One in 400: tracking the Ethiopian wolf on horseback

It is the evening of Monday 16th November. After a brief but intense 24-hour sickness – and nearly turning to ice last night – I am feeling the world better. Today we track wolves on horseback.

Before setting off, I treated myself with a bucket shower, which is basically hot water poured into a bag that has a shower head attachment. You have roughly five minutes of bliss before the tap runs dry and regardless of the stage of washing or rinsing, have to make do, making me think about the amount of water used back home – and less ashamed about it being my first shower of the trip. Due to the thin atmosphere at this altitude, this area tends to have scorching hot days and freezing nights, meaning it was still pretty chilly, especially after showering. Onwards.

After taking a rocky hour’s drive onto the plateau, we were met by some horse guides and, no questions asked I was allocated a small but feisty cob, and off we trotted. We rode through a series of streams, springs, lakes, and bogs, with scenery matching that of wild Scotland; just with more antelope, warthog, and bird life, namely raptors, most of which were endemic – spectacular.

We had a hard morning’s ride and exploration of a good many caves and crags, soaking in the view through the binoculars. Then late morning, in amongst a vast herd of cattle, our first wolf. Just a short glimpse and it was gone. One of about 400 of the rarest canids in the world. What a special experience. Unfortunately, even through binoculars, it was too far to see much detail. We worked out a plan and were instructed to circle back around the hill that the wolf had disappeared behind. Sadly, we didn’t find our wolf again and, feeling somewhat short changed, started to head back to camp.

On the way back, however, among another group of cattle, we spotted another wolf. It had completely caught us unawares, so much so that while I was buffooning about with the binoculars, trying to put them in focus, it came right under where I was looking – what a beautiful animal. I felt as though I was in a Sunday evening nature documentary, coming face-to-face with such a creature. Though these wolves live in packs, unlike their arctic counterparts, they hunt solo, mainly for big-headed mole rats – another Bale endemic. We sat watching it hunt for a long time before continuing the adventure.

After a hair-raising canter along a ridge with rocky outcrops on either side, we came to an appropriately scenic spot next to a spring waterfall pouring into a small lake. Taking the moment, we stripped down and dived in, swimming to the waterfall through this ice-cold, but refreshing lake. Each drop was like a bullet in the back, but not unpleasant. It was a glorious, unplanned moment.

Once we had swam back and dried off, the chefs had cooked us a full English breakfast, which I can’t knock, as it was more than delicious, but there was something fairly surreal about the smell of bacon and eggs wafting over the Ethiopian highlands. After eating lunch and feeling great to have a good square meal in me for the first time in about 48 hours, we bundled back into the cars and back down to the campsite.

The way down was beautiful – a photographers dream, if only I were any good. Still, I feel it would be almost impossible not to have snapped at least a few nice ones here. Dinner was lovely and so was the company. It feels good to be on top form again. Looking forward to trout fishing tomorrow.

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