The world’s most endangered and evolutionarily distinct gray wolf.
Written by : Lauren Hennelly, UC Davis Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit, USA.
Photos by : The Grasslands Trust.
The long grasses calmly swayed across the open plains of Central India. At this time of year, the grasses are yellowing and becoming brittle, giving the landscape a golden hue. Sitting in a stilted green hut with my field assistant, I watched for any abrupt rustling or movement in these grasses. Two centuries ago, the grasses could be hiding Asiatic lions or even cheetahs, but today, one of the last surviving large predators of the South Asian grasslands is the Indian wolf.
Open Savannas of Central India
During this early morning in 2015, my field assistant and I had been waiting patiently for Indian wolves. Finding and observing these wolves can be quite challenging since they’re rare and well camouflaged. Unlike their North American cousins, the Indian wolf is small bodied, has short hair, and commonly has a brownish hue – all adaptations for surviving in such a dry landscape. Also unlike their North American cousins, at the time we didn’t know exactly what an Indian wolf was and how it was related to other gray wolves. In fact, the Indian wolf’s story of its evolutionary history has long remained a mystery in science.
Over the course of weeks, our team did manage to find and observe these Indian wolves. We even found Indian wolf dens with their future generations laid hidden in small rocky outcrops surrounded by villages. But I often wondered about their past. How long has the Indian wolf roamed this arid Central Indian landscape? And how are they related to other gray wolves in the world?