Indian wolf

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Indian Wolf
Canis lupus pallipes Mysore Zoo 1.jpg
Indian wolf in Mysore Zoo
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: Canis lupus
Subspecies: C. l. pallipes
Trinomial name
Canis lupus pallipes
Sykes, 1831
Canis lupus pallipes distribution.png
Canis lupus pallipes distribution

The Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes), or Iranian wolf, Southern-East Asian Wolf and Asian Wolf, is a gray wolf subspecies inhabiting South and south-western Asia.[1] Some experts[who?] have suggested at least some C. lupus pallipes populations be reclassified as Canis indica—a canid species distinct from C. lupus. Other experts[who?] believe it may be the wolf subspecies from which the domestic dog was domesticated, pointing to its small size and comparatively docile behaviour, although it is also known as a man-eater. While their populations are stable or increasing in some countries, in others they may be endangered. C. l. pallipes has been featured in different roles in different west Asian cultures; treated as vermin or menace in some times and places, respected and protected in others.


Indian wolf, Islamabad, Pakistan

Indian wolves are generally smaller than Eurasian wolves, being 3 ft (91 cm) in length and 26 in (66 cm) high at the shoulder, while the tail is 16 to 18 in (41 to 46 cm) long. The pelage is shorter than that of northern wolves, and has little to no underfur.[2] Fur colour ranges from greyish-red to reddish-white with black tips. The dark, V-shaped stripe over the shoulders is much more pronounced than in northern wolves. The underparts and legs are more or less white.[3] The skins of Indian wolves in the British Museum are almost invariably browner than those of European wolves.[4] Indian wolves, like Arabian wolves, have short, thin fur in summer, though the hair on their backs remains long even in summer. This is thought to be an adaptation against solar radiation. The winter coat is long, though not as long as northern subspecies.[5] The contour hairs on the shoulder measure 50–85 mm in length, 35–65 mm on the flanks. Even the longest hairs never reach the same lengths as those of the Tibetan wolf.[6]

In their western range, Indian wolves can be distinguished from Arabian wolves by their larger size, darker fur, and proportionately larger heads.[7] Some specimens may exhibit fused pads on the third and fourth toes. The frequency of these fused paw pads can be as high as 100% in India, 80–90% in the western part of the Arabian peninsula, and 20% in northern Palestine.[8] In northern Israel, Indian wolves are split into two populations known as "Mediterranean pallipes" for those living in areas with over 400 mm of rainfall, and "desert pallipes" for those in areas with under that amount. Specimens from the former kind of habitat tend to be the largest.[9]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The distributional range of Indian wolves extends from south of the Himalayas in India and Pakistan, through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Turkey, and Israel, to the Sinai in Egypt.[1]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

Indian wolves do not form large packs like northern wolves, though they have been shown to better tolerate crowding conditions in captivity. Their social structure is more similar to that of dingoes and coyotes than northern wolves.[8] Packs typically consist of a nuclear family of six to eight animals, though pairs are more common.[2] They tend to breed from mid-October to late December. The cubs are born blind with floppy ears and a white mark on their chests which disappears with age.[10]

Indian wolves typically prey on antelopes, rodents, and hares.[11] They usually hunt in pairs when targeting antelopes. When hunting them, a single wolf will distract the herd with its presence, acting as a decoy, while its pack mate(s) attack(s) from behind.[12] Red deer, wild boar, golden jackal, ibex, fallow deer, chamois, and roe deer are also significant food sources in south-eastern Turkey and south-western Iran.

A similar behavior was noted by Sir Walter Elliot when wolves attacked sheep: the main pack would kill and drag off a sheep while the others distracted the herding dogs. When working in packs, Indian wolves have been known to use ambush tactics: Walter Elliot observed three wolves chasing a gazelle herd through a ravine where two other wolves were lying in wait. It was popularly believed by ryots that prior to such a hunt, the ambushing wolves would dig holes and lie in them to conceal themselves from the herd running towards them. This behaviour was confirmed by McMaster, who observed wolves lying in wait in holes while an antelope herd approached them. In India, wolves hunting alone are known as won-tola.[2]


Israel has a stable population of 150 protected wolves, both of the Indian and Arabian subspecies. Saudi Arabia has a stable population of 300–600 wolves which are given no legal protection. Turkey has an unknown number of both Eurasian and Indian wolves thought to be as high as 7,000. It is not known if they are increasing or decreasing. Currently, no recent or reliable estimates on wolf populations in Iran are available.[13] Syria has a lingering population of which probably numbers between 200 and 300.[10]

India has a decreasing population of roughly 1,000 wolves, which are legally protected[13] and mainly distributed across the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. A study released in 2004 estimated around 2000–3000 Indian wolves.[14] The Indian wolf, because it takes 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.[15][16] In India, wolves are mainly found outside of protected reserves and feed mainly on domestic animals, such as goats or sheep. However, in areas where natural prey is still abundant, for example in Velavadar National Park or Panna Tiger Reserve, they prefer natural prey species.[17]

Taxonomic history[edit]

Indian wolf skull from the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris

The Indian wolf was first described in 1831 by the British ornithologist William Henry Sykes under the binomial Canis pallipes.[18] In 1888, the British naturalist Blanford, working for the Geological Survey of India, described the Indian wolf as a separate species from the grey wolf and distinguished Canis pallipes from Canis laniger (the Himalayan wolf) by its smaller size, much shorter and thinner winter coat, and smaller skull and teeth.[19]

In 1941, the British taxonomist Pocock subordinated both to Canis lupus under the trinomials Canis lupus pallipes and Canis lupus laniger, respectively.[6] Today, the Himalayan wolf initially described by Hodgson in 1847 (C. lupus laniger) is generally considered to be part of the Eurasian wolf subspecies, C. lupus lupus, whereas the Indian wolf (C. lupus pallipes) is considered to be a subspecies, or a species in its own right.

Indian wolves are likely of a much older lineage than northern wolves. Morphologically, Indian wolves greatly resemble primitive European wolves from 500,000 years ago.[8] Recent DNA research suggests the Indian wolf populations in lowland peninsular India have not interbred significantly with any other wolf population for nearly 400,000 years, which could possibly make them an altogether separate species from the grey wolf.[19]

Indian wolves, along with Arabian and Tibetan wolves, are among the wolf subspecies generally suspected to have been the main ancestors of domestic dogs.[9] The basis for this is that Indian wolves share several characteristics with dogs which are absent in northern wolves: their brains are proportionately smaller than northern wolves, their carnassials weaker, and their eyes are larger and rounder. Their vocalisations also include a higher proportion of short, sharp barking. Their small size and less aggressive demeanor in captivity than northern wolves would have made them much easier to tame.[8] They seldom howl, unlike northern wolves.[10][20]

Relationships with humans[edit]

Attacks on humans[edit]

According to Robert Armitage Sterndale, wolves in India were seldom said to attack adults. He mentioned merely an old woman having been killed.[2]

Indian wolves have a history of preying on children, a phenomenon called "child-lifting". In 1878, 624 people were killed by wolves in Uttar Pradesh, and 14 others were killed in Bengal during the same period.[21] In 1900, 285 people were killed in the Central Provinces.[22] Between 1910 and 1915, 115 children were killed by wolves in Hazaribagh, and 122 were killed in the same area in 1980–1986. In Jaunpur, Pratapgarh and Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh, wolves killed 21 children and mauled 16 others from March 27, 1996 to July 1, 1996. Between April 1993 and April 1995, five wolf packs attacked 80 children, 20 of whom were rescued, in Hazaribagh, West Koderma and Latehar Forest Divisions. The children were taken primarily in the summer period in the evening hours, and often within human settlements.[21]

In Iran, wolf attacks have been reported for millennia. As with India, many cases of wolves making off with small children have been reported. Adults have been attacked on occasion, including a recent incident in which a policeman was killed and partially eaten by three wolves after dismounting his horse to relieve himself.[23] On January 2, 2005 in the village of Vali Asr, near the town of Torbat Heydariya, northeastern Iran, a wolf pack attacked a homeless man in front of witnesses. Although the police intervened, the man died of his wounds.[24] In early November 2008, a wolf attacked an 87-year-old woman in the village cemetery of Kashan in central Iran, biting off one of her fingers, but was suffocated to death when she fought back.[25]


A miniature, depicting a wolf hunt in ancient Persia

In India, Hindus traditionally considered the hunting of wolves, even dangerous ones, as taboo, for fear of causing a bad harvest. The Santals, however, considered them fair game, as with every other forest-dwelling animal.[26] During British rule in India, wolves were not considered game species, and were killed primarily in response to them attacking game herds, livestock, and people. In 1876, in the North-West Provinces and Bihar State, 2,825 wolves were killed in response to 721 fatal attacks on humans.[27] Two years later, 2,600 wolves were killed in response to attacks leaving 624 humans dead.[28] Wolf exterminations remained a priority in the NWP and Awadh through to the 1920s, because wolves were reportedly killing more people than any other predator in the region. Female cubs were bountied for 12 Indian annas, while males for eight. Higher rewards of five rupees for each adult and one for each cub were favoured in Jaunpur. In Gorakhpur, where human fatalities were highest in summer, the reward for an adult wolf was four rupees, with three for a cub. Acts of fraud were quite common, with some bounty hunters presenting golden jackals or simply exhuming the bodies of bountied wolves and presenting them to unsuspecting magistrates for rewards. Overall, up to 100,000 wolves are thought to have been killed in British India between 1871 and 1916.[27]

Mythology and literature[edit]

Wolves are occasionally mentioned in Hindu mythology. In the Harivamsa, Krishna, to convince the people of Vraja to migrate to Vrindavan, creates hundreds of wolves from his hairs, which frighten the inhabitants of Vraja into making the journey.[29]

In the Rig Veda, Rijrsava is blinded by his father as punishment for having given 101 of his family's sheep to a she-wolf, who in turn prays to the Ashvins to restore his sight.[30]

Bhima, the voracious son of the god Vayu, is described as Vrikodara, meaning "wolf-stomached".[31]

In Persian mythology, wolves were a creation of the evil spirit Ahirman.[30]

In Turkic mythology, the she-wolf Asena is associated with a Göktürk ethnogenic myth "full of shamanic symbolism".[32] The legend tells of how after a battle, only an injured young boy survives. Asena finds the injured child and nurses him back to health. He subsequently impregnates the wolf, which then gives birth to 10 half-wolf, half-human boys. One of these, Ashina, becomes their leader and founds the Ashina clan that ruled the Göktürks and other Turkic nomadic empires.[33][34]

The Bible contains 13 references to wolves, which are usually used as metaphors for greed and destructiveness.[7]

Indian wolves take a central role in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books, in which a pack in the Sioni area adopts the feral child Mowgli and teaches him how to survive in the jungle whilst protecting him from the tiger Shere Khan and the marauding dhole.


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