Himalayan wolf – a new wolf taxon adapted to high altitudes

Himalayan wolves, inhabiting Tibet and Nepal, are little known to science as their difference from grey wolf has only recently been discovered. While scientists thought for a long time that they were grey wolves, there is accumulating evidence that they are in fact their own species. Phylogenetic analyses are finding significant genetic differences between the two wolf species. It seems that the Himalayan wolf evolved much before the grey wolf and has several specific features.

The most unique one is that the species is adapted for a life in high altitude environments. High altitude environments pose significant challenges due to their low oxygen levels and specific adaptations to them are found not only in himalayan wolves, but also in Tibetans and yaks that inhabit that area. In addition, Himalayan wolves also have different vocalisation and feeding habits than the grey wolf. Besides, their packs tend to be smaller with only up to 5 individuals.

Threats to the survival of the Himalayan wolf

While the grey wolf and the Himalayan wolf may be two different species, they face the same threats. Traditional livestock rearing is a very important subsitence activity for the locals. Therefore, livestock depredation by the wolf leads to human-wildlife conflict, as financial costs encured are high. Despite the fact that Himalayan wolves avoid depredating livestock whenever wild prey is available, some depredations are inevitable livestock often displaces wild prey. These lead to high hostility of locals towards the animal and killing of the wolves. In addition, wolf parts can be illegally traded for high prices, providing an additional motivation for people to kill wolves.

For successful conservation, it is crucial to formally recognise Himalayan wolf as a wolf taxon with a latin name. This will in turn also enable an IUCN Red List evaluation. Further, the human-wildlife conflict needs to be resolved to prevent its declines due to killing. Its acceptance can easily be increased by financial depredation for livestock losses, educational programmes and livestock protection.

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