Wildlife: Biologists track genetics of elusive Himalayan wolves

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Wildlife biologists tracking the genetics of Himalayan wolves say the species needs special protections to survive. Photo courtesy Madhu Chetri/CC 4.0.

Study suggests more protection needed for rare mountain predators

Staff Report

Biologists tracing the elusive Himalayan wolf say that new genetic studies show the species branched off from its relatives so long ago that they are divergent from the whole globally distributed wolf-dog clade. Based on that isolated genetic isolation, the Himalayan wolf should considered a species of particular conservation concern.

The Himalayan wolf is visibly distinct from other wolves, standing out because of its smaller size, longer muzzle and stumpy legs, as well as a white coloration around the throat, chest, belly and inner part of the limbs. Its characteristic woolly body fur has given the subspecies the common name of woolly wolf.

The Himalayan wolf  is considered to be the most ancient wolf lineage, but its current distribution has been unclear. An international research team, led by Madhu Chetri, has confirmed the species presence in Nepal’s largest protected area.

According to Chetri, a graduate student at the Hedmark University of Applied Sciences, Norway, the population is under pressure. As part of the research, Chetri’s team interviewed about 400 local herders, livestock owners, nomads and village leaders, learning that the wolves are considered a threat to local livelihoods. As a result, they have been persecuted and killed.

The findings, published in the open access journal ZooKeys, suggest that the distinction from other wolves is more than skin deep. “These genetically distinct Himalayan wolves deserve special conservation attention, at the same time that the conservation of this species in a context of human-wildlife conflict is challenging,” the scientists concluded. “A species action plan needs be formulated that develops mechanisms to minimize conflict, and strategies for motivating local communities towards wolf conservation.”

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