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Born Free USA Global Field Projects

Rabies ‘Barrier’ to Save Ethiopian Wolves

Published 05/18/11

A team of dedicated conservationists is battling to save the world’s rarest wolf from a rabies outbreak by creating a “barrier’ of vaccinated wolf packs. These aren’t just “any” wolves. These beautiful, long-legged, red-tinged Ethiopian wolves are unique to the Highlands of Ethiopia and they are the rarest canid species on the planet. Even more rare than the giant panda.

With fewer than 500 left, the endangered Ethiopian wolf teeters on the brink of extinction. In their stronghold in the Bale Mountains National Park, wolves live in close contact with the Oromo people. While this coexistence is encouraging, it places the wolves at great risk of catching the rabies virus from the dogs the Oromo use to herd livestock. The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program (EWCP) has been actively protecting the wolves in Bale Mountains for many years.

“Fifteen wolves have died to date, and laboratory tests have confirmed our worst fears that we are facing another potentially devastating outbreak,” says Born Free’s head of conservation, Dr. Claudio Sillero. “If left unchecked, rabies is likely to kill over two-thirds of all wolves in Bale’s Web Valley, and spread further, with wolves dying horrible deaths and numbers dwindling to perilously low levels.

“To those of us like you who care passionately about them, the new rabies outbreak is shattering, devastating news. Every single animal is important.”

In 2003 a similar epidemic swept through, and a rapid response by EWCP blocked the spread of the disease.

Led by Claudio a joint EWCP/Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority team is implementing a plan to vaccinate wolf packs to create a “barrier” to prevent the virus from spreading. Claudio says he is desperately trying to save the wolves.

“They need to vaccinate the wolves to prevent further infection. We can’t let this outbreak become an epidemic. The researchers knew from previous outbreaks that they had to move quickly to stop the virus in its tracks ...

“Tracking and vaccinating these animals is a far from easy task. Our veterinary team are travelling on horse-back and camping out in remote mountains above 12,000 feet with temperatures falling as low as minus-15 degrees Celsius. But the first three weeks of the intervention have gone well with the team vaccinating to date forty-eight wolves in eleven vital packs that connect the Web Valley population with other wolves in Bale.”

The objective is to secure a “cordon sanitaire” of safely vaccinated wolf packs which will prevent the virus reaching other packs living further afield in the Bale Mountains.

“These preciously rare wolves can ill-afford it another massive die-off,” Claudio said.

Read other updates about our Ethiopian wolf project.

See the Ethiopian wolf project's photo gallery.

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