Wildlife & Biodiversity

The first-ever IUCN assessment of the Himalayan Wolf is out. And it is grim

Species listed as ‘Vulnerable’, with just 2,275-3,792 mature individuals in the wild

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Friday 12 January 2024
A Himalayan Wolf. Photo: iStock

The Himalayan Wolf (Canis lupus chanco), a prominent lupine predator found across the Himalayas the taxonomic status of which was a puzzle till late, has been assessed for the first time in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List. And the news is bad.

The animal has been categorised as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. The assessment was done on June 27, 2023.

“The Himalayan Wolf Canis lupus ssp. chanco is classified as Vulnerable under C2a(ii) based on population size estimate of 2,275-3,792 mature individuals based on best available data while also acknowledging uncertainty in this estimate,” the assessment on the Red List website read.

It added that all individuals were in one subpopulation stretching across the Himalayan range of Nepal and India and across the Tibetan Plateau.

“…A continuous decline (in the population) is suspected considering ongoing substantial threats towards the population and lack of conservation action,” it noted.

India has 227-378 mature individuals in its section of the Himalayas. The Red List assessment based this on 378-630 total individuals estimated for the Indian Himalayas by Shivam Shrotriya, a Wildlife Institute of India researcher of the Himalayan wolf, in 2020.

The assessment noted that Shrotriya’s estimation included only Ladakh and the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh. “Small area of wolf habitat is also available in Uttarakhand and Sikkim states of India, where a few more individuals could be present,” it added.

A screenshot from the IUCN Red List assessment of the Himalayan Wolf

In decline

It was in 2018 that a study by a team of British and Nepalese researchers had confirmed that the Himalayan or Woolly wolf was a genetically unique clade/lineage/race of wolves, which had to be conserved before it went extinct.

The subsequent years have seen intense research being conducted on the Himalayan wolf. India is also home to the Indian/Common/Peninsular Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) that is found in the plains and the Deccan Plateau.

The IUCN Red List Assessment has also flagged ‘continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat’ of Himalayan wolves.

“Depredation conflict is a major conservation concern, given a seasonal or permanent high livestock abundance in wolf habitats that often form summer pastureland for livestock grazing. Habitat modification and encroachment and depletion of wild prey populations are important drivers of this conflict,” the assessment read.

It highlighted that hybridisation with dogs was an emerging threat to the Himalayan wolf population in Ladakh and Spiti “where increasing populations of feral dogs pose a growing challenge”.

The wolf is also illegally hunted for trade in its fur and body parts including paws, tongues, heads, and other parts. However, hunting of these wolves is not legal in all range states, the assessment noted.

It suggested the following measures in order to enhance the protection of Himalayan wolves:

  1. Securing and restoring healthy wild prey populations and landscapes and setting aside wildlife habitat refuges;
  2. Improving livestock guarding methods, such as predator-proof corral pens and using sustainable livestock herding practices, including reduced livestock loads, adapted herding, and developing novel but tradition-based holistic management practices
  3. Management of feral dog populations
  4. Trans-boundary efforts in conservation of the species in range countries through research and monitoring.

It also called for restoring healthy wild prey populations and improving herding/pasture management practices for Himalayan Wolf populations that are heavily dependent on livestock, like in Ladakh.

Lastly, it called for incorporating the Himalayan Wolf in conservation programmes, which may assist with promoting public acceptance and reducing persecution.

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