The Himalayan wolf (provisional name: "Canis himalayensis") has been suggested by several Indian biologists for recognition as a critically endangered canid species, distinct from Canis lupus. Results of mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests that the Himalayan wolf is phylogenetically distinct from the Tibetan wolf Canis lupus chanco. In April 2009, the Latin binom Canis himalayensis has been proposed as nomenclatural and taxonomic change by the Nomenclature Specialist on the CITES Animals Committee.
However, the IUCN Wolf Specialist Group has not taken a position regarding this issue. The editors of Mammal Species of the World consider the small population to be Tibetan wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf.
The Himalayan wolf may represent an ancient isolated line of wolves consisting of a small population of about 350 animals. They inhabit an area of 70,000 km2 (27,000 sq mi) in the trans-Himalayan region of northern Jammu and Kashmir to Himachal Pradesh, in the northern Republic of India, and are adapted to the cold environment.
Until recently, all wolves and dogs were believed to be part of the wolf-dog clade, meaning all domesticated dogs are derived from wolves. When the Himalayan lineage was studied, it became apparent these wolves shared no genetic markers with dogs. This indicates the Himalayan wolf played no role in the domestication of dogs. The estimated time of the split of the Himalayan wolf from the other wolf lineages (0.8–1.5 millions of years ago) correlates with the period of rapid uplift of the Tibetan Plateau and associated habitat modification (0.9–1.1 millions of years ago).
According to Aggarwal et al., mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests the Himalayan wolf is distinct from the Tibetan wolf, and represents the most ancient wolf lineage ever recorded. However, other researchers have questioned this conclusion, claiming that recent genetic studies have lacked in one or another aspect to provide a complete picture. The Himalayan wolf is present strictly in the Indian region of Ladakh and Spiti and differs from the wolf in Tibetan part. As these areas are part of the same landscape, the question of what ecological or behavioural barriers could be facilitating such strict divergence, particularly when no striking morphological differences occur between the wolves from Tibet and Indian Trans-Himalaya, remains unanswered. Another problem is related to limited data: none of the studies have collected samples from the Kashmir valley population, despite suggesting it as the area of potential contact of the closely related wolf clades. Instead, the samples have been collected from Indian zoos or museum specimens.
Taxonomic confusion regarding the identification and recognition of wolves from the Trans-Himalayan region of India and parts of Tibet has persisted for the last 165 years. Brian Houghton Hodgson was the first to describe the Himalayan wolf as a distinct species, Canis laniger, noting its well-developed frontal sinuses, unusually elongated muzzle, distinct coloration and the woolliness of its under fur. William Thomas Blanford later combined C. laniger with C. lupus and elevated the Indian wolf to C. pallipes. Much later, Reginald Innes Pocock described both taxa as subspecies of C. lupus, making C. laniger and C. pallipes parts of the more widely distributed C. lupus chanco and C. lupus pallipes respectively. These views were widely accepted until genetic analysis revealed otherwise and revived the discussion.
The future of the Himalayan wolf is uncertain. The systematics of wolves from the Indian subcontinent remains controversial and needs further study.
Even though wildlife conservation scenarios in India have improved, there still remains a gap with some important species and populations left ignored so far. Despite being one of the large mammals with apparently very low population size, wolves in the Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan landscape are one such example. Even though wolves have always been in close proximity with human-settlements and are largely associated with conflict for livestock depredation, and their status, ecology and behaviour have been studied in different parts of the world, the results have been quite area specific. The wolf populations dwelling in the Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan region have been mostly unexplored in this regard. Their scarce populations and evolutionary uniqueness have been underlined in some recent studies. Lack of information about their basic ecology in this landscape is a severe hindrance towards a sound conservation plan for these animals.
The Himalayan wolf is listed as an endangered species in certain areas of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. A large portion of the wolf population in these areas exists outside of the protected area network, which is alarming for the initiatives of their conservation and suggests that management for conservation in these areas should equally consider the area outside protected areas.
In 2000-2001, four of the Zoological Parks of India kept 21 individuals. Eighteen Himalayan wolves are being bred in captivity. They were captured in the wild and are now being preserved in the trans-Himalayan region of India, at the Darjeeling Zoo in Shiwalik Hills on the lower range of the Himalaya in West Bengal, and in the Kufri Zoo with Kufri Himalayan National Park located in Himachal Pradesh province.
- Aggarwal, R. K., Kivisild, T., Ramadevi, J., Singh, L. (2007). "Mitochondrial DNA coding region sequences support the phylogenetic distinction of two Indian wolf species". Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 45 (2): 163–172. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0469.2006.00400.x.
- "Nomenclatural Matters. Twenty-fourth meeting of the Animals Committee Geneva, (Switzerland), 20–24 April 2009" (PDF). CITES. 2009.
- Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Aggarwal, R. K., Ramadevi, J., Singh, L. (2003). "Ancient origin and evolution of the Indian wolf: evidence from mitochondrial DNA typing of wolves from Trans-Himalayan region and Peninsular India". Genome Biology 4 (6): P6. doi:10.1186/gb-2003-4-6-p6.
- "Indian wolves are world's oldest". BBC News. April 17, 2004.
- Jhala, Y., Sharma, D. K. (2004). "The Ancient Wolves of India". International Wolf (International Wolf Center): 15–16. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007.
- Sharma, Maldonado, Jhala, Fleischer (February 7, 2004). "Ancient wolf lineages in India". Proc. R. Soc. Lond. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
- Habib, Shrotriya, Jhala (2013). "Ecology and Conservation of Himalayan Wolf". Wildlife Institute of India – Technical Report No. TR – 2013/01. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
- Shrotriya, Lyngdoh, Habib (October 25, 2012). "Wolves in Trans-Himalayas: 165 years of taxonomic confusion". Current Science, Vol. 103, No. 8. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
- Dinesh K. Sharma, Jesus E. Maldonado, Yadrendradev V. Jhala & Robert C. Fleischer (2004). "Ancient wolf lineages in India". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Biology Letters 271 (Suppl 3): S1–S4. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2003.0071. JSTOR 4142540. PMC 1809981. PMID 15101402.
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