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Himalayan Wolf, Unique Species Adapted to Life on World’s Tallest Mountain Range

The Himalayan wolf is an evolutionarily unique species adapted to life in the high-altitude habitats of the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau in Asia. Considered an older species than contemporary subspecies of gray wolf in North America and Eurasia, the Himalayan wolf has been largely overlooked by science and conservation until very recently.

In 2014, researchers from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology began to study Himalayan wolves. They studied the Himalayan wolf’s ability to cope with the low-oxygen environment of high altitudes and discovered that part of the wolf’s genome allows the animals’ blood to better capture and release oxygen. In their research published today in the Journal of Biogeography, the scientists show that evolutionarily unique genetic markers, which are not found in other wolves, are the key to the Himalayan wolf’s incredible ability to thrive in the world’s tallest mountain range.

These findings can now be used as strong evidence to justify, 1) critical conservation action, and 2) official taxonomic recognition by giving the Himalayan wolf a scientific name.

Learn more about the Himalayan wolf’s evolutionary history, foraging ecology, unique adaptations to high-altitude living, and the importance of developing its long-term conservation plan from University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology lead researcher, Dr Geraldine Werhahn, in the Wolf Conservation Center’s webinar recorded in December 2019.