Is the Indian Wolf Endangered?

The medium-sized Indian wolf is still a bit of a mystery. Much less is known about it than the much larger North American gray wolf. Is the Indian wolf endangered like its cousins around the world? Read on to find out more and don’t forget to subscribe!

Is the Indian Wolf Endangered?

Yes, it is. Wolves were introduced along with other animals like tigers to newly created sanctuaries in India in the 1970s. The tiger population didn’t take off but the wolf population did. Unfortunately, there have been many lethal conflicts with humans (unlike the Holarctic gray wolf) that have led to the Indian Wolf being hunted and eradicated in any area not a part of the sanctuaries. While this is one of the genetically oldest wolves on the planet today, not much is known about this animal compared to its counterparts.

Indian Wolf

Lone Indian Wolf
Indian Wolf (Canis indica)

The Indian wolf (Canis indica) is a type of gray wolf that is much older genetically than the gray wolves found in North America (Holarctic Gray wolf). It is found in the warmer climates of Southwest Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

Unlike the European or North American gray wolf, the Indian wolf doesn’t have much of a coat since it doesn’t need it for warmth. In fact, it does not even have much of an undercoat. In human terms, it’s like the Indian wolf is wearing a t-shirt while the Holarctic wolf is dressed in a parka.

The Indian wolf is 22–28 in (57–72 cm) tall at the shoulder. Males are heavier and max out at 55 lbs (25 kg) and females top out the scales are 49 lbs (22 kg). To put it into perspective, the large wolf known as Romeo who was big even by gray wolf standards was estimated to weigh 140 lbs. Indian wolves are little in comparison.

The fur is grayish-red to reddish-white with gray tones. The coloration kind of reminds me of the American Red wolf. Unlike their relatives in North America, these wolves rarely howl. Their packs are also smaller with at most 8 wolves. Each member hunts for its own food unless they are targeting bigger prey like antelopes. In this case, they will pair up with one distracting while the other attacks from behind.

North American gray wolves will work as a pack and take a large animal like an elk and then spend the next few days consuming the carcass. The order in which each animal gets to eat depends on their social standing within the pack. Indian wolves seem to prey mostly on smaller prey like rodents, hares, and raccoons.

Where are Indian Wolves Found?

These wolves are found in some very highly populated and/or conflict-prone countries. Their distribution includes India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Israel, Turkey, Iran, and Syria. The landscapes they call home range from grass/scrublands and forests.

Yes they are Endangered

A study published in Molecular Ecology in 2021 found that the DNA of Indian wolves was distinct from the Tibetan wolf. It is now theorized that the Indian wolf may actually be basal to the Tibetan wolf. This new genetic finding means that the Indian wolf may be far more endangered and distinct than scientists previously thought.

In fact, the Indian wolf is basal to all other wolves except the older-lineage Himalayan wolf. It is thought to have diverged 270,000 to 400,000 years ago from the common ancestor of the Holarctic gray wolf.

Interactions with Humans

Indian Wolf looking at the camera
Indian Wolf

Apparently, there is a history of Indian wolves preying on children though I’m not sure how scientific that history is. It seems like this wolf is also the subject of folklore and legend same as its European ancestors.

While it does seem like wolves at some point in Europe (Scotland) were known to dig up graves and eat the corpses, the idea that Indian wolves would prey on children is a little suspect but appears to have some basis. Whatever the case, it is still common in the region to tell children that the wolves will get them if they misbehave.

There were only 2 verified wild wolf attacks on humans leading to fatalities in North America. One happened in Alaska in blizzard conditions and it is hypothesized the wolves mistook the human for a deer. The other happened in Saskatchewan, Canada, near a mining camp. It was discovered that wolves in this area were being fed scraps by humans and may have come to associate humans with food. There appear to be many more attacks on humans by the Indian wolf and I’ll get into possible reasons why below.

New York Times Article

An article in the New York Times in 1996 covered an increase in wolf attacks in India. Apparently, some children were taken. In the 90s, nearly half of India’s 1 billion people were illiterate and vulnerable to superstition. The reports of attacks ranged from wolves attacking people to werewolves to infiltrators from Pakistan dressed up as wolves.

As a result, there was a suspicion of strangers in the area where the attacks occurred which caused villagers to turn on them and sometimes each other. Up to 20 lynchings were reported as a result with 150 people arrested.

crowded street in India
Attukal,Trivandrum India

The resurgence of wolves in the area came about due to conservation efforts in which tigers and wolves were reintroduced to newly created animal sanctuaries in the 1970s. The tigers did not flourish but the wolves did and their population surpassed the sanctuary. Unfortunately, the loss of habitat in the heavily populated country put them on a collision course with humans.

In all likelihood, according to a conservationist at the time, the human killings were most likely attributed to a single pack that had come to view humans as food. The area in which the killings occurred runs about 60 miles north to south and 40 miles east to west and has about 9 million people. That is 3750 people/square mile.

With so many people, wild prey is scarce and even livestock would be hard to come by. Many of these people live in poor conditions and sleep outside at night due to the heat which leaves them vulnerable to attack. These wolves probably attacked out of hunger as they lack prey to hunt and had to share the landscape with all of these people.

Final Thoughts

The Indian wolf is very different than the wolves found in North America. They are smaller, have a thin coat of fur, prefer to hunt alone or in groups of 2, and have smaller packs of 6-8 individuals. They also do not howl. They are basal (genetically older) to the North American Grey Wolf and it’s no surprise that they would behave differently. These differences may explain why this type of wolf seems to be more prone to attacking humans than its relatives around the globe.


How you can Help Wolves

Wolves are in trouble in most places they are found.

  • On a national level, you could write to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • You could donate to groups like the WWF or Defenders of Wildlife who stand up for animals like the Gray wolf. If you live in Canada, you could consider a gift to Exposed Wildlife Conservancy. In British Columbia you can also check out Pacific Wild.

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4 thoughts on “Is the Indian Wolf Endangered?”

  1. This is a fascinating read.  I didn’t know that there was this other species of wolves in addition to the wolves that were reintroduced to places where they were hunted to extinction (like the North American ones re-introduced to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem from Canada).

    Sadly, I’m not surprised by the demise of the wolves at the hands of humans because the economic rules of society dictate that if you don’t do whatever it takes to profit (even if it means trashing the planet as well as being jerks to other people), then you simply cease to exist as a business and someone else without such moral conscience will take over.

    It’s the root cause of why we’re in the predicament we’re in as a society.  But you can’t blame people for behaving the way they do if their financial survival depends on it.  That’s where the economic rules of the game must be consistent with respecting the planet and the people who take care of it.  

    Unfortunately, those who have profited from the status quo have such a war chest that they can no smear any well-meaning entities or corrupt the politics so the rules of the game can’t be corrected.  In fact, it’s so out-of-whack that it’s to the extent that nothing can be done short of a revolt.  

    The environmental movement generally doesn’t get involved with armed conflicts, but as we can see around the world today, those with looser morals and a war chest can and will forcefully take up arms and try to get their way…

    Reply
  2. This was a very interesting read, I have never even stopped to think about Indian wolves even being a thing! Can you go into more detail about their behavior? Why is it that they do not howl? Is it based on a sort of intelligence? Like they attack because of lack of prey right, they need food, even if it is humans. Could it be a sense of stealth, to be able to sneak up upon their prey, instead of risk a fight/confrontation?

    Reply
    • I don’t think they have been as widely studied as wolves in Europe and North America. Maybe with all the people, they live around they evolved to be quieter and not give away their location.

      Reply

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