- The Himalayan wolf was recently classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with only 2,275 to 3,792 individuals remaining in the wild.
- The species was found to have a distinct genetic lineage of ancient origin, different from the gray wolf lineage to which it was previously assumed to belong.
- Habitat loss, conflict with humans such as retaliatory killings, competition with wild dogs, and hunting for the illegal wildlife trade threaten the survival of the species.
- Experts note that grassland conservation, monitoring unplanned development, managing wild dog populations and better waste disposal methods are necessary to conserve the Himalayan wolf population.
After the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the Himalayan wolf as “vulnerable” on its 2023 Red List of Threatened Species, wildlife experts are pushing for stronger conservation measures for this predator. top, considering various restrictions and conflicts in its habitat. .
The Himalayan wolf is found in the Himalayan region that encompasses India, Nepal, and the Tibetan Plateau of Western China. The IUCN report noted that only 2,275 to 3,792 individuals of the Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) are left in nature.
Specifically in India, it is estimated that between 227 and 378 Himalayan wolves are found, distributed in the high Himalayan region in Lahaul, Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh and in small areas of Sikkim, Uttarakhand and possibly Arunachal Pradesh, says Salvador Lyngdoh, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
The IUCN report notes that the Himalayan wolf lineage, described since 1840, has been neglected by science and conservation. It has recently been established that the Himalayan wolf forms a genetically distinct lineage from that of the gray wolf. It has specifically adapted to “life in the high-altitude ecosystems of the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau, justifying taxonomic recognition and conservation listing,” the report states.
IUCN National Representative Yash Veer Bhatnagar admits that the delay in this IUCN classification for the Himalayan wolf was due to the assumption that it was of the same genetic lineage as the Holarctic gray wolf found in Mongolia and nearby provinces of China.
The IUCN report mentions two studies from 2020 and 2021, which suggests that the distribution boundary between the Holarctic wolf and the Himalayan wolf ‘ends in the descending elevations of Qinghai, China’. The report now recognizes that the western distribution limit of the subspecies is in the Ladakh region.
Wolves in danger
The IUCN lists several threats to the subspecies, including habitat loss or modification, depredation conflict, depletion of wild prey, hunting for illegal wildlife trade, persecution for livestock predation, and hybridization with the increasing population of feral dogs or wild dogs. free life in India, especially in Ladakh and Spiti.
Yash Veer Bhatnagar told Mongabay India that the Himalayan wolf is extremely vulnerable as several studies show that it is a highly persecuted species.
“Although wolves were not killed directly, earlier there was a (bad) practice where a litter of newborn cubs used to be captured and paraded around Spiti village. This caused them extreme fatigue (even though they were fed) and sometimes the entire litter died,” says Bhatnagar.
In Ladakh, there was a practice called Shang Dong, a traditional concave wolf trap made of deeply buried stones and baited with meat. The upturned ice cream cone-like structure (tapered walls) ensured that the wolf could not escape. Once captured, they starved or were killed.
The Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), a wildlife conservation and research organization, has been working with locals to rebuild ‘stupas’ on these structures as a form of penance and the trend of capturing wolves has now ceased. Similar efforts have also helped gradually change the attitude of locals towards wolves in Himachal, says Bhatnagar.
Read more: From Shandong to Stupa: The story of wolf conservation in Ladakh
Lyngdoh says the increase in conflict with humans is due to eating habits. Wolves attack livestock due to a lack of suitable wild prey (ibex, blue sheep, and other small prey) in their habitat areas, resulting in retaliatory killings. Wolves also have to compete with snow leopards and wild or feral dogs for wild prey.
The wild dog problem has become so severe in Spiti and Ladakh that there have been cases where large packs of dogs have even snatched wolves and snow leopards, says Bhatnagar.
The DFO of Lahaul-Spiti, Mandar Umesh Jeware, admits that the growing population of free-ranging dogs in Spiti poses serious challenges to wolf conservation.
The estimated population of wild dogs is around 8,000-10,000 in Spiti and around 25,000 in Ladakh, Salvador estimates and says that besides increasing competition with wolves, red foxes and snow leopards for wild prey, wild dogs are also causing hybridization by crossing. with wolves.
“If the trend is not controlled in time, it could cause serious pollution in the unique genetics of Himalayan wolves,” says Bhatnagar, referring to the gene flow from wild species to wild indigenous species, which is undesirable.
Multiple Conservation Strategies
To conserve the Himalayan wolf, Bhatnagar believes the priority should be to reduce conflicts with people by increasing protection of livestock when grazing on pastures.
DFO Jeware told Mongabay India that the Himachal Pradesh Wildlife Department has taken many measures such as providing predator-proof pens to protect livestock and quickly processing compensation cases. “This gave security to the communities. Additionally, the myth that wolves are the biggest contributors to livestock killings has also been busted. Indirect signs in these cases make it difficult to distinguish between wolves and wild dogs. However, over time, it has been established that wild dogs are the biggest contributors to cattle killing in Spiti Valley,” he added.
Bhatnagar and Lyngdoh call for extensive sterilization and vaccination programs for wild dogs to limit competition and prevent disease transmission to wild wolf populations. Dogs breed twice a year; Without corrective measures, they could soon dominate the Himalayan landscape.
The other measures are to prevent open organic waste by tourists and defense activities in these regions.
Habitat conservation and management are also crucial, experts say. There has been increased grazing pressure on grasslands, which are vital to the survival of both wild prey and predator populations. Wolf habitats need to be protected and monitored for unplanned development and waste disposal.
Lyngdoh says wolves play a crucial role in regulating the ecosystem and that studies need to be carried out to assess how many wolves and packs there are in the wild. “Grassland conservation can go a long way toward protecting wolves and prey populations, as the apex predator needs a lot of space to thrive,” he adds. “Community participation, awareness and acceptance are essential for Himalayan wolves to thrive in the Indian landscape.”
Read more: Ladakh’s little cats face competition for resources and intimidation from loose dogs
Banner image: The IUCN report noted that only 2,275 to 3,792 individuals of the Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) are left in nature. Photo by Amir Jaspa.