First posted on Bodahub, http://bodahub.com/indian-wolf-population-on-the-decline/#more-4272
By the Bodahub staff
Wolf and man have a millennia-old relationship. They gave us our best friend, the whole culture of the werewolves, and fascinating fare for movies and books.
But now, the wolf population in India is on the decline, and we may be causing widespread damage to the environment. Luckily we may have other countries to learn from.
The Assault on the Indian Wolf
The wolf population is under severe strain in India. Shortages in zoos have led to a brisk exchange program and put pressure on the endangered animals. The Indian wolf can only be found in the wild in two states: Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The Jodhpur Zoo recently offered a pair of lions in exchange for a pair of wolves from the Shakkarbagh Zoo in Gujarat. The female of the wolf pair is yet to be delivered. When the Shakkarbagh Zoo was keen on acquiring a pair of tigers from Bangalore, they were asked for a pair of wolves in exchange.
The need has created pressure on the wild population, which is already under severe duress. There are an estimated 250 wolves in Gujarat and around 300 in Rajasthan. The Gujarat authorities have set up artificial breeding centres to attempt to revive the population.
Local farmers consider the wolf a threat to their livestock and do not hesitate to chase them out of their fields or kill them by smoking out their dens. Sometimes, mothers are killed, leaving young cubs behind that cannot fend for themselves. More damage is caused by wild lands being converted to farms, and reduced food sources. Wolves like solitary places and cannot tolerate the human presence. And no, we don’t own the planet…
The larger worry though is that wolves play a very important role in the maintenance of the ecosystem. Wolves prey primarily on large ungulates, hoofed mammals. By preying on the most vulnerable (diseased, young, old, weak or injured) individuals, wolves help keep prey populations healthier and more vigorous. Predation by wolves also regulates ungulate distribution and group size, which impact overall native biodiversity.
When the ungulate population becomes too abundant for their habitat, for example, they overgraze vegetation, leading to habitat degradation and its incredibly damaging effects on other native wildlife.
Populations can be bred artificially, but need to be reintroduced to the wild. The effects of such experiments in the past were wildly successful and should be carefully considered by the Indian wildlife authorities.
The Yellowstone Park Experiment
When wolves were reintroduced into the Yellowstone National Park, within a short time, they managed to change the course of rivers and affect local and migratory wildlife in a positive way. In short, they completely changed the local ecology and environment – that would have otherwise taken decades of conservation efforts.
India could do well to learn from such efforts and emulate them. The effects of reintroducing wolves into the wild may not have the exact same extent of effects, but the benefits are undeniable.
But such a move needs to be supported by education, awareness, and compensatory mechanisms for the farmers when they, and their livestock, venture into a wolf’s territory.
India has seen a lot of success on that front in different wildlife preserves. Local populations that live on the borders of forests have shown sufficient understanding and are able to coexist with tigers, lions, and leopards.
The occasional loss of livestock is part of life and nature’s cycle. But it can be a win-win situation too. Local populations in the foothills of the Himalayas are now getting insurance from NGOs for snow leopard attacks on their livestock. The snow leopard is a critically endangered animal and conflict with humans is simply not acceptable.
However, there’s no reason why we need to wait for the wolf to become critically endangered too before we act, is there?
George Monbiot’s four minute video, How Wolves Change Rivers