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19 June 2009


Vaccinating Ethiopian Wolves

Rabies Outbreak in the Bale Mountains – Vaccinating Ethiopian Wolves

Posted: 19 Jun 2009 02:03 AM PDT

It’s 2am on the Sanetti Plateau. And it’s cold. Very cold. There’s no wind, no sound at all in fact. With the sleeping bag pulled over my head it’s only through a small crack that I can see the light from the full moon filtering through the tent fabric. Then suddenly the silence is shattered by a slightly out-of-breath cry: “Wolf!” Ibrahim, our vet assistant, has just checked the traps and has run back to report that we’ve caught a wolf! There is an immediate flurry of activity in the surrounding tents. Beanies and gloves are hastily pulled on, vet supplies are checked, someone grabs a large blanket, and we’re off. In the moonlight it’s easy to find our way over the deserted landscape, towards the trap where our Ethiopian wolf awaits.

Sanetti camping © EWCP

As we near the trap site, we hang back while Ibrahim and Alo spread the blanket between them and make their way towards the wolf. Suddenly they break into a run, and in a flash have thrown the blanket over the surprised wolf and are holding it on the ground. As soon as it is covered, the wolf relaxes, and the rest of us rush in to assist with the vaccinations.

Sanetti vaccinations © EWCP

It’s an adult male, he’s in good health and probably weighs about 17kg. From his size, coat colour and teeth wear, Claudio reckons he’s the dominant male of the pack. Leta quickly gives him two doses of rabies vaccine, one on each hindquarter, and attaches a blue tag to his left ear for identification purposes.

Sanetti vaccinations © EWCP

His legs are checked for any trap injuries, and within five minutes he’s ready to be released. Alo loosens his hold on the wolf’s body and as soon as we remove the cloth covering his eyes, he’s off into the night, turning only once to look back at us before running off. All in a night’s work.

Sanetti vaccinations © EWCP

Sanetti vaccinations © EWCP

That was wolf number four from Nyala pack – only one more to catch and we can move on to the next pack.Over the past two weeks the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) team has been camped at over 4,000m above sea level on the Sanetti plateau, running a vaccination campaign to prevent a rabies outbreak from spreading through the wolf population. EWCP wolf monitors first noticed something was wrong when they returned from a trip to the West Morebawa population – 11 wolf carcasses were found and samples sent to laboratories returned positive results for rabies. The EWCP team, based in the Bale Mountains, was given permission by the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority to vaccinate 50 wolves in the Sanetti population against rabies, with the aim of isolating the outbreak and stopping its spread. We sprung into action and managed to successfully vaccinate a total of 48 wolves in 9 packs, making sure that at least one female in each pack was vaccinated. For now, the threat of rabies seems to have been contained, but for how long? Interventions like these are a costly exercise, requiring a hefty investment in terms of both finances and EWCP resources. And it only takes one rabid dog to come into contact with one Ethiopian wolf for the disease to spread like wildfire. Left unchecked, a rabies outbreak could have devastating effects on a species that numbers less than 450 animals in the world today.

Sanetti scenery © EWCP

The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme has to tackle emergency rabies outbreaks like this as soon as it can and therefore funds are vital in order to purchase vaccinations.  Any funds you would are able to offer will be very well spent protecting the Ethiopian wolf from extinction.

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