The ancient Himalayan wolf, genetics and conservation

05/10/2017 in RZSS

Above: A Himalayan wolf in Nepal (© Geraldine Werhahn).

To date the Himalayan wolf is a species that has been neglected by conservation efforts. The Himalayan wolf is frequently persecuted by local people in its high altitude habitat, where hunting takes place to prevent livestock depredation, or in retaliation to predation events, or for the trade in traditional talismanic and medical products. I lead the Himalayan Wolves Project, at WildCRU at Oxford University, which aims to plug the knowledge gaps in our understanding of this elusive species. Ultimately our aim is to learn as much as we can about this animal so that more effective measures can be put in place to conserve it.

Above: A Himalayan wolf pup (© Geraldine Werhahn).

Above: Dr. Helen Senn and Muhammad Ghazali from RZSS WildGenes teaching the students at Peking University in Conservation genetics methods (© Geraldine Werhahn).

Below: Conservation Genetics training lead by RZSS WildGenes at with students from our research partners in China, the Molecular Ecology Lab and the Centre for Nature and Society at Peking University in China (© Geraldine Werhahn).

Genetics data is a vital part of this work, and to this end, the Himalayan Wolves Project and RZSS WildGenes have teamed up with partner organizations from range countries, Nepal (the Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal) and China (Molecular Ecology group and the Centre for Nature and Society at Peking University of China), to work on improving our understanding of the evolutionary history of this wolf. Our research so far, published in Royal Society Open Science, indicates that the Himalayan Wolf is a unique and ancient linage, different to the Grey wolf Canis lupus ssp. found in North America and the rest of Eurasia. This may ultimately have important consequences for its protection and status in the wild. We are now conducting further research to fully establish the degree and causes of evolutionary separation, the wolves geographic range and the interrelatedness of different wild populations across the Tibetan Plateau. 

Above: A Himalayan wolf female and her pups (© Geraldine Werhahn).

Below: The Himalayan Wolves Project field research team in action. Here at a 5600m asl in Nepal, and we found Himalayan wolf sign! (© Geraldine Werhahn).

In the course of this project, RZSS WildGenes and the Himalayan Wolves Project have conducted a number of conservation genetics training programmes with our partner labs in Nepal and China. Sharing knowledge and strengthening networks of collaboration across this region of the world are important aspects of all the work that we do.

I look forward to sharing further updates for our work through the RZSS WildGenes blog in the coming months.

Geraldine

Geraldine Werhahn
Wildlife Conservation Research Unit
University of Oxford

 

Further reading:

Genetics training in China and Nepal with RZSS WildGenes:

http://www.himalayanwolvesproject.org/genetics/

http://www.rzss.org.uk/news/article/13163/himalayan-wolves-phase-3-from-across-the-himalayas/

https://rzss.wordpress.com/2015/09/09/rzss-wildgenes-blog-the-himalayan-wolf-project/?preview_id=4724

http://www.rzss.org.uk/news/article/11748/rzss-wildgenes-blog-return-to-kathmandu-for-the-himalayan-wolves-project/

 

Field work China 2017:
http://www.himalayanwolvesproject.org/wolf-field-research-on-the-qinghai-tibetan-plateau-of-china-2017/

Conservation publication:
http://www.himalayanwolvesproject.org/new-paper-conservation-of-the-himalayan-wolf-in-nepal/

WildCRU News:
https://www.wildcru.org/news/himalayan-wolves-are-special/

https://www.wildcru.org/news/potential-new-species-of-wolf/



Short Film:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TilOuJaV1wM&feature=youtu.be

Follow EZ