Today, fewer than 500 Ethiopian wolves exist — around half of them in the Bale Mountains. A new oral rabies vaccine program aims to give the endangered animals a fighting chance.

By Helen Thompson (Science News) |

Deep in the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia, wildlife workers trek up above 9,800 feet to save some of the world’s most rare carnivores, Ethiopian wolves.

“It’s cold, tough work,” says Eric Bedin, who leads the field monitoring team in its uphill battle.

In this sparse, sometimes snowy landscape, the lanky and ginger-colored wolves (Canis simensis) reign as the region’s apex predators. Yet the combined threats of rabies, canine distemper and habitat reduction have the animals cornered.

Bedin and his colleagues, traveling by horse and on foot through dramatically shifting temperatures and weather, track these solitary hunters for weeks at a time. Team members know every wolf in most packs in these mountains. The team has vaccinated some wolves against rabies, only to have hopes dashed when the animals died of distemper months later.

“These guys work their asses off to protect these wolves,” says Claudio Sillero, a conservation biologist at the University of Oxford who heads up the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, of which the field monitoring team is an integral part. Down the line, humans stand to benefit from all this work too.

Sillero and his colleagues have been at this for 30 years. They’ve seen four major outbreaks of rabies alone, each leaving dozens of carcasses across the highlands and cutting some populations by as much as 75 percent.

Today, fewer than 500 Ethiopian wolves exist — around half of them in the Bale Mountains. A new oral rabies vaccine program aims to give the endangered animals a fighting chance. It may be their best hope for survival, Sillero says.

Later this year, if all goes well, oral vaccines hidden in hunks of goat meat will be scattered across wolf ranges and eaten by the animals. One dose every two years should bolster immunity against rabies among these iconic animals immortalized on several of their country’s postage stamps.

Continue reading this story at Science News
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