Conservation and research of the Ethiopian Wolf

Dr Claudio Sillero-Zubiri was 37 when he won a Whitley Award in 1998 for his work with Ethiopian wolves. Dr Sillero is a rare breed: an Oxford University-educated Argentine, he has been based in Ethiopia for over 10 years. Responsible for much of the original research on the Ethiopian wolf on which we now base our knowledge, Claudio has spent many hours riding on horseback across the remote reaches of the Bale Mountains of Ethiopia studying the Ethiopian wolf, and is a leading campaigner to save the species from extinction.

Closely related to the grey wolf and the coyote, Ethiopian wolves are the rarest dog species in the world. Only a few hundred remain in remote Afro-alpine habitats. The drop in their numbers has been attributed to direct hunting as game, loss of critical habitat, and hybridisation with domestic dogs, as well as serious infections of canine distemper and rabies from domestic dogs which have together endangered the survival of this rare canine breed.

Dr Sillero utilised the Whitley Award to gather together a 10-strong team of British and Ethiopian scientists and conservationists. The original team included the manager of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme at Addis Ababa, two vets seconded from the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and a young local primary school teacher, who co-ordinates the conservation message in the local schools in the Bale region.

Together the team’s work has covered a huge spectrum, and have been responsible for:

  • lobbying the state and national government
  • writing the IUCN Ethiopian Wolf Action Plan
  • compiling scientific studies on genes and behavioural ecology
  • writing children’s stories to enrich environmental education
  • putting up road signs to raise awareness of the presence wolves
  • addressing the problem of feral dogs, which interbreed with the wolves

Dr Sillero and his team have successfully brought the plight of the Ethiopian wolf to the attention of a wide public, both within Ethiopia and across the world. Soon after receiving the Award, a generous donor was secured to ensure the long-term continuation of the project. Such funding has been essential to the ongoing conservation of the wolves – in 2004, for example, Claudio and his team were on hand to immediately deal with a lethal epidemic of rabies amongst the Ethiopian wolf population, from which they are now recovering.

Today, Claudio is the Director of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP), focusing on strategy and fundraising, and also has a Fellowship on Wildlife Conservation at WildCRU and Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, where he manages conservation projects in 10 countries in 3 continents. He is also Head of Conservation for Born Free Foundation and Co-Chair of the IUCN Canid Specialist Group.

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