Title graphic Ethiopia's Wolves
Ethiopian wolf
Ethiopian highland hare
Bale grass rat

Giant mole rat
Guereza monkey
Mountain nyala
Augur buzzard
Landscapes
The landscapes of the Ethiopian highlands are unlike any of the usual stereotypical images of Africa. Not surprisingly, the area is home to many endemic species - those found only in one particular geographic location and nowhere else. In November 2009 I spent a week in Ethiopia's Bale Mountains, looking for one of these unique species, the Ethiopian wolf. It is the world's second most endangered canid (after the red wolf), with less than 500 remaining and an extremely limited distribution. The weather in the highlands was 'challenging', and I unfortunately had some focussing problems with my camera, but it was a huge privilege to see the wolves in the wild and I hope you'll enjoy the photos I did get.   
Ethiopian wolf
Ethiopian wolves live only in the Bale Mountains and Simien Mountains, in just seven isolated populations. The main threats to them are habitat loss to agriculture, conflict with humans (although the wolves rarely kill livestock) and diseases - especially rabies - carried by domestic dogs. Adults have no natural predators.
Ethiopian wolves eat mostly rodents and hares and are therefore solitary hunters. However they are highly sociable when not foraging, which means that diseases such as rabies spread rapidly through the packs and can quickly devastate numbers.
My search for wolves started on the Sanetti Plateau, home to the largest population. I was greeted by what I thought was early morning fog but then I realised that, at 4000 metres (over 13,000 feet), I was actually in a cloud that might not move during my visit. For the Brits among you, imagine the North York Moors or Dartmoor 2½ miles into the sky.
The first day was wolf-less but we set out on foot early the next morning and I got my first sighting. Visibility was poor, but I took some photos just in case it was also my last sighting. The wolf was completely unbothered by our presence and off on a purposeful foraging trip.
Ethiopian wolf in thick cloud, Sanetti Plateau
Later that morning, the cloud did clear and we spotted another wolf from the vehicle and watched as it hunted, intently listening for its prey beneath ground and attempting to dig it out (unsuccessfully).
 Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau
Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau
Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau
Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau
A few minutes later we saw another wolf on the move and investigating some interesting smells, and then a third some distance away, rolling in the grass. A good wolf day!

Ethiopian wolf rolling, Sanetti Plateau
Ethiopian wolf, Sanetti Plateau
The next day our search moved to the beautiful Web Valley. We set out on foot and encountered two wolves, one of which sported a tag in each ear. This meant it was a lucky wolf in that it had been captured and innoculated against rabies (by the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme) not once but twice. The wolves moved off down the valley, but following them with binoculars we saw one of them settle down for a snooze in the middle of a herd of horses!
Ethiopian wolf, Web Valley
Ethiopian wolves, Web Valley
Leaving the Web Valley in the early afternoon, we disturbed another wolf which was sleeping in some bushes. It was so relaxed in our presence that it came out into the open and we watched it for several minutes. Ethiopian wolf, Web Valley
Ethiopian wolf, Web Valley Ethiopian wolf, Web Valley
Ethiopian wolf, Web Valley
Ethiopian wolf, Web Valley

The wolf's prey
The mammalian food web in the wolves' habitat is simple - various smaller mammals eat the vegetation and they in turn are eaten by the wolves. That's about it. Just three species
- Ethiopian highland hares, Bale grass rats and giant mole rats - comprise 87% of the wolves' diet. If you sit quietly for just a few minutes, the grassland and heath comes alive with countless rodents, and hunkered-down hares pop up. Collectively, their biomass per square kilometre is so high that it rivals that of the large mammals found on the Mara-Serengeti during the annual migration.
Ethiopian highland hare
These hares (also known as Stark's hares) are found nowhere else than in the Bale Mountains. Like other hares, they don't burrow and have to endure the harsh weather hunkered-down in shallow depressions or amongst the vegetation - they are incredibly hardy.
Ethiopian highland hare, Sanetti Plateau Ethiopian highland hare, Sanetti Plateau

Bale grass rat
Another Ethiopian highland endemic, most of the population occurs within the Bale Mountains. The species is also known as Blick's grass rat. I'd spent some time trying to photograph grass rats from the vehicle on my first day on the Sanetti Plateau, without much success. Then, as I stood drinking a celebratory mug of tea after seeing my first wolf the next morning, this rat came out of its burrow a few feet away.
Bale (Blick's) grass rat, Sanetti Plateau Bale (Blick's) grass rat, Sanetti Plateau

Giant mole rat
The giant mole rat is yet another species found nowhere else than in the Bale Mountains and it is classified as Endangered. It is an important source of food for the wolves - mole rats can weigh almost a kilogramme (two pounds) and make a good meal compared to a grass rat.
The goofy-looking mole rat is not that 'well-designed' and, although its eyes are positioned at the top of its head, still does
n't have great vision. It seems to have a symbiotic relationship with a small bird called an alpine chat. The bird hangs around at the entrance to the mole rat's burrow and gives an alarm call if danger approaches (for example a wolf). In return, it gets to eat insects and worms disturbed by the mole rat as it eats the grass and roots around the burrow.
Giant mole rat, Web Valley
Giant mole rat, Web Valley Giant mole rat, Web Valley

Guereza monkey
This is a species of colobus monkey, found across central Africa but with this sub-species restricted to the Ethiopian highlands east of the Rift Valley.
There was a small group of the monkeys resident near the 'lodge' at Dinsho. They have amazing long white tails and 'capes'.

Guereza monkey, near Dinsho Lodge
Guereza monkey, near Dinsho Lodge Guereza monkey, near Dinsho Lodge
Guereza monkey, near Dinsho Lodge Guereza monkey, near Dinsho Lodge

Mountain nyala
My first day in the Bale Mountains was spent in the Gaysay Valley (altitude 3000 metres (almost 10,000 feet)). Although wolves are sometimes seen there, the main attraction is the Endangered mountain nyala (another species endemic to Ethiopia). The Valley was declared a protected area in an attempt to safeguard the majority of the remaining animals. The nyala can also be seen on walks around Dinsho Lodge.
Mountain nyala, Gaysay Valley Mountain nyala, Gaysay Valley
Mountain nyala, near Dinsho Lodge Mountain nyala, Gaysay Valley

Augur buzzard
Augur buzzards are relatively common in the highlands. They feed mostly on small rodents like the grass rats, and also lizards and snakes.
Augur buzzard, Sanetti Plateau Augur buzzard, Sanetti Plateau

Landscapes
Landscape, approach to Bale Mountains
Agricultural land on the approach to the Bale Mountains
Sanetti Plateau in the sunshine
The Sanetti Plateau on a good day!
Fincha Habera waterfall, Web Valley
Fincha Habera waterfall, en route to the Web Valley
Web Valley
The Web Valley
Giant lobelia, Web Valley Giant lobelia, Web Valley
Landscape, leaving Bale Mountains
Mountains and agricultural land as we left the Bale Mountains
Waterfall, Dodola
Waterfall at Dodola

Waterfall, Dodola
Waterfall at Dodola

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Last updated 24 November 2010