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Tracing the lineages of Himalayan Wolves

Posted on 21 December 2012 by RE Team

Wolves in the Himalayas, despite their abstruse status as distinct species or subspecies, serve an important role in the ecology of Trans-Himalaya, holding the status of the top predator along with the snow leopard. Wolves in India are protected by law under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. However, the wolves from the Himalayas are one of the least protected large mammals and also the least studied mammals of the country. The only study on their abundance, so far, concludes with the presence of only 350 animals in the wild. The fact revealed through the genetic studies, that they are the oldest lineage of the wolves in the world, adds to their importance with respect to conservation. The Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun started a project on ecology and conservation of wolves in the Himalayas in 2010 to fill this information gap and formulate conservation measures for these mammals of high altitude.

An initial survey was conducted by a team of Wildlife Institute of India, to study the level and pattern of human–wolf conflict in their distribution area and mark their distribution range in the Himalayas, with identification of conservation priority areas for them. Studies show that these wolves are the top predators of livestock accounting for 60% of the total livestock loss because of predation, followed by the snow leopard (38%). Agriculture is limited in arduous living conditions in the Trans-Himalayan region and livelihood of local people is mainly dependent on small livestock. This landscape serves as a grazing ground for nomadic and local herders and is economically important to these groups. Moreover, low productivity in these areas constricts the population of wild prey population and brings the wolves into conflict with humans. This results in retaliatory killing of the wolves, which is one of the biggest threats to them.

We have already mentioned the effort from Wildlife Institute of India to conserve this rare wolves of Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan region (refer ). The team from the Institute, consisting Shivam Shrotriya, Salvador Lyngdoh and Dr. Bilal Habib, have recently extended their study on the lineages of various Himalayan/Trans-Himalayan wolves. An article published in “Current Science” magazine, they raised the grave concern in the in-conclusive taxonomy of the Himalayan wolves which may in-turn affect and mobilize the conservation efforts of the animal. It has been 165 years since the wolf of the Himalayas was first described but the conclusion on the exact taxonomy of the animal not yet arrived due lack of proper study and good genetic field sample from the field. B. H. Hodgson was the first to describe the Himalayan wolf as a distinct species,  Canis laniger,  in 1847.  After many scientists described and identified Himalayan wolves as different species and given various lineages. Some important snapshot from the article published in “Current Science” is given below:

“They (Sharma, D. K., Maldonado, R. E., Jhala, Y. V. and Fleischer, R. C), further, argue that Himalayan  C. lupus chanco  is the most ancestral and diverged at 800,000 years ago, when the Himalayan region was going through a major geologic and climatic upheaval.  Indian Canis lupus pallipes is altogether diverged from wolf-dog clade 400,000 years ago. These lineages are the oldest of all wolf lineages in the world, hence it is postulated that India could have been the centre of origin of wolf-dog clan. In this study, dogs were reported to be in close relation with the wolves from Europe and America, therefore, wolves of India might have not been used for domestication. Dogs have originated from multiple wolf ancestors and they started to diverge about 150,000 years ago. ”


Wolves from (a) Kashmir valley, North-west Himalayan region of India (courtesy: Mir M. Mansoor); (b) Sikkim Zoo - Captive-bred individuals, wild individuals were captured from Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, Trans-Himalayan Landscape (courtesy: Pankaj Kumar); (c) Leh- Ladakh, Trans-Himalayan Landscape (courtesy: Y. V. Bhatnagar); (d) Peninsular India, central Indian Landscape (courtesy: A. Patil).


“Taxonomic confusion regarding the identification and recognition of wolves from the Trans-Himalayan region of  India and parts of Tibet has persisted for the last 165 years. Hodgson
was the first to describe the Himalayan wolf as a distinct species,  Canis laniger, noting its well-developed frontal sinuses, unusually elongated muzzle, distinct coloration and the woolliness of its under fur (cited in Sharma et al.). Blanford later combined C. laniger with C. lupus and elevated the Indian wolf to  C. pallipes. His views about the wolves of Baluchinstan and Gilgit are consistent with the findings of Sharma  et al. Much later,  Pocock described both taxa as subspecies of  C. lupus, making  C. laniger and  C. pallipes parts of the more widely distributed C. lupus chanco and C. lupus pallipes respectively. These views were widely accepted until genetic analysis revealed otherwise and revived the discussion.

However, so far none of the studies has been able to sort out the problems related to the taxonomic identification of wolves of the Trans-Himalayan landscape of India.”

Please find the complete research article here.



Relivearth has identified Himalayan Wolf as one of the species that needs support and attention from public. Please view older articles on the species and support the cause of this research effort by commenting and providing ideas.

New Research to Save Himalayan Wolf

Himalayan Wolf:Conservation Thought

Time to Act for Himalayan Wolf



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Will Someone Save The Vultures?

Posted on 17 May 2012 by RE Team

Once very easily sighted, many animals and birds vanished from everywhere without notice of most of the common people in India. One such bird is the Vultures. Few years back vultures were one of the common bird in the urban india, cleaning the carcasses around cities. No one ever bothered to think about them. They were seen in the tall trees and in the wastelands in the heart of the cities. But without much of notice, these urban friendly birds disappeared so quickly that people never got a chance to even realize. It is a shocking story for anyone living in India that these large and ugly looking(that’s how it is considered in culture) birds are on the brink of extinction and very soon it may become impossible to save the very few left.


Indian Vultures were considered the most common large bird of prey in the world in 80s and early 90s and they were found in millions


To start this tragic story of the vultures, we don’t have to look back much far. The vulture story is one of the latest event in human history like those in medieval world where some species faced extinction within a span of few years due to human activities. In 1980s, the vultures were found in millions in India, usually in group of hundreds. It was probbaly the most common large bird of prey in the world at that time.  Even in early 90s they were found almost everywhere and adapted well to the urban environment of India. No one could imagine at that moment that there is any danger to this species.


The vultures seemed to have adapted the urban world pretty well


The vulture crisis started only in mid 90s, when news of mass vulture deaths were reported in the local news frequently. The news reported deaths of hundreds of vultures in single instances, where they were found just found dead in a span of few square meters.  They were lying on grounds, hanging from trees, nests and in all possible posture. Initially it was thought to be as some poisonous drug in the carcasses they eat and taken lightly. Those incidents happening across all the zones in India were believed to be independent of each other. As news were reported almost daily from one place or the another, scientists took some initiatives but they were just mystified. For years these news took important place in the news media but slowly declined. The common people realized probably the death are reducing, but in reality, the groups of vultures started declining catastrophically from everywhere, so the death numbers of the vultures, to be able to find a place in the news media.


In the last decade dead Vultures were carried away like this in tens-hundreds in India. They were found dead everywhere, hanging from trees, in the nests or lying on the ground!


For more than a decade, these large birds faced deaths without a known reason to the scientists. It was as late as 2004, when scientists in the United States identified the cause: the drug Diclofenac. Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory agent, has been deployed successfully in human medicine for decades. In most EU countries medication containing Diclofenac is only approved for treatment of humans. In India, Pakistan and Nepal it has been deployed in veterinary medicine as well since the 90s, in particular for livestock. When vultures feed on cattle carcasses, they too ingest the drug. The drug acts as a fatal poison to the vultures and they die from kidney failure.


The poor vultures died in thousands without a known reason at that time


Though the cause was discovered in 2004, it took the government in India and also Pakistan, Nepal two years to banned the medicine. In May 2006, the medicine was banned, but by that time almost 97% of the total vulture population was wiped out.

The medicine was banned, but due to other obvious reasons like habitat loss, etc. the vulture populations kept on declining in the Indian subcontinent. Now it is estimated that almost 99% of the vulture population vanished from nature in just 15 years.

Indian subcontinent is home to three vulture species, Slender-billed Vulture, Indian Vulture and Indian White-rumped Vulture. Currently only less than thousand individuals are believed to be alived from each species! They are now restricted to very small pockets in the country. The white-rumped Vulture weighs 3.5-7.5 kg (7.7-16.5 lbs), measures 89-93 cm (30-37 in) in length, and has a wingspan of about 260 cm (8.6 ft). Slender-billed and Indian Vultures weigh between 5.5 and 6.3 kg (12-13.9 lbs) and measuring 80-100 cm (32-40 in) long and 205 to 229 cm (81-91 in) across the wings.


Vultures are now found in small pockets in Indian subcontitent, with a total population of around a thousand - courtesy misiku1@flickr


The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India) are pioneers in creating awareness on this crtically endangered bird. They have set up vulture breeding centres in northern India, West Bengal, Assam and also have been working on a campaign “Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE)” across all three countries, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Some government initiatives have been also started and many centers across the country are opened in recent years. SAVE which is in place for more than five years now is the last hope for the vultures.

SAVE’s breeding program has contributed a lot in last few years. In 2008 the program was successful to breed artificially in captivity. But the artificial program is not that efficient, so the scientists looked into artificial hatching in incubators. 2010 brought success in this sector too.

But its unfortunate that there are still some reported news of mass vulture deaths as late as a week from today. On the first week of March, death of 20 vultures were reported at a paddy field in Goalpara district of Assam, North-East India.

Culturally vultures are always considered as symbol of death and something bad in India. They are neglected for thousands of years and just disappearing unnoticed. Species like tiger has got so much important in the country over the few years. But these large birds are simple neglected. Its already very late to bring to give attention to these birds, but if we don’t give them now, it will be too late. Like tiger, being on the top of the eco pyramid, vulture has got very important role in the ecosystem. In fact they are much more imporant than any birds in the human society. They have been keeping our environment clean and hygienic.

If drastic steps are not taken, the vultures may take space from high skies into just books in front of our eyes. In fact the Parsis, whose religion prohibits burying or burning their dead, had to resort to technology such as solar reflectors to hasten decomposition of corpses already. The vultures used to dispose of human remains set out for them on sacrificial “towers of silence” by adherents of the ancient Parsi religion till few years back.

Will you step up to save these poor large birds?


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Nature Lovers’ Calendar for 2012

Posted on 29 April 2012 by RE Team

Do you love nature and want to do something for it? Then it’s time to mark your calendar for the rest of  2012 and pay tribute to Nature on this days.


The Beauty of our planet is in our hands


  • April 22 : Earth Day

One of the largest celebrated Environment event on Earth. It was initiated by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970 in Philadelphia. This day falls in spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Earth Day is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. It is now celebrated in 175 countries across the globe.

  • May 3 : International Migratory Bird Day:

Started in 1993, International Migratory Bird Day aims on the conservation of birds. Currently observed in more than 500 sites mostly in western hemisphere, the event has been able to attract millions of youths to adults. Want  to pay tribute to the beautiful birds around your home on this day?

  • May 18 : Bike- to- work Day :

Celebrated in the spring of Northern hemisphere, this annual event promotes the eco-friendly and pollution free commute, bicycling.  Don’t forget to take your bicycle out to office on this day.

  • May 22 : International Day for Biological Diversity (World Biodiversity Day)

Observed on 22nd of May every year. It was first observed on 1993. During the period from 1993 to 2000, WBD also known as “International Day for Biological Diversity”, was observed on 29 December. This day is organized by United Nations for the promotion of biodiversity issues. This year it will be a salute to the wonderful marine biodiversity.

  • June 5 : Environment Day

Observered on 5th of June every year, World Environment Day is one of the most widely celebrated eco-event on Earth. This day is in summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere. It was the day on which United Nations Conference on the Human Environment began in 1972. World Environmental Day stimulates awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and public action and organized by United Nations.

  • July 9 : International Tiger Day:

A day to save to last remaining tigers in the world. The King of the Jungle now require so much attention from the humans. Saving tigers mean saving the eco-system, so don’t forget this day!

  • September 21 : Zero Emission Day:

Declare a holiday from fossil fuels on 21st September, in the fifth annual celebration of ZeDay. We have done enough poisonous emission to our mother earth, lets give her a break for a day!

  • September 30 : World Rivers Day:

Celebrated on last Sunday of September since 2005. A tribute to the lifeline of human society and wildlife.

  • December 11 : International Mountain Day:

First designated by United Nations in 2003, the International Mountain Day focuses on the sustainable living in the mountain regions of the world. It’s important to preserve the culture and eco-system of the mountain region which are hit by climatic changes the most.

These are a few tribute to the grandest creations of beautiful Nature. If we really want the save Nature, we need to consider every day as an event to think about nature that surrounds us.

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Himalayan Wolf:Conservation Thought

Posted on 30 May 2011 by RE Team

If a list of the most endangered mammals of Indian Subcontinent is made today, one species that should get a higher position, that is the Himalayan Wolf. Unfortunately this beautiful animal is getting much less attention than its required.

Himalayan Wolf was believed to be a subspecies of gray wolf called the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco). But recent studies on Himalayan Wolf by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has revealed some very interesting biological aspect of the animal. The extensive research suggested that the Himalayan Wolf should be considered as a distinct species and it is given the name Canis himalayensis. This scientific name was proposed as nomenclature and taxonomic change for Himalayan Wolf by the Nomenclature Specialist on the CITES Animals Committee in April 2009.

Unfortunately the status of the new species claim of the Himalayan wolf is still uncertain, but it is now widely considered as a distinct species. In today’s explored world, it is indeed a rare event to discover a new species of mammal, especially that of a large carnivore. The wolf is considered to be the most studied of Carnivores in the world and this the discovery is as thrilling as it is surprising. Another interesting face of the Himalayan Wolf is that unlike Gray Wolves, they are completely distinct from domestic dogs. It might be the the most ancient representative of the animals anywhere in the world. The Analysis done on genetic material from one of the wolves showed that its lineage stems back around 800,000 years.

Despite all these very important aspects of the Himalayan Wolf, the animal yet to get the status and attention it deserves. There is only ~350 Himalayan Wolves surviving in the trans-Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir in northern India. The conservation of this animal is becoming urgent now.

Global Acceptance

The first hurdle in the conservation of the Himalayan Wolf is the older concept about the species. Till a decade back it was considered as a subspecies of Tibetian Wolf found in the high mountain regions of the Himalayan range. The Tibetain Wolf is a subspecies of Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus), one of the widely distributed mammal in the planet. The gray wolf is given “Least Concern” status by the IUCN Red List and so the Tibetian Wolf. Still being considered a variety of Tibetian Wolf by many, the Himalayan Wolf getting the least concern signal from many conservationists. The stand from IUCN Red List to declare this as a separate species and put in the critically endangered status is uncertain.

Education, Conflict & Compensation

The major threat to the Himalayan Wolf is it’s conflict with the local villagers in the region of its habitat. The wolf locally known as Shanku, is considered as the key threat to the livestock of the villagers. There is a strained relationship existed between the villagers and the wildlife of the region, specially the carnivores like Himalayan Wolf. The Himalayan Wolf is a big menace to the local people as every year it is accountable for at least 100 livestock killings in the region. The amount of damage caused by this animal force the villagers to take drastic steps as killing them or poison them. Adding more to their agony, the government or any organization have come up to support these people.

With shrinking habitat for the wolves, the conflict and preying on livestock is increasing resulting in more killings of this rare wolf. Now it requires a full fledged campaign to educate the local people about the importance of Himalayan Wolf for eco balance. There are organization like “Snow Leopard Conservancy” and project like “Muse” that focuses on the Sustainable development, education among the local by linking their economical growth to the wildlife. The organizations are doing good job by bringing revenues to the villages via eco-tourism. The new generation is becoming aware of the wildlife due to these efforts. But this is not enough to save the species like Himalayan Wolf whose territory is wide covering more than 70000 sq km. More involvement from the government is expected to bring a huge change. There should be proper compensation for the loss of livestock which brings down anger of the people against the wolves. Also the process to get the compensation should be made easier for the villagers. A tedious process will not be fruitful.

Special Protection Zone

Another major problem with the conservation of the Himalayan Wolf is protected area. There is no protected area declared by Indian Government till now for this rare mammal species. The increasing agriculture and population in the villages slowly shrinking the habitat of the Himalayan Wolves. This is a grave concern for the species. When the breeding ground of a species is affected, the survival of the species comes under a question! There should be initiative from the government to make sure that outsiders don’t disturb or pollute the habitat of the Himalayan Wolves. The probable places will be Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh where groups of Himalayan wolves are sighted frequently.

Global Climate Change

One major threat that is affecting the whole wildlife in the Himalayan region is the climate change. The global warming or the increasing temperature is causing glacier melt in the region. The Himalayan wolf who survives in this low temperature region are facing habitat issue due to the glacier melts. This is one global issue and if special care not taken to the Himalayan Wolf, they can be one of the initial victims of the global warming.

Effective Captive Breeding

Captive Breeding programs are started for the Himalayan Wolves in four Zoos in India. These are Padmaja Naidu Himalayan, Zoological Park, Darjeeling; Himalayan Zoological Park, Gangtok; Himalayan Nature Park, Kufri; and Pt. Gobind Vallabh Pant High Altitude Zoo, Nainital. These are programs for Tibetian wolves and there is no special program for the Himalayan wolves. The captive breeding population is around 20. More funds and area to be put under these captive breeding programs to make it successful. A major challenge faced by animals bred in captivity is their struggle to adjust in the wild where they need to feed and protect themselves. Only Darjeeling Zoo is trying to solve this problem of the Himalayan endangered species by planning to set up an off display breeding centre. The primary objective of such an initiative is to release the zoo bred animals to the wild with the near wild environment of the proposed centre facilitating both breeding and honing of hunting skills of these animals. These kind of special facilities need to be started in all the Zoos for the Himalayan Wolves.

Please provide more thoughts and suggestion to Save the Himalayan Wolf!


Relivearth has identified Himalayan Wolf as one of the species that needs support and attention from public. Please view older articles on the species and support the cause of this research effort by commenting and providing ideas.

Tracing the lineages of Himalayan Wolves

New Research to Save Himalayan Wolf

Time to Act for Himalayan Wolf

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Stop Brutality on Leopards

Posted on 30 April 2011 by RE Team

Acting in self-defense or in defense of another person is generally accepted as legal justification for killing a person in human civilized law. Unfortunately, the same may not be applicable to the innocent and rare animals. The dumb animals are given the worst punishments and treated brutally for any crime they make.

The above statements are based on recent human leopard conflicts in Indian sub-continent. The number of conflicts between human and the big cat are increasing day by day. Within a span of a month there are large number of news coming from various parts of the country. In most of the cases , the innocent and beautiful animal is killed to death brutally.

Incidents of 2011

We are covering some of the news came into the media and published in past one month. Read these and provide your comments whether the wild cats need justice or not!

On January 13th, a leopard was beaten to death by villagers at Gandarpur in Orissa state. A group of children from Gandarpur village while  playing  cricket near the village saw the leopard behind a bush. When they raised an alarm, the villagers rushed to the spot and started pelting stones at the animal. Desperate to free itself from the brutal attack, the leopard started running while launching a counter attack on the people, injuring four villagers in the process. But the villagers didn’t stop, they finally beat the Leopard mercilessly to death with sticks, iron rods and cricket bats.


Leopard killed in Gandarpur


On January 12th, in Haryana’s Faridabad, a homeless Leopard straying around attacked a woman and injured her. The mob got so angry that they searched for the Leopard all around the village and finally punished to death in a brutal manner. The angry mob even broke tranquilizer guns brought by rescue teams.


Brutally Killed Leopard of Faridabad


On the afternoon of January 9, a policeman shot dead a rampaging leopard to stop it from mauling a man who had stepped out of a bar in Maharashtra’s Karad city.


Leopard of Karad


On 20th January, two Leopards are found dead in Valsad of Guajarat. All but two nails of the male leopard were removed, as were the canines. The culprits had also cut off his tail and taken away some internal organs. The post-mortem of the female leopard revealed brain haemorrhage as the cause of death. Sad end to the wild beauties!

On January 20th, a leopard was killed in Udhampur when it was hit by a vehicle on Srinagar-Jammu highway.


The Leopard killed in Road-mishap


On 31st December, a leopard is killed in North Kashmir by wildlife authority. The leopard was suppose to be a man-eater killing six people. Its unfortunate that the authority didn’t use tranquilizers to catch the leopard.


The man-eater Leopard


Similarly on December 15th, Yuvraj of the erstwhile state of Utelia near Dhandhuka, Bhagirathsinh Vaghela, shot aleopard that was believed to have turned maneater. The cat was shot around 6.30pm in a sugarcane field near Areth village, near Valsad, where a leopard had killed a 75-year-old woman on Monday morning. Forest officials said the leopard returned to the spot where it had left the body on Monday evening and was brought down. But later, post mortem reports confirmed that the leopard was not a man-eater!


Leopard killed near Valsad


A leopard that caused scare among local residents was caught in a trap laid at Bhopal Pani (Ballawala) by Forest and Wildlife Department officials on 20th December. It was tranquilized and then caged. The poor animal was lucky enough to survive from the wrath of the mob!


Leopard trapped in Bhopalpur

These are few occurrences just in a month. The list goes long if look back more into past. Who will provide justice to these animals?

Wildlife experts want rapid response teams set up in sensitive areas across the country to deal with human-leopard conflicts. But Its the government who needs to take some action as soon as possible. The Government needs to study all aspects of this complex problem if the majestic feline is to co-exist peacefully with humans.

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