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The Ethiopian wolf: respected and threatened by local cattle farmers

The rare Ethiopian wolf is increasingly coming into contact with local cattle farmers. PhD candidate Girma Eshete explored ways of saving this elegant animal from being wiped out. Phd-defense on 5 September.

With its long legs and beautiful red fur, the Ethiopian wolf is an elegant predator. Unfortunately, there are fewer than five hundred wolves left in the highlands of Ethiopia, the only place where these animals are found. Measures are needed to prevent the species becoming extinct.

Territory

Leiden PhD candidate Girma Eshete examined the threats facing the Ethiopian wolf, and how we can reverse the situation. He concluded that these wolves and the Ethiopian people are increasingly overlapping one another’s territory, with all the attendant consequences. As a result of the destruction and fragmentation of their habitat, natural prey are becoming scarce, and the wolves are at times forced to hunt the livestock kept by the local population.

Damage to livestock

‘In the region that I studied, livestock (especially sheep) made up of around five per cent of the diet of the Ethiopian wolves,’ Eshete explained. ‘That may not seem a lot, but in just one year half of the 140 pastoralists reported damage from wolves and jackals. In all, they lost 131 sheep and goats, which amounts to around ten per cent of the average herd size in the region.’

Bad image

Eshete is concerned that this economic damage will give the wolf a bad image among the local cattle farmers. Eshete’s research has shown that at the moment at least sixty per cent of the cattle farmers in the area still have a positive image of the Ethiopian wolves. Even larger proportions are in favour of protecting the natural habitats of these animals. ‘But the feeding pattern of the animals may in the near future lead to revenge actions by the local population.’

Nature education

Eshete proposes a number of measures to prevent that happening. A programme of nature education may increase the tolerance of the local population towards the Ethiopian wolf. He also advocates alternative sources of income, such as ecotourism, to compensate for the loss of cattle. One effect of this will be a less intensive use of the vulnerable highlands, which will give the rodent population a chance to recover.  And this will in turn have benefits for the Ethiopian wolf.