Fauna : Wolf
IUCN Status : CITES : I
Wildlife (Protection) Act : Schedule I
Length : 3 ft - 3 ft- 6 inches (90 - 105 cms)
Tail : 14 - 16 inches (35 - 40 cms)
Height : 2 ft 2 inches - 2 ft 6 inches (65 - 75 cms)
Weight : 40 - 60 lbs (18 - 27 Kgs)


Wolves, jackals, foxes, dogs - domestic and wild - together form the family Canidae. The wolf, the largest and most successful member of this family, has the widest distribution of any land mammal barring only Man and the diversity of habitats that it occupies is testified by the fact that 32 subspecies of Canis lupus have been recognised. It is a remarkable success story.


The Wolf is found throughout Europe, North America, northern, central, and south-western Asia. It is also found in Tibet and within Indian limits, in Ladakh, parts of Kashmir, extending into the desert zone and dry open plains of peninsular India. There is considerable variation in colour, across its range. Animals from the plains of India have sandy fawn coats stippled with black. This coat may become a more uniform bleached grey during summer. Wolves from Tibet, Ladakh, and the northern slopes of the Himalayas have variegated winter coats with long, black and white or black and buff hairs and dense, grey/bright buff, underwool.


Of the 32 subspecies found worldwide, two are found within the sub-continent. Canis lupus chanco or the Tibetan wolf, which inhabits the Trans-Himalayan region and C.l.pallipes, the so-called Indian wolf whose range extends from Israel through Iran and across much of peninsular India. Except for the Arabian subspecies this is the smallest of all wolves and also represents the southern-most population of the species.

"This population of wolves is found to occur in 3 biogeographic zones (1) The Hot Desert, (2) The Semi-Arid zone, and (3) The Deccan Plateau of India. All these zones are characterised by low rainfall (100 to 600 mm) and xerophytic vegetation. The Indian wolf unlike its cousins in the rest of the world rarely lives in forests preferring instead scrubland, grassland and semi-arid pastoral/agricultural areas. An exception to this generalisation is the eastern population of C. l. pallipes found in Orissa, Bihar and parts of West Bengal, which is found to occur in moister forest habitats. (Shahi 1982). Even in the range of the Eastern population of C. l. pallipes, wolves are not reported wherever thick forests occur. Wolves do occur on the periphery of pocketed forest preserves as is seen in Kumbalgarh and Kailadevi Sanctuaries in Rajasthan, Panna and Bandhavgarh National Parks in Madhya Pradesh and Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat. Regions along the periphery of protected forest areas are under heavy biotic pressures from surrounding human populations and are reduced to scrub forests. It is these scrublands that wolves primarily use. Forested habitats in India are occupied by another large successful canid, the Dhole (Cuon alpinus) and large cats like the Tiger (Panther tigris), Lion (Panthera leo), and Leopard (Panthera pardus). However, in several peripheral areas of preserves wolves are found to be sympatric with leopards. In the high altitude cold desert of Ladakh, ranges of Tibetan wolves, Dhole and Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia) do overlap (Fox and Chundawat 1992)." (Yadvendradev Jhala, in prep).

Acute sight, hearing and keen olfactory sense, deep chested muscular body, long sinewy limbs and digitigrade stance are all adaptations of members of this family. The feet are small and compact with well-cushioned pads, short, blunt claws designed for pursuit of prey over hard ground.

Prater describes the hunting strategies of a wolf pack so well - " Coming within range they attack at one or they lie around hidden, waiting for an opportunity. They lie belly to earth, nose resting between forepaws, ears bent forward, bright eyes watching. Sight and hearing come into full play, while the prone position helps the animal the better to pick up sound vibrations conveyed through the ground. An antelope strays near. There follows the swift rush on the unwary victim, the headlong flight, and the relentless and untiring pursuit."

The pursuit of the fleeing victim is a long unhurried one. Not only is speed of the essence, but endurance and staying power to outrun the prey, (often antelope) is also essential. Again, Prater describes this beautifully - "Those who have hunted wolves, jackals, or foxes on horseback know something of the speed and amazing endurance of these animals. A wolf pursued by a hunter on horse-back kept up its tireless canter for well nigh two hours and covered some 18 miles before it was 'done'. "

Wolves mostly hunt under cover of darkness. What they hunt depends on the nature of the habitat. Near human settlements where there is little natural prey, they prey mainly on livestock. In areas undisturbed by human activity, they hunt blackbuck and gazelle, hares and anything else, bird or animal that they are able to capture. In Kashmir, Ladakh and Tibet, the wolves live like nomads, migrating with the game and grazing flocks to the valleys in winter. The diet of the Himalayan wolves also changes with the seasons; they feed sumptuously on marmots, hares and other small animals and birds during the summer, whereas in winter, when smaller prey is harder to come by, they target the bigger animals such as wild sheep and goat.

Wolves are the largest of the canids and have a high-ly developed social system. Wolf society is organised into a pack system, the basic unit of which is the alpha pair. The pack comprises of this alpha pair and their offspring of several litters. Thus, a pack is normally a family unit that may have been established by unrelated or related wolves. The pack stakes out and defends a resource territory from other wolf packs. Territorial defence is done by scent marking, howling and by actual strife between neighbouring packs (Mech 1970). Average pack size is of 5 -6 animals, though packs of upto 13 have been recorded.

In the plains of India, mating takes place mainly at the end of the monsoon and after a gestation period of 62 days the alpha female gives birth. In the Himalayas, the wolves breed later so that the pups are born in late spring or summer, when conditions are more conducive to their survival. The litter size is normally between 4 - 6 and the pups are born blind. They emerge from the den about 15 - 20 days after birth when their eyes open. They are suckled for about 2 months by the female, after which they are weaned although they start eating scraps of meat slightly earlier. Pups suffer 50% mortality, the chief causes being distemper and persecution from human beings, who actively seek out the dens and smoke out the pups. At the age of about 5-6 months, the pups start running with the pack. As juvenile wolves mature, they either tend to disperse from their natal pack or stay back as helpers to their parents. Pups may disperse as early as 7-8 months of age. Dispersers wander in search of mates and available habitat to establish their own territories and packs. While helpers bide their time for becoming breeders them-selves by replacing or displacing their parent (Packard and Mech 1980).

Brief catalogue of threats:
1. Conflict with humans - Livestock competing with Blackbuck for grazing are easy prey for wolves.
2. Distemper, rabies, canine parvo-virus and hepatitis spread through domestic dogs
3. Pups being suffocated to death in their dens by human beings.
4. Genetic competition - Domestic dogs and wolves have been known to interbreed.

Conservation measures which need to be adopted:
1. Increase the wild prey base by reducing poaching pressures
2. Eradication of feral dogs wherever wolves are present
3. Strict enforcement of law against using poison, protecting small patches of habitat used for denning and rendezvous sites
4. Education of the village populace living around wolf habitats

S.H. Prater - The book of Indian Animals, BNHS, 1988
Y.V.Jhala, Rober H. Giles, Jr. - The Status and Conservation of the Wolf in Gujarat and Rajasthan, India, 1991
Y.V.Jhala - Habitat and population dynamics of wolves and blackbuck in Velavadar NP, Gujarat, India - 1991, Ph.D dissertation
Y.V.Jhala - Predation on Blackbuck by Wolves in Velavadar National Park, Gujarat, India , 1992
P.S.Shahi - Status of the grey wolf ( Canis lupus pallipes) in India. A preliminary survey. Journal of the BNHS 79(3):493 - 502

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