The Himalayan Wolves Project
The Himalayan Wolves Project, led by Geraldine Werhahn and Naresh Kusi combines interdisciplinary research from genetics to ecology and social surveys with the aim to understand and protect the Himalayan wolf, coexisting wildlife, and its habitat.
The Himalayan wolf is found in the high altitude ecosystems of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. In evolutionary terms it is an old lineage of wolf. It has been largely overlooked by science and only in recent years is genetic evidence emerging to show that the Himalayan wolf is distinct from the Holarctic grey wolf found in Europe and North America.
Some of the exciting questions the Himalayan Wolves Project is attempting to answer are how many of these wolves are found in the wild today, what keeps them there and where does their distribution range lie. The project focuses on compiling landscape scale data to understand the Himalayan wolf distribution and phylogeny which means where this wolf is situated in the canid’s family tree. An understanding of the Himalayan wolf phylogeny is essential for its formal taxonomic classification which in turn is an important foundation for its conservation. The project generated solid evidence to support the Himalayan wolf meriting at minimum subspecies (Canis lupus chanco) status, while more research is in progress to explore its eligibility as a species.
Furthermore, the trophic ecology is studied to understand the Himalayan wolf’s role in the ecosystem. Specifically, the project works to identify its main wild prey species and understand livestock depredation. This is significant for understanding the resources required by healthy Himalayan wolf populations. But also how the wolves interact with carnivores that share the habitat with them, such as foxes and snow leopards is of interest.
This genetic and ecological data is combined with insights into human-carnivore conflict to identify the best mitigation strategies together with the local mountain communities. An understanding of the main threats to the wolves such as depredation conflict, their role in illegal wildlife trade, and the perception of wolves with regards to medicinal and cultural traditions is gained through interviews with local people. The project works closely with scientists from the respective host countries and the local mountain communities to raise conservation awareness, conduct research expeditions, and motivate further studies.
Selected short film
25th April 2019: Mongabay – ‘Recognise Himalayan wolf as a distinct species: study’
1st February 2019: Smithsonian – ‘Should the Himalayan Wolf Be Classified as a New Species?’
Werhahn G, Liu Y, Yao M, Cheng C, Lu Z, Atzeni L et al. (2020) Himalayan wolf distribution and admixture based on multiple genetic markers. Journal of Biogeography.
Kusi N, Sillero-Zubiri C, Macdonald DW, Johnson PJ, Werhahn G (2019) Perspectives of traditional Himalayan communities on fostering coexistence with Himalayan wolf and snow leopard. Conservation Science and Practice.
Werhahn, G, Kusi, N, Li, X, Chen, C, Zhi, L, Martín, RL, … & Macdonald, DW (2019) Himalayan wolf foraging ecology and the importance of wild prey. Global Ecology and Conservation, 20, e00780.
Werhahn G, Senn H, Ghazali M, Karmacharya D, Sherchan AM, Joshi J et al. (2018) The unique genetic adaptation of the Himalayan wolf to high-altitudes and consequences for conservation. Global Ecology and Conservation 16: e00455.
Werhahn, G., Kusi, N., Sillero-Zubiri, C., & Macdonald, D. (2017). Conservation implications for the Himalayan wolf Canis (lupus) himalayensis based on observations of packs and home sites in Nepal. Oryx, 1-7. doi:10.1017/S0030605317001077
Werhahn G, Senn H, Kaden J, Joshi J, Bhattarai S, Kusi N, Sillero-Zubiri C, Macdonald DW. 2017. Phylogenetic evidence for the ancient Himalayan wolf: towards a clarification of its taxonomic status based on genetic sampling from western Nepal. Royal Society Open Science. 4:170186. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.170186
Werhahn G, Kusi N, Sillero-Zubiri C, Macdonald DW. 2017. Conservation implications for the Himalayan wolf Canis (lupus) himalayensis based on observations of packs and home sites in Nepal. Oryx. In press.
Werhahn G, Kusi N, Man Sherchan A., Karmacharya D., Senn H. 2016. Distribution update for Tibetan fox in western Nepal. Canid Biology & Conservation.