When you picture a wolf, what do you envision? If you live in North America or Europe, you are most likely to imagine a large, gray, thick-furred animal with a stocky build and large fangs. While this accurately describes members of the Canis lupus, or “gray wolf” species, another wolf receives considerably less attention– although it needs attention and support significantly more than its bulkier cousin.
The Ethiopian wolf, or Canis simensis, is a severely endangered species of wolf in dire need of conservation. If you care about wolves, learn about this beautiful but less-known species. Here are 10 interesting facts about Ethiopian wolves.
1. The Ethiopian wolf is easily mistaken for a fox or a jackal. It is much smaller than its North American cousins, with very long legs and a pointed muzzle. Most Ethiopian wolves are reddish in color, with white and black markings.
2. Ethiopian wolves are far less aggressive than other wolves. They fight less both within and between packs. This degree of cooperation may be a result of their declining numbers.
3. Although Ethiopian wolves live in packs, they hunt in solitude. Rodents are an Ethiopian wolf’s preferred prey.
4. Unlike other social canines, Ethiopian wolves mate regardless of their social status. Alpha, beta and omega wolves alike are permitted to breed and care for their young.
5. There are only 550 adult Ethiopian wolves surviving today. Without drastic protection measures, they will become extinct within only a few years.
6. Habitat destruction for agriculture and urbanization are the largest threats to the Ethiopan wolf species. This is exacerbated by the over-grazing of wild plains and pasture.
7. Many people kill Ethiopian wolves because they believe that the animals are a threat to livestock. In fact, Ethiopian wolves rarely, if ever, target prey as large as chickens or goats.
8. Ethiopian wolves have been mating and hybidizing with domestic dogs. This threaten’s the species’ viability because it dilutes the genepool.
9. In 1990, more than half of the Ethiopian wolf population died because of a rabies epidemic. This nearly led to the species’ extinction, but it has made a small recovery since then.
10. Although protected by law, Ethiopian wolves are still under major threat from human beings. Laws protecting the animal are insufficiently enforced, and rabies outbreaks and habitat destruction continues. Rabies vaccination and captive breeding may help to save this animal from the brink of extinction.
The IUCN red list offers more information about the Ethiopian wolf.