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The Ethiopian wolf resembles the coyote in both shape and size, but has a distinctive reddish coat with a white throat, chest, and underparts. The boundary between the red and white fur is quite distinct. White markings on the face include a characteristic white crescent below the eyes and a white spot on the cheeks. The chin and throat are also white. The tail is marked with an indistinct black stripe down its length and a brush of black hairs at the tip. It ranges in size from 43 to 55 inches (tip of nose to end of tail) and weighs from 24 to 42 pounds. Females are generally paler in color than males and are smaller overall.
Distribution and Habitat
The only wolf in Africa is found only in six or seven mountain ranges of Ethiopia, with the largest population (of 120-160 individuals) found in the Bale Mountains National Park. It lives in afro-alpine grasslands and heathlands where vegetation is less than a foot high, at altitudes of 9,840 to 13,210 feet.
The most threatened canid in the world, the total population in the wild is thought to number as few as 500, with around 250 breeding individuals. Its greatest threat is a recurring epidemic of rabies which is transmitted from domestic dogs with whom the wolves compete for food.
The Ethiopian wolf feeds primarily on rodents, especially giant mole-rats, which are usually captured by digging them out of burrows. It will also take goslings, eggs, and young ungulates (reedbuck and mountain nyla), and occasionally scavenges carcasses. Although they usually hunt alone, Ethiopian wolves will occasionally hunt cooperatively to bring down young antelopes, lambs, and hares.
Ethiopian wolves form packs of 3-13 individuals (with 6 being the average). Each sex has a dominance rank within each pack, with shifts occurring in males occasionally but not in females. Packs congregate for social greetings and border patrols at dawn, midday, and evening, but forage individually during the rest of the day. The typical home range is 1.5-6 square miles, which is fairly small for a canid of the Ethiopian wolf's size. Skirmishes between neighboring packs are frequent.
Alarm calls (which start with a "huff" and are followed by a series of "yelps" and "barks") are emitted at the sight or scent of man, dogs, or unfamiliar wolves. Greeting calls consist of "growls" of threat, high-frequency "whines" of submission, and "group yip-howls" given at reunion of pack members. "Lone howls" or "group howls," which can be heard 3 miles away, are used for long distance communication.
To combat the high potential for inbreeding, matings outside the pack occur frequently. Matings outside the pack occur with males of all rank, but those within the pack occur only between the dominant male and female. While mating between males and subordinate females does occur, pups that may arise from this union rarely survive. Once a year between October and January, the dominant female in each pack gives birth to a litter of 2-6 pups. Gestation lasts approximately 60-62 days. The female gives birth to her litter in a den she digs in open ground, under a boulder, or in a rocky crevice.
The pups are born with their eyes closed and no teeth. They are charcoal gray with a buff patch on their chest and underparts. At about 3-4 weeks, the coat begins to be replaced by the normal adult coloring and the young first emerge from the den. It is not uncommon for a subordinate female to assist in suckling the young of the dominant female. In these cases, the subordinate lactating female is likely pregnant and either loses or deserts her own young for those of the dominant female. Beginning at about 5 weeks, the pups' milk diet is supplemented by solid food regurgitated from all pack members. From week 10 until about 6 months, the young survive almost solely on solid food provided from adult members of the pack.
The Ethiopian wolf attains full adult appearance at 2 years of age, and both sexes are sexually mature during their second year. Males generally remain in their natal pack, and a small number of females disperse in their second or third year.
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This page was last updated on June 26, 2017.