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Race to save last 400 of world’s most endangered wolf

With only 400 still alive, Ethiopian wolves are one of the world’s most endangered species and an international group of animal biologists – including from The University of Western Australia – is working to save them from the brink of extinction.

UWA-affiliated Associate Professor Monique Paris, Research Director of the Institute for Breeding Rare and Endangered African Mammals (IBREAM), said the wolves eke out their existence at an altitude of 4,300m in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park.

“A symbol of pride for Ethiopia, these animals share their wilderness habitat with a steadily growing human population that brings with them domestic dogs – and rabies,” Associate Professor Paris said.

“Rabies is the number-one killer for Ethiopian wolves and the most recent outbreak of the disease has halved the wolves’ existing gene pool. The future of the species rests solely within this tiny population because no Ethiopian wolf has ever been held or bred in captivity anywhere in the world.”

IBREAM experts in semen collection and freezing – Professor Wenche Farstad of the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science and Dr Linda Penfold of the South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation – recently visited the School of Veterinary Medicine at Addis Ababa University to train Ethiopian vets to collect and store valuable genetic material from the wolves. The training was organised by Professor Alemayehu Lemma who said: “It was an amazing experience to see the wolves in the wild, and I hope I can conserve them so my children can also see them.”

“Capacity training is the most appropriate tool we have right now,” Associate Professor Paris said. “If we can upgrade the skill level of Ethiopian vets involved in the conservation program then the country will always have the expertise to manage its natural resources.”

The next step – collection of semen synchronised with rabies vaccination – will be taken together with scientists from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.

Funds for the expedition were donated by the World Wildlife Fund Netherlands and the Dutch Zoo Foundation with equipment donated by IMV Technologies and the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science.