Indian and western Asian wolf populations were considered one species but a recent study reveals that Indian wolves are distinct and that their distribution has reduced significantly as a result. The study has recommended that both the Indian and Tibetan populations be recognised as separate on an evolutionary basis.
The study findings were published in the journal Molecular Ecology and show the Indian wolf as one of the most distinct grey wolf populations on an evolutionary scale.
A small to medium sized wolf, (41-57 inches in length and 22-28 inches in height) the wolf has short, thin levels of fur during the summer months but it remains long on the back. Some may misidentify the wolf as a dog or fox but for identification purposes, there is a dark shaped patch – grey/red and dotted with black/grey tones at the shoulders. The underpart of the wolf is mainly white with notably paler limbs than the upperparts of the animal.
Sexual maturity is reached once the animals reach two years of age. There is a dominant breeding pair who can stop subordinates from reproducing. Pups are born a sooty-brown colour with a distinctive creamy white patch on the chest area. This fades with age. They remain with the pack for two to three years and are able to form their own packs thereafter, or find a different location.
Territory and prey
Indian wolves have a territory of 100-150 miles and habitat often overlaps with Himalayan wolves but are restricted to grassland habits in Pakistan and lowland India. Packs are smaller than for other species consisting of 6-8 wolves, and they will hunt in packs but also, on their own.
They are nocturnal hunters and prowl from dusk to dawn hunting for food. With great speed and endurance when hunting species such as antelope, they will chase the animal towards hollows or ravines and use ambush tactics to tackle prey. They will also target sick or injured animals. Indian wolves take hares, rabbits and rodents but will predate on livestock if their natural prey is limited. In areas with high density of people, this can lead to conflict with people.
Persecution is one of the biggest threats for the Indian wolf. Poison is commonly used especially when the wolves begin to take livestock. Intensive farming, and development also impact this species. With a population estimated at 2,000-3,000, the Indian grey wolf is endangered. It is hoped that by categorising it as a distinct species, there is the possibility to conserve it.