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10 November 2008


Rabies "barrier" to save Ethiopian wolves

Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme

Press Release

10 November 2008


A team of dedicated conservationists is battling to save the world's rarest wolf from a rabies outbreak by creating a 'barrier' of vaccinated wolf packs.


With less than 500 left, the endangered Ethiopian wolf teeters on the brink of extinction. In their stronghold in the Bale Mountains National Park wolves live in close contact with the Oromo people. Whilst this coexistence is encouraging, it places the wolves at great risk of catching the rabies virus from the dogs the Oromo use to herd livestock. The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) has been actively protecting the wolves in Bale Mountains since 1988.

'Despite the efforts of our veterinary team, who vaccinate thousands of dogs in Bale's villages every year, the virus has raised its ugly head again and jumped into the wolf population,' said Dr Claudio Sillero of Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and EWCP Director. 'Fifteen wolves have died to date, and laboratory tests have confirmed our worst fears that we are facing another potentially devastating outbreak. If left unchecked, rabies is likely to kill over two-thirds of all wolves in Bale's Web Valley, and spread further, with wolves dying horrible deaths and numbers dwindling to perilously low levels.' In 2003 a similar epidemic swept through, and a rapid response by the Ethiopian authorities and EWCP blocked the spread of the epidemic. 

A team led by Claudio, EWCP Coordinator Dr Graham Hemson and Dr Fekadu Shiferaw of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority is implementing a plan to vaccinate wolf packs to create a 'barrier' to prevent the virus from spreading. The researchers knew from previous outbreaks that they had to move quickly to stop the virus in its tracks so they began by vaccinating the first wolf on 20 October.  

'Tracking and vaccinating these animals is a far from easy task,' said Dr Sillero. 'Our veterinary team are travelling on horse-back and camping out in remote mountains above 12,000 feet with temperatures falling as low as -15°C. But the first three weeks of the intervention have gone well with the team vaccinating to date forty-eight wolves in eleven vital packs that connect the Web Valley population with other wolves in Bale. The objective is to secure a 'cordon sanitaire' of safely vaccinated wolf packs which will prevent the virus reaching other packs living further afield in the Bale Mountains.'


'These preciously rare wolves can ill-afford it another massive die-off', concluded Claudio.

Researchers at Oxford University have developed a detailed knowledge of the wolves from 20 years of continuous study. A sophisticated computer model of how rabies spreads developed with colleagues at Glasgow University guides their vaccination efforts.


Professor David Macdonald, Director of Oxford's WildCRU, commented 'It is only because of years of intensive research that we have the information, and strategies, in place to mount this ambitious vaccination plan. It's a powerful example of the importance of the science and practice of wildlife conservation combined in the effort to deliver practical solutions.'

The intervention has been endorsed by the IUCN Canid Specialist Group and the IUCN Wildlife Health Specialist Group, and has been sanctioned by the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) and Oromia Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development.


Dr Claudio Sillero

Oxford, UK


The story in the news:


EWCP is a WildCRU (, University of Oxford endeavour in partnership with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA) and Regional Governments. The Born Free Foundation ( and Wildlife Conservation Network ( are the main donors that enable EWCP to protect the world's rarest canid.


For more information on Ethiopian wolf conservation go to

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