Researchers from the University of Oxford have discovered that the Himalayan wolf is a unique wolf characteristically adapted to the harsh life in the Asian high altitudes where low oxygen levels challenge all life forms.
The Himalayan wolf is considered an ancient wolf as it evolved prior to the contemporary grey wolf which is found in large parts of North America and Eurasia. Very little is known about the Himalayan wolf, because science and conservation have overlooked these high-altitude wolves as just another grey wolf until recently. As a result, very little research had been conducted on this wolf and no conservation action has been in place, risking a silent population decline of this wolf.
This research, published in the Journal of Biogeography, reveals this wolf’s evolutionary uniqueness based on many different genetic markers; including a genetic adaptation to cope with the high-altitude environment, which is an adaptation that is not found in any other wolf. The Himalayan wolf is a top carnivore in the Asian high-altitudes, which hold some of the last intact large wilderness areas on our planet. The protection of the Himalayan wolves is critical to preserve these ecosystems given that top carnivores are key to keep an ecosystem healthy and balanced. This becomes even more relevant when considering that the Asian high-altitudes hold the water resources for billions of people in south-east Asia and it is of global interest to keep those ecosystems and their wildlife populations healthy.