The Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) also called the Simien fox or Simien jackal, and it’s a canid mostly seen in the Ethiopian Highlands.
It is similar in build and size to the coyote, and it can be differentiated by its white and red fur and its narrow and long skull. Unlike other canids, which are widespread and are generalist feeders, the Ethiopian wolves are highly specialized feeders of Afro-alpine rodents with a particular habitat requirement.
It is part of the world’s rarest canids and Africa’s most endangered carnivore.
This species current range is limited to seven isolated mountains, ranges at altitudes of 4,500 to 3,000m, with the total adult population estimated at 440 to 360 individuals in 2011, more than half of the population in the Bale Mountain.
Ethiopian wolves are on the IUCN Red List as Endangered, because of its fragmented range and small numbers.
Threats include diseases, caused by interbreeding with free-ranging dogs and increase pressure from the enlarging human population, resulting in habitat degradation through overgrazing.
Its protection is headed by Oxford University’s Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, which seeks to conserve wolves through vaccination and community outreach programs.
Table of Contents
- Southern Ethiopian wolf (C. s. citernii)
- Northern Ethiopian wolf (C. s. simensis)
Ethiopian wolves are similar to North America’s coyote in build and size; however, it is larger than the golden, side-striped jackals and black-backed jackal, and has longer legs.
It has a very flat skull, with an extended facial region that occupies 58% of the head’s total length. The ears are directed forward, broad, and pointed.
The teeth, particularly the premolars, are widely spaced and small. The canine teeth measure up to 22 to 14 mm in length, while the carnassials are very small.
The Ethiopian wolf has eight mammae, but only 6 are functional. They are only 5 toes in the front paw, including the dewclaw, while the hind paw only has 4 toes.
As is distinctive in the genus Canis, males are larger than females because they have a 20% greater body mass.
Adult measure up to 21 to 24 in (530 to 620 mm) in height and 33.1 to 39.8 in (841 to 1,012 mm) in body length. Adult females weigh up to 24.7 to 31.2 lb (11.2 to 14.15 kg), while males weigh up to 31 to 43 lb (14.2 to 19.3 kg).
The Ethiopian wolf has a thick underfur and short guard hairs that protect them from harsh temperatures as low as −15 °C. Its full colour is ochre to rusty red, with dense whitish to pale ginger underfur.
The fur of the underpart, throat, and chest is white, with a distinct white stripe occurring around the side of its neck. There is a sharp boundary between the white band and a red coat.
The ears are naked on the inside, though thickly furred on the edges. The naked borders of the lips, the palate, and gums are black.
Moulting of its coat occurs during the wet season (August to October), and there is no evident seasonal variation in coat colour, through the contrast between the white band and the red coat increases with social rank and age.
Females have a paler coat than males. During the mating season, the female coat becomes woollier, turns yellow, and the tail loses much of its hair, turns brownish.
Animals resulting from Ethiopian wolf-dog hybridization are heavily built than pure Ethiopian wolves and have different coat patterns and shorter muzzles.
Ethiopian wolves are social animals, living in packs containing up to 20 adults (individuals that are more than a year), though packs of 6 wolves are often seen.
Breeding females can be replaced by a resident daughter if killed; it also increases the risk of inbreeding. Such risks are sometimes taken for extra-pack mating and multiple paternity.
These packs live in communal territories, which cover 2.3 sq mi (6 km2) of land on average. In areas with limited food supply, this species lives in pairs, at times accompanied by pups, and defends larger territories that cover up to 5.2 sq mi (13.4 km2).
In the absence of disease, Ethiopian wolves’ territories are mostly secure, but packs can expand their territories whenever the chance arises, such as when a rival pack disappears.
Ethiopian wolves rest together at night and assemble for greeting and border patrols at dawn, noon, and evening. They may seek haven from the rain under an overhanging rock and behind boulders.
This species never stay in dens, but only use them for nursing pups. When patrolling their territories, Ethiopian wolves commonly scent-mark and interact vocally and aggressively with other rival packs.
Such confrontation typically ends with the withdraw of the smaller pack.
The breeding season tends to take place between August and November. Mating involves the breeding male pursuing the breeding female closely. The breeding female accepts to mate with the breeding male of another pack.
The gestation period occurs between 60 to 62 days; the pups are born between October and December. Pups are born with their eyes closed, toothless, and are covered in a charcoal-grey coat with a buff patch on the chest and abdomen.
Litters consist of 2 – 6 pups, which live from their den after 3 weeks when the dark coat is gradually replaced with the adult colouration.
After five weeks, the pups feed on a combination of milk and solid food, and after 10 weeks to 6 months, they are completely weaned off milk. All members of the pack chip in to the feeding and protecting the pups.
Adulthood and sexual maturity are attained at the age of 2 years pseudopregnancy, and Cooperative breeding has been seen in Ethiopian wolves. Most females leave their natal pack at the age of 2, and some become ‘’floaters’’ that may successfully immigrate into existing packs.
Hunting and diet
Unlike most common carnivores, the Ethiopian wolves seem to feed on small prey alone.
They are active mostly during the day, the time when the rodents are also active, though they have been seen to hunt in groups when targeting mountain nyala calves. Major Percy-Cotton described the hunting behaviour of the Ethiopian wolves as thus:
… They are quite amusing to watch when hunting. The rat, which is brown, with short tails, live in large colonies and run from burrow to burrow, while the cuberow stands motionless till one of them shows up.
When he attacks it, if he is unsuccessful, he seems to get angry, and start digging violently; but this is only lost labour, because the ground is honeycombed with holes, and every rat is yards away before he has thrown up a pawful.
Wolves in Bale have been seen to forage among cattle herds, a tactic used in ambushing rodents out of their holes by using the cattle to hide their presence.
In the Bale Mountains, the Ethiopian wolf’s main prey are big-headed African mole- rats, though it also feeds on the black-clawed brush- furred rats, highland hares, and grass rats.
Other lesser prey includes yellow-spotted brush- furred rats, vlei rats, and occasionally goslings and eggs. Ethiopian wolves have been seen twice feeding on mountain nyala calves and rock hyraxes.
Ethiopian wolves are restricted to isolated pockets of heathlands and Afroalpine grasslands occupied by Afroalpine rodents.
Its perfect habitat extends from above the tree line around 3,200 – 4,500 m, with some wolves living in the Bale Mountains being present in montane grasslands at 3,000 m.
However, some species were collected in Northwestern Shoa and Gojjam at 2,500 m in the early 20th century. No recent record exists of the species occurring below 3,000 m.
The Ethiopian wolf uses all part of the Afroalpine habitat, but also like open areas containing grassland and short herbaceous communities occupied by rodents, and they are more abundant in number in flat or gently sloping areas with deep soil and poor drainage.
The major wolf habitat in the Bale Mountains consists of short Alchemilla herbs and grasses, with low vegetation cover. Other favourable habitats of the Ethiopian wolf are tussock grasslands, short grasslands growing in shallow soil, and high-altitude scrubs rich in Helichrysum.
In the northern range, the wolf’s habitat is composed of plant communities differentiated by Euryops bushes, giant lobelias, and Festuca clusters, all of which are preferred by the wolf’s prey.