Written by : Lauren Hennelly, UC Davis Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit, USA.
Photos by : The Grasslands Trust.
A pack of Indian Wolves howling
In Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, a pack of Indian wolves adopted a small boy named Mowgli and taught him how to survive in the jungles of India. This Indian wolf pack became Mowgli’s family, where the wolves nurtured and protected this small boy from the dangers of the world. Now, the Indian wolf faces many dangers without the strong support of their human friends.
While the big cats of India receive worldwide attention and strong conservation efforts, Indian wolves and their grassland habitats are often overlooked.
In India, the last population estimate of Indian wolves was almost 20 years ago, which put the number at 2,000-3,000 individuals. During that span of time between 2005 and 2015, India has been estimated to have lost 31 percent of its grassland habitat.
Indian wolves are reported to have declined in areas once a stronghold for them, such as the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. That means currently there are probably more tigers in India than there are Indian wolves. The situation is not looking good in Pakistan either, where no reliable estimate exists for the Indian wolf population. Conservationists in Pakistan agree that Indian wolves are declining and are becoming more and more rare in Sindh and Punjab.
Wolf image by The Grasslands Trust, Tiger image by Shreyas Dudhane/The Grasslands Trust
The finding that Indian wolves are an ancient lineage puts a needed spotlight on this special animal.
With the evolutionarily distinct Indian wolf likely being only found only in India and Pakistan, our study urgently calls for a reassessment of their taxonomy to reflect their uniqueness. Taxonomic-level changes to the Indian wolf will significantly raise their conservation priority, which will strengthen current on-the-ground efforts towards their conservation. With less than 7% of India’s grasslands protected, this highly endangered wolf lineage is mostly found outside of protected areas in India. Just as the tiger is a flagship species for forests, hopefully the Indian wolf can serve as a flagship species for conserving India’s remaining grassland ecosystems.
Indian Wolf pups
When I think about Indian wolves, I think back to those field days in 2015 in Maharashtra. Seeing the Indian wolf puppies playing and clumsily trotting, while being carefully watched by their mother. And I think about the Indian wolf families that are tenderly caring for their young just as they have done for thousands of years in these grasslands, however now with many more challenges. This next generation of Indian wolves is raised with the threat of feral dogs transmitting diseases to them and the uncertainty of finding a home in their shrinking grassland habitat.
In the midst of so much going on in the world, I hope we can leave a little room for the Indian wolf to continue to live where it has roamed for many thousands of years.