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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wolves in Trans-Himalayas: 165 years of taxonomic confusion

Shivam Shrotriya, Salvador Lyngdoh and Bilal Habib


Recognition of different species and taxonomy of canids (wolf, fox and dog family) has always been a subject of contention among the experts. For example, scientists argue about the species number of canids to be 34 to 38. Approximately 13 sub-species of Grey wolf are recognized worldwide. However, discovery of Himalayan wolf from India as a new species has been in news in recent time. Several studies, based on molecular techniques, looked into the evolutionary history of wolves and dogs of the world and provided new insights. The major outcomes of these studies showed that the Indian populations of wolves- Trans-Himalayan wolf and Peninsular wolf- are two distinct and the oldest lineages of the wolf-dog clan. Trans-Himalayan wolf is the oldest and has diverged from others about 800,000 years ago, corresponding to the major geologic and climatic upheaval of the Himalayan region. These studies suggested the recognition of the lineages as a different species or sub-species.

Wolves from (a) Kashmir valley, North-west Himalayan region of India (courtesy: Mir M. Mansoor); (b) Sikkim Zoo - Captive-bred individuals, wild individuals were captured from Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, Trans-Himalayan Landscape (courtesy: Pankaj Kumar); (c) Leh- Ladakh, Trans-Himalayan Landscape (courtesy: Y. V. Bhatnagar); (d) Peninsular India, central Indian Landscape (courtesy: A. Patil).

Identification of wolves from the Himalayas has remained an issues since their first description by Hodgson in 1847, which was based on morphological dissimilarities. Even the latest techniques of molecular identification have not solved the issue entirely, leaving one or other aspect unaddressed. Conservation importance of the wolves of Himalayas has already been underlined for their uniqueness as the most ancient lineage of the world. Moreover, their population in the wild is supposed to be around only 350 individuals and very limited information on their status, distribution, ecology and behavior is available. Nothing could be worse than extinction of an species without proper recognition. Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun has taken the task not only to study the basic aspects of status, distribution, conflict and ecology and help in formulating the conservation strategy, but also to address the issue regarding their proper identification.

Read full article in Current Science.

Citation: Shrotriya, S., Lyngdoh, S. & Habib, B. Wolves in Trans-Himalayas: 165 years of taxonomic confusion. Currect Science, vol. 103, no. 8, pp. 885-887 (25 October, 2012).

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