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Dog disease threatens rare Ethiopian Wolves

A new outbreak of canine distemper is causing fatalities among the Ethiopian Wolves in the Bale Mountains National Park in Southern Ethiopia. The National Park is one of six isolated spots where this rarest of all wolf-like carnivores worldwide still occurs. The disease is transmitted to wild animals by domestic dogs living in the human settlements inside and around the park area.

Ethiopian Wolf in bale Mountains
The Ethiopian Wolf is the rarest of all wolf-like carnivores.

17 December 2015 - “Disease outbreaks are exacerbating the pressure on the fragile mountainous ecosystems in Ethiopia,” says Neville Slade, who leads Frankfurt Zoological Society’s Bale Mountains Conservation Project. “The current outbreak has the potential to all but wipe out one of the last populations of the Ethiopian wolves.”


The highly contagious disease is rapidly spreading among dogs living in the human settlements inside and around the park area and transmitted to wild animals. The virus attacks the Ethiopian wolves offspring from last year, and also older animals that are not immune.


“The death toll can be as high as 70 percent,” says Slade. “For every dead wolf we find there are probably another 6 to 8 we don’t find due to the expanse of the park, scavengers like jackals, cats, dogs, and eagles and simply because some die in the thick bush or in the rocks.”


FZS logistically supports the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme’s vaccinations of dogs inside the National Park against rabies and, since an outbreak occurred in 2010, also canine distemper. So far, no deaths among the wolves on the Bale Mountains plateau have been recorded, which leaves some time for emergency immunization programmes.

Autopsy of Ethiopian Wolf
Autopsy in the field: Tissue samples will be sent to the lab and reveal the cause of death.

Samples of the first dead animal had been tested at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute in Addis Ababa and at the Animal & Plant Health Agency in UK. The samples were tested negative for rabies and positive for the canine distemper virus (CDV). The finding of two more dead wolves in the area testified the beginning and spread out of the outbreak.


Since then, a total of 11 carcasses were found and 5 wolves were observed with symptoms consistent with CDV infection.


The Bale Mountains are the largest remaining alpine habitat on the African continent. About half of the still existing 450 Ethiopian wolves live in this park. Human settlements within park boundaries are increasing.


Currently, around 40,000 people live in and around the Bale Mountains National Park, with more than 3000 households within park boundaries. This leads to more frequent domestic dog contact with wild canids and exacerbates the risk for disease transmission.


For more information, please see: Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP)