Tibetan wolf

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Tibetan wolf
Le dernier loup - Les coulisses - l'entraînement des loups 2.png
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. lupus
Subspecies: C. l. chanco
Trinomial name
Canis lupus chanco
Gray, 1863
  • coreanus (Abe, 1923)
  • dorogostaiskii (Skalon, 1936)
  • ekloni (Przewalski, 1883)
  • filchneri (Matschie, 1907)
  • karanorensis (Matschie, 1907)
  • laniger (Hodgson, 1433)
  • niger (Sclater, 1874)
  • tschiliensis (Matschie, 1907)
  • saxicolor (Smith, 1834)[1]

The Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco), also known as the woolly wolf, is a grey wolf subspecies native to Central Asia from Turkestan throughout Tibet to Mongolia, northern China and the Indian subcontinent. In Tibet and Ladakh it is known as chánkú or shanko.[2]

The Tibetan wolf was once thought by some scientists to be the most likely ancestor of the domestic dog, on account of its small size and mandible morphology, noting that the uppermost part of the lower jaw is turned back on both the Tibetan wolf and the dog, though not so in other grey wolf subspecies.[3] This has been disproven in light of its whole genome being sequenced, which indicated that dogs derive from a now extinct population of Pleistocene wolves.[4]


The Tibetan wolf was first described by British zoologist John Edward Gray in 1863 after having received a skin donated to the British Museum from Chinese Tartary. Calling it the "golden wolf", he described the specimen as being similar to the European wolf in dentition and cranial measurements, but with shorter legs and a greater degree of fulvous-coloured fur on the ears, flanks and limbs.[5] In 1923, Japanese zoologist Yoshio Abe proposed separating the wolves of the Korean Peninsula from C. l. chanco into their own subspecies, C. l. coreanus, on account of their narrower muzzles. This distinction was contested by Reginald Pocock, who dismissed it as a local variant of the Chinese wolf. Aside from the dubious morphological distinction, later writers have dismissed Abe's classification as nationalistically-motivated folk taxonomy.[6]

In 2009, the Tibetan wolf was found to be genetically distinct enough to propose a separate species.[7][8] In 2011, another genetic study found that the Tibetan wolf might be an archaic pedigree within the wolf subspecies, however the study defined Canis lupus laniger as the Tibetan wolf distinct from Canis lupus chanco the Mongolian wolf.[9] In 2013, a major genetic study of dogs and wolves included the DNA sequences of 2 Tibetan wolves but then "excluded two aberrant modern wolf sequences from this analysis since their phylogenetic positioning suggests only a distant relationship to all extant gray wolves and their taxonomic classification as a member of Canis lupus or a separate sub-species is a matter of debate."[10]:Sup A 2016 study sequencing the whole genome of wolves and dogs throughout the world found that the Tibetan wolf is the most highly-divergent of the Old World wolves, and had suffered a historical population bottleneck, having only recently recolonized the Tibetan Plateau. Glaciation may have caused its habitat loss, genetic isolation then local adaptation.[4]

The taxonomic reference Mammal Species of the World (2005) does not recognize Canis lupus laniger, however NCBI/Genbank does list Canis lupus laniger[11] as the Tibetan wolf, and separately Canis lupus chanco [12] as the Mongolian wolf.


A Tibetan wolf killed in 1938. Note the proportionately short legs.

The color of the pelt varies seasonally: on the winter coat, the back and tail are variegated by black and white or buff countour hairs, which are most defined on the back, where they form a black and white saddle running from the shoulders to the loins. The wool beneath the contour hair is of a brightish buff to clear grey colour, while the belly and outer side of the legs are buff or whitish. Occasionally, a dark stripe of varying intensity may be present on the forelegs. The ears are drabby grey or rich ocherous. The crown and muzzle are closely tinted with black speckles, which extend below the eye on to the upper cheeks and ears, isolating a white spot. The chin is varies from blackish to almost white. The contour hairs of the winter fur measure 100–120 mm (3.9–4.7 in) on the shoulders, 70–80 mm (2.8–3.1 in) on the back and 40–60 mm (1.6–2.4 in) on the flanks.[2] It is a smallish subspecies that rarely exceeds 45 kg (99 lb).[13]

The Tibetan wolf is larger than the Indian Wolf and known as chankodi from Kumaon.[14] Black wolves in Tibet are known locally as chanko nagpo, and are considered bolder and more aggressive than the pale coloured variety.[15]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Dark-furred specimen at the Annapurna Conservation Area.

Between 1847 and 1923, Tibetan wolves have been described under various scientific names from Chinese Tartary, Tibet, Kashmir, the Gobi Desert, and from near Seoul in Korea. Their distributional range extends from the Russian Pamir, Chinese Turkestan, Tien Shan, Mongolia and northern China.[16] Their range in China includes Shensi, Sichuan, and Yunnan. In the 20th century, wolves were not recorded on the southern slopes of the Himalayas in Nepal.[2]

In the western Himalayas they are known to occur in Kashmir and Lahul, Himachal Pradesh, and in Pakistan's Chitral District.[17] Between 2005 and 2008, sightings and scat of Tibetan wolves were recorded in the alpine meadows above the tree line north-east of the Nanda Devi National Park in Uttarakhand.[18]

In November 2013, a Tibetan wolf was photographed by a camera trap installed at about 3,500 m (11,500 ft) altitude on the Sunderdhunga Glacier in Bageshwar district, Uttarakhand.[19]

Ecology and behaviour[edit]

Tibetan wolves hunt singly or in pairs, sometimes in groups of three, but only rarely in larger numbers. They are not nocturnal but rest during the heat of the day. They feed largely on hares throughout the year, marmots in summer, and large numbers of goa and sheep in winter, when deep snow impedes the mobility of ungulates. They rarely succeed in catching bharal, due to the rougher ground they frequent.[2]

The intensity of livestock depredation was assessed in three villages within the proposed Gya-Miru Wildlife Sanctuary in Ladakh, where Tibetan wolves were the most important predators accounting for 60% of the total livestock losses, followed by the snow leopard and Eurasian lynx. Domestic goats were the most frequent victims (32%), followed by sheep (30%), yaks (15%), and horses (13%). Wolves killed horses significantly more and goats less than would be expected from their relative abundance.[20]


Continued threats to wolves include poisoning and deliberate persecution due to depredation on livestock; fragmentation of habitat, with resulting areas becoming too small for populations with long-term viability. There is sustainable utilization of the species' fur in Mongolia.[21]

Historical sources indicate that wolves occasionally killed children in Ladakh and Lahoul.[2] In Japanese Korea in 1928, wolves claimed more human victims than tigers, leopards, bears and boars combined.[22]


Canis lupus populations from Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan are listed on CITES Appendix I.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wozencraft, W.C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Pocock, R. I. (1941). Canis lupus chanco Pages 86–90 in: Fauna of British India: Mammals Volume 2. Taylor and Francis, London
  3. ^ Olsen, S.J., Olsen, J.W. (1977). The Chinese wolf, ancestor of new world dogs. Science 197: 533–535.
  4. ^ a b Fan, Zhenxin; Silva, Pedro; Gronau, Ilan; Wang, Shuoguo; Armero, Aitor Serres; Schweizer, Rena M.; Ramirez, Oscar; Pollinger, John; Galaverni, Marco; Ortega Del-Vecchyo, Diego; Du, Lianming; Zhang, Wenping; Zhang, Zhihe; Xing, Jinchuan; Vilà, Carles; Marques-Bonet, Tomas; Godinho, Raquel; Yue, Bisong; Wayne, Robert K. (2016). "Worldwide patterns of genomic variation and admixture in gray wolves". Genome Research 26 (2): 163. doi:10.1101/gr.197517.115. PMID 26680994
  5. ^ Gray, J. E. (1863). Notice of the Chanco or Golden Wolf (Canis chanco) from Chinese Tartary. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London: 94
  6. ^ Walker, B. L. (2009), The lost wolves of Japan, University of Washington Press, pp. 42-44, ISBN 0295989939
  7. ^ Meng, Chao; Zhang, Honghai; Meng, Qingcheng (2009). "Mitochondrial genome of the Tibetan wolf". Mitochondrial DNA. 20 (2–3): 61. doi:10.1080/19401730902852968. PMID 19347764. 
  8. ^ Zhao, C; Zhang, H; Zhang, J; Chen, L; Sha, W; Yang, X; Liu, G (2014). "The complete mitochondrial genome sequence of the Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus laniger)". Mitochondrial DNA: 1. doi:10.3109/19401736.2013.865181. PMID 24438245. 
  9. ^ Zhang, Honghai; Chen, Lei (2010). "The complete mitochondrial genome of dhole Cuon alpinus: Phylogenetic analysis and dating evolutionary divergence within canidae". Molecular Biology Reports. 38 (3): 1651. doi:10.1007/s11033-010-0276-y. PMID 20859694. 
  10. ^ Thalmann, O. (2013). "Complete Mitochondrial Genomes of Ancient Canids Suggest a European Origin of Domestic Dogs". Science. AAAS. 342 (6160): 871–874. doi:10.1126/science.1243650. PMID 24233726. 
  11. ^ "Canis lupus laniger". 
  12. ^ "Canis lupus chanco". 
  13. ^ Geptner, V. G., Nasimovich, A. A., Bannikov, A. G. (1972). Mlekopitaiuščie Sovetskogo Soiuza. Vysšaia Škola, Moskva. (In Russian; English translation: Heptner, V.G., Nasimovich, A. A., Bannikov, A. G.; Hoffmann, R.S. (1988). Mammals of the Soviet Union. Vol II, Part 1a: Sinenia and Carnivora (sea cows, wolves and bears). Smithsonian Institution and the National Science Foundation, Washington DC).
  14. ^ Jerdon, T.C. (1874). The Indian wolf. Pages 140–141 in: The mammals of India: a natural history of all the animals known to inhabit continental India. John Wheldon, London.
  15. ^ Lydekker, R. (1900). The Tibetan Wolf. Pages 339–340 in: The great and small game of India, Burma, and Tibet. R. Ward, London.
  16. ^ Ellerman, J. R., Morrison-Scott, T. C. S. (1966). Checklist of Palaearctic and Indian mammals 1758 to 1946. Second edition. British Museum of Natural History, London. Page 219.
  17. ^ Aggarwal, R. K.; Ramadevi, J.; L. Singh (2003). "Ancient origin and evolution of the Indian wolf: evidence from mitochondrial DNA typing of wolves from Trans-Himalayan region and Pennisular India". Genome Biology: 6. doi:10.1186/gb-2003-4-6-p6. Retrieved 28 August 2013. 
  18. ^ Bhattacharya, T. Sathyakumar, S. (2010).Sighting of Tibetan Wolf Canis lupus chanko in the Greater Himalayan range of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, Uttarakhand, India: a new record. Journal of Threatened Taxa 2 (12): 1345–1348.
  19. ^ State Editions Dehradun 2014. "Snow Leopard, Tibetan Wolf sighted". The Pioneer, 15 February 2014.
  20. ^ Namgail, T., Fox, J.L., Bhatnagar, Y.V. (2007). Carnivore-Caused Livestock Mortality in Trans-Himalaya. Environmental Management 39 (4): 490–496 Abstract preview
  21. ^ a b Mech, L.D., Boitani, L. (IUCN SSC Wolf Specialist Group) (2010). "Canis lupus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  22. ^ Neff, R. (2007). Devils in the Darkness: Korea’s Gray Wolves. OhmyNews, 23 May 2007.

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