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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

3 Comments For This Post

  1. Sparsh Jain Says:

    Thanks for the article… The fact of the matter is that there has to be something extraordinary, something herculean done to save the species…. They are dwindling as we speak…. I would say things like:
    1. Corporate backed campaigns like “Save the tiger” to be leveraged to spread awareness and garner funds
    2. Tourism to be increased, The wolf will have to save itself… I mean once the local population is able to generate livelihood (if wildlife tourism is promoted), the issue of man Vs wild would come down.
    Lets think, lets work…
    Look forward to your revert

    Cheers
    Sparsh

  2. Re Team Says:

    Dear Sparsh,

    Thanks a lot for your comment and point of view.
    Very rightly said thoughts. In India the conservation starts with the king “Tiger” and ends with that too. Like the poor, the weak species are also neglected. Under the umbrella of Tiger conservation, some other species are also getting protected. But Himalayan Wolf doesn’t share the same habitat as tiger, the only one animal sharing the same habitat that gets some highlight is the ‘Snow Leopard’.
    There is a need of creating eco-tourism as you said that generates revenues to the locals but not for the big hospitality companies!
    With rapidly changing climate in the Himalayan region, the requirement for proper study of the species is becoming very important. We need to monitor the species very carefully now, so that we can create the initial database of information. I would say this is one good effort http://relivearth.com/articles/wildlife-conservation/new-research-to-save-himalayan-wolf/ , though look like academic research.

    Please let me know your further thoughts.

    Regards,
    Abhijit

  3. Shivam Says:

    Hi Sparsh,
    I’m directly engaged in the research work on Himalayan Wolf. Thanks for your concern for the species, which is much needed for conservation.
    Well, your ideas are important but we know certainly that wolf cannot catch the charisma of Tiger, at least in India. Even in its home in Trans-Himalayas, Snow Leopard is more charismatic for general public. There has to be something else than relying on charisma for sure.
    Tourism sounds nice in first sight, but it is a double sided sword in conservation scenario. After all the focus on Tiger conservation, Supreme Court still had to order to control the tourism in Tiger core habitat.
    I appreciate you to bring a point, that can be discussed…
    Further, problems for Himalayan Wolf are increased with the fact that it is facing an Identity crisis in scientific and conservation world. It still doesn’t have a proper recognition. We brought this debate in our recent article in Current Science- http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/103/08/0885.pdf and it was covered by “Down to Earth” also- http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/identity-crisis#comment-11246.

    Visit my blog- http://shabdsaukrya.blogspot.in where I share the recent updates of our project on Himalayan wolf.

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