Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Canis lupus chanco
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Canis lupus chanco
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The Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco), also known as the woolly wolf, is a gray wolf subspecies native to Asia from Turkestan throughout Tibet to Mongolia, northern China and the Indian subcontinent. In Tibet and Ladakh it is known as chánkú or shanko.
The Tibetan wolf is 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.
The fur of the Tibetan wolf is fulvous, on the back longer, rigid and intermixed with black and grey hairs. Its throat, chest, belly and inside of the legs is pure white, its head pale grey-brown, and the forehead grizzled with short black and grey hairs. Its skull is very like the Eurasian wolf, but the legs are shorter.
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. It is a smallish subspecies that rarely exceeds 45 kg (99 lb).
The Tibetan wolf is larger than the Indian Wolf and known as chankodi from Kumaon. Black wolves in Tibet are known locally as chanko nagpo, and are considered bolder and more aggressive than the pale coloured variety.
Distribution and habitat
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. 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.
In the western Himalayas they are known to occur in Kashmir and Lahul, Himachal Pradesh, and in Pakistan's Chitral District. 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.
Ecology and behaviour
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.
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.
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.
Historical sources indicate that wolves occasionally killed children in Ladakh and Lahoul. In Japanese Korea in 1928, wolves claimed more human victims than tigers, leopards, bears and boars combined.
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