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Assessing the genetic status, distribution, prey selection and conservation issues of Himalayan wolf (Canis himalayensis) in Trans-Himalayan Dolpa, Nepal

Ambuhang Subba, Samundra (2012) BIOP24 20121
Degree Projects in Biology
Abstract
Abstract
Almost nothing is known about the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) apart from opportunistic anecdotes, notes in journals and conflict with humans. Taxonomic status of this canine has not been investigated so far for Nepal's wild population to state it as Tibetan wolf or Himalayan wolf. Furthermore, persecution of the wolf has been a major issue in the Himalayan region without any detailed assessment of its prey selection and the reason behind its mass depredation on livestock. Moreover investigations of its occurrence and distribution in the Trans-Himalaya have not been properly documented. In an attempt to collect the baseline quantitative information needed to develop conservation strategies I investigated the wolf's... (More)
Abstract
Almost nothing is known about the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) apart from opportunistic anecdotes, notes in journals and conflict with humans. Taxonomic status of this canine has not been investigated so far for Nepal's wild population to state it as Tibetan wolf or Himalayan wolf. Furthermore, persecution of the wolf has been a major issue in the Himalayan region without any detailed assessment of its prey selection and the reason behind its mass depredation on livestock. Moreover investigations of its occurrence and distribution in the Trans-Himalaya have not been properly documented. In an attempt to collect the baseline quantitative information needed to develop conservation strategies I investigated the wolf's distribution in the Dolpa region, Nepal, by the method of sign survey, interview and GIS modeling software. In addition a prey selection assessment was conducted by the method of non-invasive scat analysis through discerning prey items by studying and comparing the cuticular and medullary hair patterns supplemented by genetic analysis of the scat samples. A questionnaire interview was also conducted during the survey period interviewing local communities to assay the livestock depredation rate by wolf and the effect on their marginal economy attributing their attitude towards the predator. According to the result 76 signs of Himalayan wolf were discovered at study sites Bhijer, en route to Dho valley from Bhijer and Dho valley. The GIS distribution model suggests that Himalayan wolf is found to be distributed along the alpine steppe (68%) at Bhijer, Dho valley, Saldang, Tinje, Charka and Mukot. Two wolf scat samples were closely related to the Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus himalayensis). This genetically unique wolf has recently been described as distinct from the Tibetan wolf and found to occur in the Himalayan region. Horse was the principal prey (20.6% Frequency of Occurrence/item and 39.9% of Biomass consumption) among all preys and livestock constituted with 60.7% of frequency per item. In the period 2010-2011, a total of 906 livestock loss (4.3 ± SD 5.4 per household) were accounted to wolves with an annual loss of 11% attributing an economic livestock loss value of $1440 per household. 59% of local people agreed that the wolf should be completely exterminated and in contrast 71% agreed on wolf preservation when promised of full compensation measures. Consequently 48% of local people agreed that they have directly/indirectly participated in wolf persecution (cub killings and poisoning).


Popular science summary:

Status of Himalayan wolf in Trans-Himalayan Dolpa, Nepal

Himalayan wolf is one of the least known mammals and studies have confirmed that it is a genetically unique population drifted from the general wolf-dog group for quite some time ago. However the wolf of Nepal was still in ambiguity whether it is Himalayan wolf or Tibetan wolf of China and Northern Mongolia. The canine has also been known to inflict massive livestock depredation attributing retributive killings by the locals. In Nepal, no empirical studies had been implemented so far behind the reason of depredation and solid proof of its distribution in the Trans-Himalaya.
A baseline study was conducted investigating its genetic identity, distribution, prey choice and conflict issues with humans in a remote area in Dolpa, Nepal. The study on taxonomic status was carried out by aligning and comparing the DNA patterns obtained from wolf-scats in Dolpa with published sequences of Himalayan wolf and other known wolf sub species. These scats were also used for prey analysis by comparing the hair patterns obtained from them. The distribution pattern was developed through geographic modeling validated by the wolf signs recorded during the field survey. Lastly the conflict issues were assessed by conducting questionnaire surveys to the locals in the wolf dominated settlements.
The study revealed the wolf of Nepal to be closely associated with Himalayan wolf rather than Tibetan wolf, very much deviated from the general wolf-dog group. Furthermore, we could also suggest that it is a genetically unique population and possibly a species on its own isolated from the common gray wolf since quite some time. The distribution model predicts its occurrence around the upper Dolpo region characterized by alpine steppe and patches of shrublands. Preferably Himalayan wolf tend to occur around six major VDCs (Village Development Committees) of rainshadow upper Dolpo region viz. Bhijer and Dho (Study sites), Saldang, Charka, Tinje and Mukot. A serious conflict was observed between the local community and the wolf with wolf attributing mass livestock depredation more than snow leopard and almost half of the local population acknowledging to have been involved in retributive killings. The principal reasons behind this chaos were the marginal economy of the locals and wolf's diet shift as it preferred domestic ungulates rather than less abundant wild preys assessed from prey analysis. An instantaneous action of extensive researches and conservation campaigns is imperative to preserve this species accentuating its uniqueness and significant role in regulating sparse biodiversity of Himalayan ecosystem.

Advisor: Richard Ottvall and Kashmira Kakati
Master´s Degree Project 60 credits in Conservation Biology 2012
Department of Biology, Lund University (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
Ambuhang Subba, Samundra
supervisor
organization
course
BIOP24 20121
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
language
English
id
3513696
date added to LUP
2013-02-20 11:25:50
date last changed
2013-03-22 08:46:51
@misc{3513696,
  abstract     = {Abstract
Almost nothing is known about the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco) apart from opportunistic anecdotes, notes in journals and conflict with humans. Taxonomic status of this canine has not been investigated so far for Nepal's wild population to state it as Tibetan wolf or Himalayan wolf. Furthermore, persecution of the wolf has been a major issue in the Himalayan region without any detailed assessment of its prey selection and the reason behind its mass depredation on livestock. Moreover investigations of its occurrence and distribution in the Trans-Himalaya have not been properly documented. In an attempt to collect the baseline quantitative information needed to develop conservation strategies I investigated the wolf's distribution in the Dolpa region, Nepal, by the method of sign survey, interview and GIS modeling software. In addition a prey selection assessment was conducted by the method of non-invasive scat analysis through discerning prey items by studying and comparing the cuticular and medullary hair patterns supplemented by genetic analysis of the scat samples. A questionnaire interview was also conducted during the survey period interviewing local communities to assay the livestock depredation rate by wolf and the effect on their marginal economy attributing their attitude towards the predator. According to the result 76 signs of Himalayan wolf were discovered at study sites Bhijer, en route to Dho valley from Bhijer and Dho valley. The GIS distribution model suggests that Himalayan wolf is found to be distributed along the alpine steppe (68%) at Bhijer, Dho valley, Saldang, Tinje, Charka and Mukot. Two wolf scat samples were closely related to the Himalayan wolf (Canis lupus himalayensis). This genetically unique wolf has recently been described as distinct from the Tibetan wolf and found to occur in the Himalayan region. Horse was the principal prey (20.6% Frequency of Occurrence/item and 39.9% of Biomass consumption) among all preys and livestock constituted with 60.7% of frequency per item. In the period 2010-2011, a total of 906 livestock loss (4.3 ± SD 5.4 per household) were accounted to wolves with an annual loss of 11% attributing an economic livestock loss value of $1440 per household. 59% of local people agreed that the wolf should be completely exterminated and in contrast 71% agreed on wolf preservation when promised of full compensation measures. Consequently 48% of local people agreed that they have directly/indirectly participated in wolf persecution (cub killings and poisoning).


Popular science summary:

Status of Himalayan wolf in Trans-Himalayan Dolpa, Nepal

Himalayan wolf is one of the least known mammals and studies have confirmed that it is a genetically unique population drifted from the general wolf-dog group for quite some time ago. However the wolf of Nepal was still in ambiguity whether it is Himalayan wolf or Tibetan wolf of China and Northern Mongolia. The canine has also been known to inflict massive livestock depredation attributing retributive killings by the locals. In Nepal, no empirical studies had been implemented so far behind the reason of depredation and solid proof of its distribution in the Trans-Himalaya. 
A baseline study was conducted investigating its genetic identity, distribution, prey choice and conflict issues with humans in a remote area in Dolpa, Nepal. The study on taxonomic status was carried out by aligning and comparing the DNA patterns obtained from wolf-scats in Dolpa with published sequences of Himalayan wolf and other known wolf sub species. These scats were also used for prey analysis by comparing the hair patterns obtained from them. The distribution pattern was developed through geographic modeling validated by the wolf signs recorded during the field survey. Lastly the conflict issues were assessed by conducting questionnaire surveys to the locals in the wolf dominated settlements.
The study revealed the wolf of Nepal to be closely associated with Himalayan wolf rather than Tibetan wolf, very much deviated from the general wolf-dog group. Furthermore, we could also suggest that it is a genetically unique population and possibly a species on its own isolated from the common gray wolf since quite some time. The distribution model predicts its occurrence around the upper Dolpo region characterized by alpine steppe and patches of shrublands. Preferably Himalayan wolf tend to occur around six major VDCs (Village Development Committees) of rainshadow upper Dolpo region viz. Bhijer and Dho (Study sites), Saldang, Charka, Tinje and Mukot. A serious conflict was observed between the local community and the wolf with wolf attributing mass livestock depredation more than snow leopard and almost half of the local population acknowledging to have been involved in retributive killings. The principal reasons behind this chaos were the marginal economy of the locals and wolf's diet shift as it preferred domestic ungulates rather than less abundant wild preys assessed from prey analysis. An instantaneous action of extensive researches and conservation campaigns is imperative to preserve this species accentuating its uniqueness and significant role in regulating sparse biodiversity of Himalayan ecosystem.

Advisor: Richard Ottvall and Kashmira Kakati
Master´s Degree Project 60 credits in Conservation Biology 2012
Department of Biology, Lund University},
  author       = {Ambuhang Subba, Samundra},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Assessing the genetic status, distribution, prey selection and conservation issues of Himalayan wolf (Canis himalayensis) in Trans-Himalayan Dolpa, Nepal},
  year         = {2012},
}