Research

The Himalayan Wolves Project

The Himalayan Wolves Project, led by Geraldine Werhahn, combines interdisciplinary research from genetics to ecology and social surveys with the aim to understand and protect the Himalayan wolf, its prey, 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 himalayensis) status, while more research is in progress to explore its eligibility as a species (Canis himalayensis).

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

The Himalayan wolf in Nepal

References

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. 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.