their territories by herdsmen and their dogs, has recently seen the total population shrink to around 250. A strain of canine distemper has unfortunately decimated the packs living in the Bale National Park from 350 wolves to around 80. Vaccination and education by the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme has previously managed to bring numbers back to a healthier level, and the continued efforts to protect this species appear to be paying off. But they are still elusive. So how to maximise the chances of spotting them?
Despite their other problems, the wolves do not suffer a shortage of prey: The density of rodents is huge, around 5000 rats per square kilometre in the wolf’s main habitats. Catching rodents is what brings the wolves out into the open, and although they do not hunt in packs – no need as their lunch is so small and numerous – your best chance of spotting them is in the early morning and late afternoon.
The Sanetti plateau, Guassa plateau and the Simien mountains are the best places to catch a glimpse of these rare hunters.
Ethiopian wolves live in packs, and unless they have young pups they relocate their lairs every day, sleeping huddled together for warmth.
Wear warm clothing as the habitats are all at a fairly high altitude and you may be spending some static time waiting to see the action.
Waterproof footwear is a must if you are planning on a wildlife trek – there are some marshy patches to tackle.
It goes without saying that viewing such a threatened species is a real privilege, and it is crucial to follow instructions from your guides in order to make sure your visit has little or no impact on these elusive wolves.
Make it happen
If you’d like to find out more about opportunities for wildlife spotting in Ethiopia, or indeed anything else that this intriguing destination has to offer, pop your details into our enquiry form and our local experts will do the rest. For more information about Ethiopia, see our destination overview. To talk to someone in the TravelLocal office, call 0117 342 7898.