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. ”
“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.
Time to Act for Himalayan Wolf