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Battling to Save the Ethiopian Wolf, Africa's Rarest Carnivore

posted Jun 7, 2017, 6:24 PM by chloe owens

5/12/17, by Cladio Sillero-University of Oxford, Earth Touch News

Battling to save the Ethiopian wolf, Africa’s rarest carnivore

Most members of the Canidae family, such as wolves, dogs and foxes, are versatile and opportunistic animals, thriving in many habitats and some even living in urban and suburban settings. In contrast, Ethiopian wolves are highly specialized to life in the Ethiopian highlands. Also called the "Roof of Africa", it encompasses 80% of Africa’s land above 3,000 metres. The wolves are remarkable rodent hunters, with long muzzles and slender legs. Their tight social bonds help them protect their precious family territories from competitors. For a canid of their size (about 14-20kg – the weight of a medium-sized dog), Ethiopian wolves are unique at surviving on small prey (most highland rodent species weigh less than 100g) and are solitary foragers. With their striking red coats and black-and-white markings, they appear physically distant from their closest relative, the grey wolf…Due to a warming continent, the tree line has gone up by 1,000 metres in the last 100,000 years, encroaching on open Afroalpine grasslands and meadows. Due to the pressure of humans, livestock and domestic dogs, the wolves are now restricted to tiny mountain pockets on either side of the Great Rift Valley, and are constantly being pushed up the slopes. The most immediate and real threat to wolves is in fact domestic animals. While many highland wildlife species have been able to coexist with highland shepherds and their livestock, domestic dogs bring an additional challenge. The dogs not only compete for food but as dogs and wolves are inexorably drawn to each other and interact, dogs transmit rabies and canine distemper virus to their wild cousins. This has the potential to decimate wolf populations in a short period of time. In extreme cases, dogs may even mate and hybridize with the wolves, threatening the genetic integrity of this rare and endemic canid.