Kate on Conservation

Ethiopian Wolf: In search of the rarest canid on Earth

ethiopian wolf in mountains title card

High up in the remote highlands of Ethiopia roams a hunter so rare that to get even a glimpse of it is considered to be a privilege. While the population is in a state of flux, still it is estimated that there are fewer than 500 individuals left in the world, making it the most endangered carnivore in Africa: the Ethiopian Wolf.

The russet coated, coyote-like Ethiopian Wolf (Canis Simensis) is the rarest canid on earth, and is waging a grim battle for its survival in an environment where even the hardiest of souls would never dare to tread.

Habitat of the Ethiopian Wolf

The Bale and Simien mountain ranges that stretch across most of northern and central Ethiopia are prone to freezing winds even during the height of summer.

Threatened by habitat loss and spread of lethal diseases carried by domestic dogs, these hostile terrain happens to be the last remaining stronghold of this valiant animal.

Domestic dogs spread lethal diseases, such as rabies, to Ethiopian Wolves.

Fortunately, these little known species, which are hanging so precariously close to extinction, have motivated scientists and supporters from around the globe to fight for their survival.

As rodents form their principal prey, the Ethiopian wolves do not pose any direct threat to humans, still it is vital to ensure their coexistence with people not only to safeguard them, but other fascinating endemic species of Ethiopia as well. Booking Ethiopia holidays to the Bale mountains will not guarantee a sight of this rare species but can be an unforgettable experience nevertheless.

Ethiopian Wolf – Close to Extinction

Sadly, due to their small size, all five extant Ethiopian Wolf populations are in grave danger of extinction. While the largest population is known to have as many as 300 members, there are some with fewer than 25, facts which make things more scary.

With no wolves in captivity anywhere, the long term survival of the remaining numbers depend entirely on rescuing those decimated by disease and creating new populations in other areas occupied by the wolves in the past. This is seen as the first step of a dream to ensure the active management and survival of the species.

Ethiopian wolf resemImage by Sally Vogel from Pixabay

Related a more closely to the grey wolf, in appearance the Ethiopian Wolf looks more like a fox, because of its white markings and distinctive red coat. They are long-limbed slender Canids, with a black bushy tail, pointed years and a very slender snout.

Family life

Every wolf pack is led by an alpha male and an alpha female, where a strict social structure is adhered to. The alpha female gives birth in an underground den, which consist of a network of burrows, possible with multiple entrances, in order to move the pups from one den to another.

Every adult member of the pack takes care of the newborn pups in raising and safeguarding them.

Photo credit: © Thierry Grobet-Nyala Productions

Unlike other species of their kind, Ethiopian wolves are solitary hunters. In many areas of the Ethiopian highlands grows a special grass known as guassa.

This grass is a favourite of rodents, which makes it prime wolf habitat as their diet consists mainly of giant mole rats and common grass rats which abound here. Sometimes, if the occasion demands, they will hunt in unison to bring down larger prey like hares, lambs or a young antelope.

Wolf pack numbers are restricted from a few individuals to a dozen or so members so as to keep proper control over a territory and thereby ensure enough rodent supply to cater to every member of the pack.

Ethiopian Wolf – Where to Travel to for Spotting them? 

The Afroalpine Highlands are the home to the last remaining wolves in Ethiopia. The highest population of these Canids live in the Bale Mountains, while smaller numbers can be found in Guasso Range in North Shoa, the Simien Mountains in Gondar and in Wollo and Arsi.

Their habitat ranges between 10000 to 14000 feet above sea level. They prefer grasslands and valley meadows where prey is plentiful.

As their name suggests, Ethiopian wolves are endemic to the country alone, with the entire population being restricted to just seven isolated pockets high up in the mountains.

Close up of a rare and endangered Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) in its natural environment in Bale mountains, Ethiopia.

Some 400 kilometres from the capital Addis Ababa on the southeast tip of the country, with 1000 square kilometres of Afroalpine meadows and Erica moorlands, is the largest plateau of the continent aptly nicknamed ‘ The Roof of Africa’.

Here the ethereal landscape of the Bale and Simien Mountains serve as a major stronghold of the Ethiopian Wolf. With more than 60% of the surviving wolf population concentrated here, those hoping to see these elusive animals in action are advised to visit the Bale Mountains National Park very soon.

The density of rodents in the main habitat of the Ethiopian Wolf is extremely high, as such they have no issues concerning shortage of prey. Since catching these rodents is what brings them in the open, the best chances of spotting them is early morning or late afternoon.

The Harrena Forest, the second largest of the country, holds an incredible 14 endemic mammal species and is also one of the five best places to spot birds in Africa. More importantly, it shelters nearly 250 Ethiopian wolves in a handful of enclaves. Wolf watching can be done here on foot or from vehicles.

The Sanetti Plateau has a lunar-like landscape, complete with lakes and surrounded by mountains. The highest peak here is Tulu Deemti, which at 4377m makes you truly feel like being on the Roof of Africa. Wolf watching here can be done both by foot and vehicle.

Since they are used to vehicles, wolf watching here is easy as you can get quite close. Another unique way of seeing wolves is on the sturdy Ethiopian ponies, which can traverse the rocky terrain easily and see more wolves and appreciate the fragile environment they survive in.

The exceptionally beautiful and remote Web Valley is another excellent wolf habitat, albeit with much less human interference. As such, traveling by foot or on horseback is the advisable way to see wolves here.

The Web river and rich flat grassland where the grass doesn’t grow beyond 0.25m, provide the ideal habitat for the Ethiopian Wolf family, due to the high density of rodents it supports. While you will enjoy finding wolves and locating dens, there are other species like mountain Nyala, Klipspringer and the giant mole rat which you are bound to come across.


Ethiopian wolves are among the most vulnerable of all canine species. Habitat destruction by humans for farming, roads, long livestock grazing has always threatened to wipe out the wolves. Since the Ethiopian wolves are key predators in the ecosystem they survive in, by controlling the population of the prey, their survival is extremely important. Whether you are a lupine enthusiast or not, there is no better time than now to travel to Ethiopia to see this amazing animal and support its survival through ecotourism.

About the Author

Jyotsna Ramani is an avid naturalist , writer and globetrotter. She loves putting pen to paper and jots down her adventures on WanderWithJo.com 

* This post may contain affiliate and commercial links.

Like this post? Discover the African Painted Dog.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: