Himalayan Wolf Needs Recognition as Distinct Species, Study Finds
By Mayank Aggarwal
The Himalayan wolf is a distinct species of wolf, which shows unique genetic adaptation to the difficult conditions in the Asian high altitude ecosystems, a study found, reiterating that it needs to be identified as a species of special conservation concern. "Conservation action for the Himalayan wolf is required and of global conservation interest," noted the study.
For the study, the researchers used over 280 samples of scat and hair from the Himalayan region of Nepal, which included Humla and Dolpa districts in the north-western Nepalese Himalayas and the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (KCA) in the north-eastern Nepalese Himalayas, during the spring and summer periods of 2014 to 2016.
Explaining that the Himalayan wolf is a little-understood wolf lineage found in the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau of Asia, the study noted that the species diverged from the Holarctic grey wolf 691,000 to 740,000 years ago. The Holarctic region includes all the non-tropical parts of Europe, Asia, Africa (north of the Sahara) and North America (till the Mexican desert region). According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global population of grey wolf (Canis lupus) is estimated to be 200,000 to 250,000 individuals.
The Himalayan wolf inhabits the high altitude regions of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. Genetic studies revealed that they are adapted to the extreme conditions of these mountain ranges. Photo by Geraldine Werhahn / Himalayan Wolves Project
"The Himalayan wolf presents an overlooked wolf lineage that is phylogenetically [evolutionarily] distinct from grey wolves. Current evidence indicates that this wolf has diverged as an own lineage before the radiation of modern grey wolves. Hence the Himalayan wolf presents an evolutionary significant wolf population that merits appropriate taxonomic recognition," Geraldine Werhahn, lead author of the study, told Mongabay-India.
Taxonomy is a system of classifying species. Relationships between species can be represented as a family tree, known as a phylogeny.
Werhahn explained that the Himalayan wolf is more "distinct than many of the currently recognized subspecies of the grey wolf, hence the debate around it potentially meriting full species recognition."
"The Himalayan wolf is adapted to life in the extreme high altitude habitats of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau and along with the snow leopard, is a top predator in this ecosystem. Predators enjoy a growing recognition for the important roles they fulfill, like maintaining ecosystem health and balance. Currently, this wolf is overlooked by science and conservation and local people are not aware that this wolf needs to be conserved and is of global relevance," added Werhahn, who is a conservation biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the Zoology department of the University of Oxford. The study is a collaborative project between researchers from the U.K., Nepal, Spain, Kyrgyzstan and the U.S.
According to the study, the Himalayan wolf has been documented at 3,900 to 5,600 meters (approximately 12,800 to 18,400 feet) above sea level across the continuous landscape of the Himalayas and genetic evidence has confirmed its presence in the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau.
Himalayan wolf pups playing in Upper Dolpa, Nepal. Video by Geraldine Werhahn / Himalayan Wolves Project
The study stated that Nepal, with its northern area dominated by the Himalayan mountain range, holds a considerable Himalayan wolf population.
It emphasized that the "dramatic inaccessible high Himalayan landscapes may present important habitat refuges for the Himalayan wolf" and recommended that Nepal should play a leading role in Himalayan wolf conservation and act as a role model for the other range countries, which currently, along with Nepal, include India and China.
Sharing her experience of the study, Werhahn stated that the majority of local people in the Himalayan wolf habitats are Buddhists and have a comparable tolerant and integral attitude towards the natural world around them.
"They have coexisted for centuries in these challenging but immensely beautiful ecosystems. Local people are not aware that the Himalayan wolf, similar to the snow leopard, needs to be protected and that they should not kill it. Snow leopard conservation has been in place since some decades now and local people are much more aware to not kill snow leopards. Now, the same must happen for Himalayan wolves," she said. "In fact, all predators, and these whole predator guild conservation actions can go hand in hand with conservation actions already in place and functioning for snow leopards," said Werhahn while replying to a query about the attitude of the local people toward the Himalayan wolf.
Separate Species Status Would Help in Conservation
As per the study, the evaluation of the conservation status of the Himalayan wolf and the subsequent implementation of conservation actions is "hindered by scarce data on taxonomic status, distribution and ecology."
"Although the scientific evidence supporting its genetic uniqueness has been accumulating in recent years, reliable population estimates are lacking, ranging from 350 individuals in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh (in India) to several thousand in Tibet and Qinghai," the study said.
Werhahn stressed that the main problem in conservation of this wolf species is scarce data and that it does not get the attention of science and conservation.
"Once it is assigned its appropriate and required taxonomic classification, it can then be assigned an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) conservation status. And these two necessary advancements, taxonomic recognition and conservation status, are crucial to improve conservation efforts with regard to political leverage, but also conservation awareness and conservation funding. This will trigger an increasing interest to research and conserve this wolf," she said.
She further said that later some more specific actions to mitigate livestock depredation, ensure healthy wild prey populations and decrease illegal wildlife trade of its parts can be taken for the purpose of conservation of the Himalayan wolf.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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