Photo Credit: Harry Harrington

Managing disease in Ethiopian wolves, Africa’s most threatened carnivore

01.05.2019

CONSERVATION PROBLEM

The Ethiopian wolf is the rarest canid on the planet, with fewer than 500 adults in six populations and no captive animals anywhere in the world. These extant populations are all fragile and constantly at risk of extinction from infectious diseases such as rabies and canine distemper virus (CDV). The incidence of rabies in Ethiopia is among the highest in the world, affecting people, domestic dogs and livestock as well as wildlife. Intensive vaccination of domestic dogs has proved insufficient to fully prevent viruses from spilling over into the Ethiopian wolf population. This is because of the large numbers of domestic dogs, their high turnover and movement across the landscape. In the past Ethiopian wolves have been vaccinated in response to outbreaks, but inevitably not before a significant portion of the affected population had perished. A more holistic approach to protect this species from extinction is needed. 

PROJECT ACTIVITIES

An integrated disease management strategy should offer sustainable outcomes with benefits to Ethiopian wolves, dogs, livestock and people. In expanding and consolidating the work of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, this integrated approach can prevent Ethiopian wolves from going extinct. This includes achieving rapid diagnostic of outbreaks and enhanced diagnostic capacity in-country, through training local veterinaries on post-mortems and sample collection; informing local communities and involving them in Disease Alert Networks; monitoring wolf populations and training staff on early detection of outbreaks, oral vaccination, and post-vaccination monitoring. Simultaneously, much is to be learnt from the analyses of long-term patterns of rabies and CDV infection among Ethiopian wolves, using this information to optimize disease management strategies and to mobilize the relevant partners. Vaccination of domestic dogs against rabies should not be interrupted. The project team will increase participation and local capacity for routine vaccination, aiming at 70% coverage and a reduction of free roaming by 50% in the Bale Mountains, home to the largest wolf population. The team will also secure facilities and materials for preventive and reactive vaccinations. Using recently tested oral baits, the team aims to preventively vaccinate 40% of the wolves in each population against rabies, and it will complete the first ever trial of a parenteral CDV vaccine for Ethiopian wolves.

PROJECT RESULTS

By addressing the multi-faceted aspects of disease prevention and control, the team expects that:  

  • All significant disease outbreaks among Ethiopian wolves and nearby domestic dogs are detected at an early stage due to enhanced in-country diagnostic capacity, alertness and information.
  • Local capacity to control diseases in domestic dogs is enhanced across all Afro-alpine regions and incidence of canine-related diseases is reduced in the Bale Mountains with 70% vaccination coverage among domestic dogs and 25% incidence decline in livestock and people as a cascading effect.
  • Approximately 40% of wolves in each of the 6 extant populations are immunised against rabies by the end of the project, which is expected to reduce significantly the chances of an outbreak.

This project is a part of the IUCN SOS African Wildlife initiative, which is funded by the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DG Devco) through its B4Life initiative.



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