LONDON, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Africa's only wolf species, the Ethiopian wolf, is genetically vulnerable and faces a risk of extinction, scientists say.
Fewer than 500 of the wolves are thought to survive and a study of groups of the animals in Ethiopia's highlands has determined there is little gene flow between the small remaining populations, the BBC reported.
The lack of genetic variation puts the animals at risk of extinction from disease or habitat loss, a team of British and German researchers said.
The weak gene flow between the wolf groups could be because Ethiopian wolves, like gray wolves and red foxes, prefer very specific habitats and are unlikely to travel long distances, the scientists said.
Such behaviors make it unlikely the wolves will join other groups, which would increase the likelihood of gene mixing.
The researchers said efforts should be made to reconnect these isolated populations by creating habitat corridors linking them.
"It may be necessary in the near future to artificially increase population size and restore gene flow between nearby populations," the researchers wrote in the journal Animal Conservation.