The Ethiopian wolf is the rarest canid in the world, and Africa’s most threatened carnivore. The closest living relatives of the Ethiopian wolf are grey wolves and coyotes. The Ethiopian wolf ancestor crossed over from Eurasia during the Pleistocene period less than 100,000 years ago, when sea levels were lower and Africa and the Middle East were connected. At the time, the highlands of Ethiopia were predominately Afroalpine grasslands and heathlands, and these habitats were ideal for many small mammals, particularly grass rats and molerats. This Afroalpine environment and its abundant rodents drove the Ethiopian wolf evolution morphologically into a specialized rodent hunter with an elongated muzzle, long legs and a distinctive reddish coat, with white markings and a darker tail tip. Male Ethiopian wolves weigh between 14 and 20kg, while the weight of adult females ranges from 11 to 16 kg.
Ethiopian wolves live in packs of between 2 and 18 animals, which share and defend an exclusive territory. Unlike most social carnivores, Ethiopian wolves forage and feed alone during the day. In Simien they are mostly visible foraging or walking early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and occasionally in small groups, greeting or scent marking along their territory boundaries. Dens are only used during the short breeding season by pups and nursing females. The rest of the pack sleeps in the open but helps protect the den from predators and contributes food to the pups.
The Ethiopian wolf is restricted to just six isolated mountaintop areas of the Ethiopian highlands. With a total world population of between 400 to 520 individuals, it is highly endangered. As a result it is legally protected in the country from any activities that may threaten its survival. Rapidly expanding cattle and crop farming are severe threats, as well as diseases such as rabies and canine distemper transmitted from domestic dogs.
In SMNP, Ethiopian wolves are found above the limit of agriculture and they are somewhat nocturnal and alert to the presence of people. That said, visitors keeping a keen eye in the core wolf areas of the park during the early morning and late afternoon are likely to be rewarded by a sighting of these handsome and rare carnivores.