A study by researchers from the Hebrew University published in the journal Communications Biology (The earliest Ethiopian wolf: implications for the species evolution and its future survival), provides unequivocal evidence for the early presence of the ancient Ethiopian wolf in Africa, in contrast to previous claims that the wolf arrived from Eurasia to Ethiopia (and Africa in general) only about 20 thousand years ago.
In 2017, a hemimandible (half of a mandible), corresponding to the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), was found in a stratigraphically-controlled and radio-isotopically-dated sequence of the Melka Wakena paleoanthropological site-complex, on the Southeastern Ethiopian Highlands, some 2,300 meters above sea level.
The specimen is the first and unique Pleistocene fossil of this species.
The researchers used standard paleontological measurements in combination with sophisticated statistical methods to identify the unique fossil. In the second phase of the research, adapted bioclimatic algorithms were widely used: models of environmental changes throughout the species’ existence and the effect of climatic conditions on the habitats necessary for the existence of the wolf in the high mountains of Ethiopia.
According to the researchers, “Our data provide an unambiguous minimum age of 1.6–1.4 million years for the species’ presence in Africa and constitutes the first empirical evidence that supports molecular interpretations. Currently, Canis simensis is one of the most endangered carnivore species of Africa.”
They reported that “bioclimate niche modeling applied to the time frame indicated by the fossil suggests that the lineage of the Ethiopian wolf faced severe survival challenges in the past, with consecutive drastic geographic range contractions during warmer periods. These models help to describe future scenarios for the survival of the species.
“Projections ranging from most pessimistic to most optimistic future climatic scenarios indicate a significant reduction of the already-deteriorating territories suitable for the Ethiopian Wolf, increasing the threat to the specie’s future survival. Additionally, the recovery of the Melka Wakena fossil underscores the importance of work outside the East African Rift System in research of early human origins and associated biodiversity on the African continent.”