By Juliet Norvig
It’s not often that you see wolves getting friendly with monkeys, but that’s exactly what seems to be happening in north-central Ethiopia. Primatologist Vivek Venkataraman of Dartmouth College has discovered a peculiar relationship arising between Ethiopian wolves and gelada monkeys in Ethiopia, as The New Scientist reports. The wolves are avoiding snacking on baby geladas, while the geladas—a relative of the baboon—are permitting Ethiopian wolves to wander through their territory and their herds.
It seems the monkeys are aware that the wolves will not attack them, as they are not nervous in the presence of the wolves. While the geladas are not concerned by the Ethiopian wolves, they will run from other canine species, such as feral dogs, which have been known to attack young geladas.
Instead of attacking the monkeys, the Ethiopian wolves primarily prey on rodents who live in the same area. In fact, the wolves are actually about twice as successful in capturing rodents when in the presence of gelada herds. Venkataraman suggests a number of reasons why this may be the case. For instance, the monkey herds may actually serve as a form of camouflage for the wolves, allowing wolves to sneak up on the rodents without being detected. Furthermore, he proposes that the grazing monkeys may drive the rodents out into the open, enabling the wolves to more easily attack and capture their prey.
Hunting in the same vicinity as the geladas has proven so beneficial to the wolves that they hardly ever attack the monkeys. While the wolves have a clear advantage in this newfound relationship, scientists are wondering what benefits the monkeys are reaping from associating with these wolves. The relatively small wolves are unlikely to protect the monkeys from larger predators, such as feral dogs or leopards, and Venkataraman has not noted any other benefits the monkeys may be receiving.
Dr. Claudio Sillero, the head of WCN partner organization Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program, has compared the wolf-gelada relationship to the domestication of dogs by early humans, in which a tolerance between wolves and primates arose. Thousands of years ago, the first step to dog domestication may have been wolves following around human groups, snacking on their leftovers from large hunts.
This is similar to the behavior of the Ethiopian wolves hunting for rodents within the gelada herds. However, Sillero notes that dog domestication arose due to a mutually beneficial relationship, as wolves protected early humans from predators. In the case of the geladas, the monkey do not seem to be benefitting from the exchange. Thus, Sillero believes it unlikely that the geladas will further domesticate Ethiopian wolves. He states that a mutual tolerance is likely the most that will come from this budding relationship.
Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program works to protect the endangered Ethiopian wolf, one of just two wolf species living in Africa. With only 500 Ethiopian wolves remaining in the wild, it is critical we do all we can to save this beautiful species. One of the largest threats to the Ethiopian wolf is the transmittance of rabies and domestic distemper from domestic dogs in the area. EWCP has a vaccination program for domestic dogs in and around the wolf habitats to avoid the spread of disease and was successful in overcoming a significant rabies outbreak in 2014.