Ethiopian WolvesBy Hannah Schardt
These beautiful hunters are some of the most endangered animals in the world.
All pups are precious, but the one nuzzling its mom above is a rare treasure indeed. It’s an Ethiopian wolf, Africa’s most endangered meat-eating animal. Fewer than 500 of these wolves are left on Earth, and they live in just a few hard-to-reach peaks in the East African country of Ethiopia (see map).
Once, thousands of the wolves lived in Ethiopia’s mountains. But they lost much of their highland home when people moved in to build houses, plant crops, and raise livestock. And many of the wolves died from diseases spread by domestic dogs like the one near the home above.
Keep reading to learn more about how these beautiful red wolves live—and what people are doing to keep them prowling Ethiopia’s mountains for many years to come.
VIDEO: Watch Ethiopian wolves in action!
Like the gray wolves you probably know best, Ethiopian wolves are expert hunters. But unlike gray wolves, they don’t work together to take down large prey such as deer or antelope. They hunt mostly alone. And they eat almost nothing but grass rats, mole-rats, and other rodents. A hungry Ethiopian wolf will sit quietly outside a rodent burrow. As soon as a little animal peeks out—pounce!—the wolf grabs dinner in a flash.
Even though they hunt solo, Ethiopian wolves do almost everything else in a group, or pack. A pack usually has between 6 and 15 adult members. Only one female and one male get to mate and have pups at a time. Those pups are born toothless and helpless, their eyes sealed shut. Luckily, Mom and Dad don’t have to do all the hard work of raising them!
The other adults in the pack help take care of the youngsters, bringing them food, grooming them, and protecting them from threats. An aunt or older sister may even help nurse the pups.
Each morning, the members of the pack meet up to patrol the borders of their territory. They spray the borders with urine. The scent tells other wolves, “Stay away! This place is ours.” If two neighboring wolf packs run into each other while on patrol, the larger pack will usually chase the smaller one away.
A HOWL FOR HELP
Rodents make fine meals for wolves—as long as there are lots of rodents to be had. But as people moved farther and farther up into the mountains in Ethiopia, they dug up the soil to plant crops. That left less space for mole-rats and grass rats to dig burrows and find food. Many rodents disappeared. Bad news for the rodents—and bad news for hungry wolves.
That wasn’t the only problem people brought with them. When they moved in, so did domestic dogs. Those dogs carried diseases that spread quickly to wolves living nearby. Some of the diseases were deadly. Soon, Ethiopian wolves were in danger of disappearing altogether.
TO THE RESCUE
Luckily, people noticed that Ethiopian wolves were in trouble. The Ethiopian government set aside protected habitat for the wolves to roam. And a group called the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme started studying the wolves to learn what they need to survive. Now, when there’s a disease outbreak, people trap the wolves in the area and give them vaccines, or medicine, to keep them healthy. And members of the group also visit nearby schools and villages to share their message: The Ethiopian wolf is a treasure worth protecting!