November - December, 2018
Ethiopia may not be the first place you think of when deciding your wildlife photography holiday destination but this corner of Africa offers home to a number of endemic species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
Our two – week trip in Ethiopia was mainly dedicated to photograph two endemic mammals: the worlds rarest canid, Ethiopian wolf and the magnificent Gelada Monkey.
This blog is about Ethiopian Wolf.
As the name suggests, Ethiopian wolves are found in Ethiopia where they are restricted to the highlands of the country. Ethiopian wolf is also known as Abyssinian wolf, Simien fox, Simien jackal.
Ethiopian Wolf is considered as the rarest canid species in the world with the population of around 500 individuals.
More than half of Ethiopian wolves are found in the Bale Mountains National Park, located 400 km from capital Addis Ababa.
Journey by car from Addis Ababa to Goba Robe airport (commonly known as Bale Robe airport) takes 5 - 6 hours. Road infrastructure, though greatly improved in recent years, is still rudimentary. Self-drive car rental is very rare. In most cases vehicle is rented with a driver. An average cost per day is $150. For a cheaper and quicker way of travelling we used domestic flights.
Bale Mountains National Park occupies 2150 square km.
Web Valley and Sanetti plateau have the highest density of Ethiopian wolf population. In order to reach both areas it is necessary to have a car and a driver.
We have noticed that in Sanetti plateau wolves are less shy than in Web Valley, so they are easier to approach without a car.
In Web valley a car is a must for wolf photography.
There are no hotels near by, so camping is the only option for Ethiopian wolf photography, especially in Web Valley area. In Sanetti plateau there is a possibility to stay in a high-end Bale mountain lodge (£200 per night) or travel back to Goba town. Both lodges are located quite far from wolf sightings.
Ethiopian wolves live in Afro-alpine grasslands and rocky areas in elevation from 3000 to 4200 meters above sea level. For wolves this altitude is fine but humans have to adapt to it slowly.
Ethiopian wolf is similar to the coyote in size, weighting around 16 kg; comparing to its relative grey wolf, Ethiopian wolf is smaller in size and weight.
Their thick fur coat is suited for colder habitats in high altitudes. Wolves can cope temperatures as low as -15o C. We must admit that temperature drops quite a bit during nights in the mountains and the morning especially with the north winds are pretty chilly.
Ethiopian wolves live in packs but tend to hunt alone.
They typically eat several rodent species that are common in the area. According to researchers rodents account for 96% of the prey occurrences and 97% volume in the droppings.
The preferred prey is Big Headed Mole Rat which is endemic to Ethiopia's Bale Mountains. Males in this species are noticeably larger than females, weighting up to 900 grams.
Ethiopian wolf needs to eat around 3 giant mole rats a day. Unfortunately giant rats are endangered and threatened by habitat loss through overgrazing by domestic livestock.
Occasionally small packs of wolves can be spotted chasing after young sheep, antelopes or hare.
Wolves are well suited for seeking rodents out from their underground burrows with their long muzzles.
Ethiopian wolves have no interest in humans and there is no record of one attacking a person.
Typically wolves are long lived (~ 10 years) animals but habitat loss due to increasing human population and dog-related disease such as rabies and canine distemper virus are the most pressing.
In 2008 a rabies outbreak killed 70% of the wolves in the Bale Mountains. The remaining animals were saved by an emergency vaccination program. During vaccination program wolves are tagged for monitoring.
Up till today there are teams of dedicated people working to save the Ethiopian wolf through vaccination programs.
Seeing and photographing this unique animal was truly an amazing experience. Overall it was not a very easy trip with unexpected challenges with dishonest guide and crazy solutions. Travel is not without its ups and downs but fortunately challenges were overcome and we had great wolf sightings and even very close Ethiopian wolf encounters in their natural habitat.
It is a truly unforgettable photographic experience.