Thursday, July 3, 2008

Vanishing Species - the Indian Wolf

An Article by Mohan Pai

The Indian Wolf
(Canis lupus pallipes )

It has been listed as a highly endangered species and only around 2,000-3000 wolves are now surviving in India.

The wolf has been featured all along in human mythology, folklore, and language and had an impact on the human imagination and been the victim of levels of misunderstanding that few animals have shared. In Rudyard Kipling’s “the Jungle Book”, the hero Mowgli is raised by a pack of Indian Wolves, and is one of the most popular of feral children in fiction. There have always been rumours and stories in India about child lifting by wolves.
The recent incidents are: the mystery of the Pavagada Wolves where in a period of five month seven children had been snatched in 1983 and the child-lifting by wolves in Hazaribagh West, Koderma and Latehar forest divisions of Bihar State, India, where five wolf packs created problems in 63 villages. 80 child casualties occurred from April 1993 to April 1995 and only 20 victims were rescued. All the children were taken from settlements primarily during March to August between 5.00 and 7.00 pm. There were more female victims than males and the majority were 3-11-yrs old.
During a 2-year period (1996–1997) in Uttar Pradesh, wolves killed or seriously injured 74 humans, mostly children under the age of 10 years. One of the worst cases ever recorded occurred in 1878 in British India. During a one year period 624 people were killed by man-eating wolves.The Britishers classified the wolf as vermin and there was a wholesale slaughter of the animal. 2,00,000 wolves were exterminated in a period of 50 years from 1875 to 1925 (Mahesh Rangarajan).

With the exception of humans and the lion, the gray wolf once had a larger distribution than any other land mammal, once ranging over all of North America from Alaska and Arctic Canada southward to central Mexico and throughout Europe and Asia above 20° N latitude. It lived in every type of habitat except tropical forests and the most arid deserts, and it was the premier hunter of the large hoofed mammals. Approximately 5 subspecies are recognized in North America, 7 to 12 in Eurasia. Wolves were domesticated several thousand years ago, and selective breeding produced dogs.The wolf is built for travel. Its long legs, large feet, and deep but narrow chest suit it well for life on the move. Keen senses, large canine teeth, powerful jaws, and the ability to pursue prey at 60 km (37 miles) per hour equip the wolf well for a predatory way of life.
Early human societies that hunted for survival admired the wolf and tried to imitate its habits, but in recent centuries the wolf has been widely viewed as an evil creature, a danger to humans (especially in Eurasia), a competitor for big game animals, and a threat to livestock. Depredation of livestock was the primary justification for eradicating the wolf from virtually all over the world.

Today, the Gray wolf which was once the most widely distributed terrestial mammal on this planet, has become one of the most endangered species of the world. In fact, they had huge territories and some wolves were known to travel as far as 1,000 kms. However in the last few hundred years, it has been becoming rare in almost all of Europe, the U.S., the U.K. and Japan, while in many other parts, it is on the verge of extinction. In India too, it is on the road to perdition. According to 1999 World Wolf Status report, Indian Gray wolf population is estimated to be less than 1500. Fortunately, a recent revolutionary finding on "ancient origin and evolution of the Indian wolves" based on evidence from mitochondrial DNA typing of wolves from Trans-Himalayan region and Peninsular India has come as a shot in the arm. Scientists have discovered about 32 sub-species of the Gray wolf (Canis lupus). In India, the two wolf species found are believed to be two sub-species of Gray wolf - the Himalayan wolf or Tibetan wolf from Upper Trans-Himalayan region and Indian Gray wolf from the Peninsular India. While the Indian Gray wolf is included in the sub-species of Canis lupus pallipes, a name assigned to small, arid and semi-arid wolves found throughout the Indian subcontinent to the Middle-Eastern countries like Afghanistan, Iran and Israel, the Himalayan wolf continues to remain more of an enigma. Adapted to the cold environment of the mountains, Himalayan wolves are considered to be representing the extinct population of the relatively better-known Tibetan wolf (which is found throughout Central Asia with its range extending into Tibet, China, Nepal, Manchuria and Mongolia. Until now, Indian and Himalayan wolves had not been studied genetically. However, the recent genetic study by Dr. Ramesh K. Aggarwal of Centre for Cellular And Molecular Biology , Hyderabad, and another independent research by Dr. Yadavendra Jhala of Wildlife Institute of India have revealed astonishing facts. The study reports that both the India Gray wolf and Himalayan wolf are genetically unique within themselves and from the other wolf species found worldwide. Thus, they are two new wolf species. This remarkable discovery is of extreme importance and pride. It is more so of the Himalayan wolf as they represent a more ancient lineage - about 8,00,000 years back. But unfortunately, they hang at a population of just 350 today, and if no immediate conservation efforts are taken, they might soon be lost.
A current proposal suggests that the Indian Wolf has not cross-bred with any other wolf subspecies for nearly 400,000 years, which could possibly make them a separate species altogether from the grey wolf. British naturalist B. H. Hodgson was actually the first to describe an Indian Wolf as a separate species, Canis laniger, in 1847, but the wolf he was describing was indeed separate from today's modern Indian Wolf (he was instead describing the former Himalayan Wolf).Another British naturalist, W. T. Blanford, working for the Geological Survey of India, described the modern Indian Wolf as a separate species called Canis pallipes in 1888. He distinguished Canis pallipes from Canis laniger by its smaller size, much shorter and thinner winter coat, and smaller skull and teeth. Furthermore, he identified Hodgson's Himalayan Wolf as nothing more than a subspecies of Gray Wolf (i.e., C. lupus laniger, as opposed to C. laniger).The confusion was sorted out in 1941 when British taxonomist R. I. Pocock classified both as separate subspecies of the Gray Wolf – C.lupus pallipes and C.lupus laniger, respectively. Today, the Himalayan Wolf originally identified by Hodgson in 1847 (C.lupus laniger) has been stripped of its subspecies title and placed with the Eurasian Wolf (C.lupus lupus), whereas the Indian Wolf {C.lupus pallipes) has maintained its subspecies status, though this could, as previously mentioned, change as more genetic data is interpreted.Lately research of the mtDNA of the Indian Wolf, formerly known as Canis lupus pallipes, supports the suggestion to treat the Indian wolf as a new species of canid (Canis indica). Probably, the Indian wolf migrated to India about 400 thousand years ago, during the Pleistocene and separated from its common wolf ancestors. But other Indian wolves not from India but from the Arabian pennislula, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are included in the category of Grey Wolf and should be called the Southern-East Asian Wolf (Canis lupus pallipes).

Appearance and adaptations
The Indian Wolf has a very short, dense coat that is typically reddish, tawny, or buff coloured. It reaches 60-95 centimetres in height, and typically weighs 18-27 kilograms, making it smaller than the Gray Wolf. Breeding generally occurs in October, after the rains – early compared to the Grey Wolf.The Indian Wolf is adapted for life in the semi-arid and hot areas that they typically inhabit. Its relatively small size allows it to survive on the smaller ungulates, rabbits, hares, and rodents that roam its territory. The Indian Wolf is a prime example of the canid's adaptability as a species, given that its cousins can be found in areas starkly contrasted to the scrubland, grassland, and semi-arid pastoral environments that the Indian Wolf thrives in.

It is a semi-desert-adapted canid that is exclusive to the eastern Indian subcontinent. In India, The Indian Wolf is mainly distributed across the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. A study released in 2004 estimates that there are around 2000-3000 Indian WolvesThe Indian Wolf, because it lifts children and preys on livestock, has long been hunted, though it is protected as an endangered species in India under schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972. The Jai Samand Sanctuary, Rajasthan, is believed to be the only place in which the animal is breeding in captivity.

Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli”

For the past one hundred years, Rudyard Kipling's classic tales of Mowgli, the lost boy raised by wolves in the jungles of India, have captivated children and adults alike.Mowgli's days are filled with danger, wonder, and excitement. He learns the ways of the jungle from the wise old bear, Baloo, and the great black panther, Bagheera. He is befriended by the faithful wolf, Gray Brother, and is carried off by the crafty Monkey-People -- only to be rescued by the mighty python, Kaa. And through it all, Mowgli knows that he must someday face his sworn enemy: the ferocious man-hating tiger, Shere Khan.

The bushes rustled a little in the thicket, and Father Wolf dropped with his haunches under him, ready for his leap. Then, if you had been watching, you would have seen the most wonderful thing in the world—the wolf checked in midspring. He made his bound before he saw what it was he was jumping at, and then he tried to stop himself. The result was that he shot up straight into the air for four or five feet, landing almost where he left ground. ‘Man!’ he snapped. ‘A man’s cub. Look!’ Directly in front of him, holding on by a low branch, stood a naked brown baby who could just walk—as soft and as dimpled a little atom as ever came to a wolf’s cave at night. He looked up into Father Wolf’s face, and laughed. ‘Is that a man’s cub?’ said Mother Wolf. ‘I have never seen one. Bring it here.’ A wolf accustomed to moving his own cubs can, if necessary, mouth an egg without breaking it, and though Father Wolf’s jaws closed right on the child’s back not a tooth even scratched the skin, as he laid it down among the cubs. ‘How little! How naked, and—how bold!’ said Mother Wolf softly. The baby was pushing his way between the cubs to get close to the warm hide. ‘Ahai! He is taking his meal with the others. And so this is a man’s cub. Now, was there ever a wolf that could boast of a man’s cub among her children?’ ‘I have heard now and again of such a thing, but never in our Pack or in my time,’ said Father Wolf. ‘He is altogether without hair, and I could kill him with a touch of my foot. But see, he looks up and is not afraid.’ The moonlight was blocked out of the mouth of the cave, for Shere Khan’s great square head and shoulders were thrust into the entrance. Tabaqui, behind him, was squeaking: ‘My lord, my lord, it went in here!’ ‘Shere Khan does us great honour,’ said Father Wolf, but his eyes were very angry. ‘What does Shere Khan need? ’ ‘My quarry. A man’s cub went this way,’ said Shere Khan. ‘Its parents have run off. Give it to me.’ Shere Khan had jumped at a woodcutter’s camp-fire, as Father Wolf had said, and was furious from the pain of his burned feet. But Father Wolf knew that the mouth of the cave was too narrow for a tiger to come in by. Even where he was, Shere Khan’s shoulders and forepaws were cramped for want of room, as a man’s would be if he tried to fight in a barrel. ‘The Wolves are a free people,’ said Father Wolf. ‘They take orders from the Head of the Pack, and not from any striped cattle-killer. The man’s cub is ours—to kill if we choose.’ ‘Ye choose and ye do not choose! What talk is this of choosing? By the bull that I killed, am I to stand nosing into your dog’s den for my fair dues? It is I, Shere Khan, who speak!’ The tiger’s roar filled the cave with thunder. Mother Wolf shook herself clear of the cubs and sprang forward, her eyes, like two green moons in the darkness, facing the blazing eyes of Shere Khan. ‘And it is I, Raksha [The Demon], who answer. The man’s cub is mine, Lungri—mine to me! He shall not be killed. He shall live to run with the Pack and to hunt with the Pack; and in the end, look you, hunter of little naked cubs—frog-eater—fish-killer—he shall hunt thee! Now get hence, or by the Sambhur that I killed (I eat no starved cattle), back thou goest to thy mother, burned beast of the jungle, lamer than ever thou camest into the world! Go!’ Father Wolf looked on amazed. He had almost forgotten the days when he won Mother Wolf in fair fight from five other wolves, when she ran in the Pack and was not called The Demon for compliment’s sake. Shere Khan might have faced Father Wolf, but he could not stand up against Mother Wolf, for he knew that where he was she had all the advantage of the ground, and would fight to the death. So he backed out of the cave-mouth growling, and when he was clear he shouted:— ‘Each dog barks in his own yard! We will see what the Pack will say to this fostering of man cubs. The cub is mine, and to my teeth he will come in the end, O bush-tailed thieves!’ Mother Wolf threw herself down panting among the cubs, and Father Wolf said to her gravely:— ‘Shere Khan speaks this much truth. The cub must be shown to the Pack. Wilt thou still keep him, Mother?’ ‘Keep him!’ she gasped. ‘He came naked, by night, alone and very hungry; yet he was not afraid! Look, he has pushed one of my babes to one side already. And that lame butcher would have killed him and would have run off to the Waingunga while the villagers here hunted through all our lairs in revenge! Keep him? Assuredly I will keep him. Lie still, little frog. O thou Mowgli—for Mowgli the Frog I will call thee—the time will come when thou wilt hunt Shere Khan as he has hunted thee.’ ‘But what will our Pack say?’ said Father Wolf. The Law of the Jungle lays down very clearly that any wolf may, when he marries, withdraw from the Pack he belongs to; but as soon as his cubs are old enough to stand on their feet he must bring them to the Pack Council, which is generally held once a month at full moon, in order that the other wolves may identify them. After that inspection the cubs are free to run where they please, and until they have killed their first buck no excuse is accepted if a grown wolf of the Pack kills one of them. The punishment is death where the murderer can be found; and if you think for a minute you will see that this must be so. Father Wolf waited till his cubs could run a little, and then on the night of the Pack Meeting took them and Mowgli and Mother Wolf to the Council Rock—a hilltop covered with stones and boulders where a hundred wolves could hide. Akela, the great grey Lone Wolf, who led all the Pack by strength and cunning, lay out at full length on his rock, and below him sat forty or more wolves of every size and colour, from badger-coloured veterans who could handle a buck alone, to young black three-year-olds who thought they could. The Lone Wolf had led them for a year now. He had fallen twice into a wolf-trap in his youth, and once he had been beaten and left for dead; so he knew the manners and customs of men. There was very little talking at the Rock. The cubs tumbled over each other in the centre of the circle where their mothers and fathers sat, and now and again a senior wolf would go quietly up to a cub, look at him carefully, and return to his place on noiseless feet. Sometimes a mother would push her cub far out into the moonlight, to be sure that he had not been overlooked. Akela from his rock would cry: ‘Ye know the Law—ye know the Law. Look well, O Wolves!’ and the anxious mothers would take up the call: ‘Look—look well, O Wolves!’ At last—and Mother Wolf’s neck-bristles lifted as the time came—Father Wolf pushed ‘Mowgli the Frog,’ as they called him, into the centre, where he sat laughing and playing with some pebbles that glistened in the moonlight. Akela never raised his head from his paws, but went on with the monotonous cry: ‘Look well!’ A muffled roar came up from behind the rocks—the voice of Shere Khan crying: ‘The cub is mine. Give him to me. What have the Free People to do with a man’s cub?’ Akela never even twitched his ears: all he said was: ‘Look well, O Wolves! What have the Free People to do with the orders of any save the Free People? Look well!’ There was a chorus of deep growls, and a young wolf in his fourth year flung back Shere Khan’s question to Akela: ‘What have the Free People to do with a man’s cub?’ Now, the Law of the jungle lays down that if there is any dispute as to the right of a cub to be accepted by the Pack, he must be spoken for by at least two members of the Pack who are not his father and mother. ‘Who speaks for this cub?’ said Akela. ‘Among the Free People who speaks?’ There was no answer, and Mother Wolf got ready for what she knew would be her last fight, if things came to fighting. Then the only other creature who is allowed at the Pack Council—Baloo, the sleepy brown bear who teaches the wolfcubs the Law of the Jungle: old Baloo, who can come and go where he pleases because he eats only nuts and roots and honey—rose up on his hindquarters and grunted. ‘The man’s cub—the man’s cub?’ he said. ‘I speak for the man’s cub. There is no harm in a man’s cub. I have no gift of words, but I speak the truth. Let him run with the Pack, and be entered with the others. I myself will teach him.’ ‘We need yet another,’ said Akela. ‘Baloo has spoken, and he is our teacher for the young cubs. Who speaks besides Baloo? ’ A black shadow dropped down into the circle. It was Bagheera the Black Panther, inky black all over, but with the panther markings showing up in certain lights like the pattern of watered silk. Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody cared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as Tabaqui, as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree, and a skin softer than down. ‘O Akela, and ye the Free People,’ he purred, ‘I have no right in your assembly; but the Law of the Jungle says that if there is a doubt which is not a killing matter in regard to a new cub, the life of that cub may be bought at a price. And the Law does not say who may or may not pay that price. Am I right?’ ‘Good! good!’ said the young wolves, who are always hungry. ‘Listen to Bagheera. The cub can be bought for a price. It is the Law.’ ‘Knowing that I have no right to speak here, I ask your leave.’ ‘Speak then,’ cried twenty voices. ‘To kill a naked cub is shame. Besides, he may make better sport for you when he is grown. Baloo has spoken in his behalf. Now to Baloo’s word I will add one bull, and a fat one, newly killed, not half a mile from here, if ye will accept the man’s cub according to the Law. Is it difficult?’ There was a clamour of scores of voices, saying: ‘What matter? He will die in the winter rains. He will scorch in the sun. What harm can a naked frog do us? Let him run with the Pack. Where is the bull, Bagheera? Let him be accepted.’ And then came Akela's deep bay, crying: ‘Look well—look well, O Wolves!’ Mowgli was still deeply interested in the pebbles and he did not notice when the wolves came and looked at him one by one. At last they all went down the hill for the dead bull, and only Akela, Bagheera, Baloo, and Mowgli’s own wolves were left. Shere Khan roared still in the night, for he was very angry that Mowgli had not been handed over to him. ‘Ay, roar well,’ said Bagheera, under his whiskers; ‘for the time comes when this naked thing will make thee roar to another tune, or I know nothing of Man.’ ‘It was well done,’ said Akela. ‘Men and their cubs are very wise. He may be a help in time.’ ‘Truly, a help in time of need; for none can hope to lead the Pack for ever,’ said Bagheera. Akela said nothing. He was thinking of the time that comes to every leader of every pack when his strength goes from him and he gets feebler and feebler, till at last he is killed by the wolves and a new leader comes up—to be killed in his turn. ‘Take him away,’ he said to Father Wolf, ‘and train him as befits one of the Free People.’ And that is how Mowgli was entered into the Seeonee Wolf-Pack at the price of a bull and on Baloo’s good word.

From “The Jungle Book” by Rudyard Kipling.

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1 comment:

Ashish Nimsarkar said...

Respected Sir,
Very nice blogs and I enjoy reading them.Thank you for the rich information.