Why is this Nepali wolf hogging headlines around the world?
On 27 Apr 2016
A group of researchers led by a Nepali graduate student has confirmed that a species of wolves considered part of the most ancient wolf lineages still roam the Himalayas in Nepal.
Although there had been anecdotal evidence indicating that these wolves (Canis lupus chanco) were extant in the mountains of Nepal, India and Tibet, the scientific community did not have enough evidence to believe that the wolves in the anecdote were of the aforementioned species. There were many who believed that the wolves were genetically no different from the Tibetan or the European wolves.
A report in the journal ZooKeys on the study (which began in 2011), led by Madhu Chetri from Norway’s Hedmark University College, says that recent genetic studies have revealed the existence of three lineages of wolves in the Indian sub-continent, and of these, the Himalayan wolf has been reported to be the most ancient lineage historically distributed within the Nepal part of the Himalayas.
The study, according to the report, began in October 2011 with six fecal samples suspected to have originated from wolves were collected from Upper Mustang in the Annapurna Conservation Area of Nepal at an elevation ranging from 4,750 to 5,050 m above sea level. The researchers then extracted Fecal DNA was then extracted and analysed.
The results showed that of the six samples, four matched with the ancient Himalayan lineage.
According to previous studies, it’s unclear how many Himalayan wolves exist . The number has been estimated at three figures. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classed the wolves as “critically endangered”; it is also on Nepal’s National Red List.
The list notes that the major threats to the animals arise due to the loss of their habitat loss and conflict with people living near areas where they roam in the wild. Chetri’s team also made similar observations about the wolves.
They interviewed about 400 locals, many of whom were livestock owners or herders, and learned that the wolves are widely considered a serious threat to livestock. As a result, some communities hunt the wolves in order to protect livestock.
“These genetically distinct Himalayan wolves deserve special conservation attention,” the study says, adding that conserving a species when there’s so much conflict with humans is “challenging.”