In the Spring of 2009 Pollyanna undertook one of her most challenging expeditions to date – to sketch and paint the rarest wolf in the world. Accompanied by her daughter and business partner Anna-Louise she travelled to the remote and inhospitable Bale mountain regions, where she stayed and worked with the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Project.
Pollyanna has travelled throughout the world to study endangered species – but this is the first time she has traveled back in time! She left her Derbyshire studio in April 2009, and landed in Ethiopia halfway through 2001. “Ethiopians use a 13-month Coptic calendar that began its third millennium the September before last” Pollyanna explained “So when they claim to enjoy 13 months of sunshine they are not exaggerating!”.
For many people Ethiopia may be most associated nowadays with the 1984 famine, but Pollyanna was drawn to the country by it’s unique wildlife. Abyssinian wolves are an elegant, long-legged species of wolf found only in a handful of scattered remote mountains in Ethiopia. Around 500 survive today in small populations, threatened by loss of highland habitats, disease and persecution. “In 2004 Rabies took a deadly hold among the wolves of the Bale Mountains National Park, which could have entirely wiped out this fragile population and a state of emergency was declared” Pollyanna told us “So through my charitable Foundation I raised £5660.00 to support a vaccination programme organised by the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation project. The EWCP tranquillises, inoculates and re-releases the wolves. To date the project has been a great success, with no known problems or mortality amongst the vaccinated wolves.
At heights of almost 5,000m above sea level Pollyanna and Anna-Louise had to contend with altitude sickness, thick cloud cover and freezing conditions as they drove in 4 wheel drives or trekked through the afro-alpine habitat. However they were rewarded with over 20 sightings of the beautiful red-coated wolves. Pollyanna also had the opportunity to observe and sketch lots of other Ethiopian mammals and birds including black kites, lanner falcons, and the striking pied kingfisher. Later in her journey Pollyanna travelled to the Muslim walled city of Harar, where she visited a child care centre. Here she had one of the most unusual and nerve-wracking experiences of her journeys round the world, when she found herself hand-feeding a pack of wild hyenas.
Every night outside the walls of the ancient city, a pack of hyenas circles a lone man as he crouches down holding out chunks of bloody red meat, which they take from the end of a short stick clamped between his teeth. These huge, slope-shouldered animals have fearsome jaws that can easily crush human bone. The hyena men of Harar have been performing this ritual every night for hundreds of years, and Pollyanna became one of the few European women ever to be invited to take part in the ceremony, with the wild hyenas taking food from her hand.
The journey through Ethiopia will be featured in Pollyanna’s forthcoming book ‘Way of the Wolf’.