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Canis lupus pallipes

Canis lupus pallipes (*)

Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Mammalia
Subclassis: Theria
Infraclassis: Placentalia
Ordo: Carnivora
Subordo: Caniformia
Familia: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: Canis lupus
Subspecies: C. l. pallipes

Vernacular names
العربية: ذئب إيراني
English: Iranian Wolf
Italiano: Lupo iraniano
Русский: Азиатский волк


* Canis lupus pallipes on Mammal Species of the World.
Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, 2 Volume Set edited by Don E. Wilson, DeeAnn M. Reeder


Indian wolf and Iranian Wolf are two common names for Canis lupus pallipes, a subspecies of grey wolf which inhabits western India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and southern Israel. Some experts have suggested at least some C. lupus pallipes populations be re-classified a canid species distinct from C. lupus. Other experts believe it may be the wolf subspecies from which the domestic dog evolved, pointing to its small size and comparatively docile behaviour, although they are also known maneaters. While their populations are stable or increasing in some countries, in others they may be endangered. C. l. pallipes has been featured in different roles in different west Asian cultures; treated as vermin or menace in some times and places, respected and protected in others.

Taxonomy and genetics
Indian wolf skull from the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle

British naturalist, W. T. Blanford, working for the Geological Survey of India, described the modern Indian wolf as a separate species from the grey wolf and called it Canis pallipes in 1888. He distinguished Canis pallipes from Canis laniger (the Himalayan wolf) by its smaller size, much shorter and thinner winter coat, and smaller skull and teeth.[1]

In 1941 British taxonomist R. I. Pocock classified both as separate subspecies of the gray wolf – C.lupus pallipes and C.lupus laniger, respectively. Today, the Himalayan wolf originally identified by Hodgson in 1847 (C.lupus laniger) is generally considered to be part of the Eurasian wolf subspecies, C.lupus lupus, whereas the Indian wolf (C.lupus pallipes) is considered to be a subspecies, or a species in its own right.[1]

Indian wolves are likely of a much older lineage than northern wolves. Morphologically, Indian wolves greatly resemble primitive European wolves from 500,000 years ago.[2] Recent DNA research suggests that Indian wolf populations in lowland peninsular India have not interbred significantly with any other wolf population for nearly 400,000 years, which could possibly make them an altogether separate species from the grey wolf.[1]

Indian wolves, along with Arabian and Tibetan wolves, are among the wolf subspecies generally suspected to have been the main ancestors of domestic dogs.[3] The basis for this is that Indian wolves share several characteristics with dogs which are absent in northern wolves: their brains are proportionately smaller than northern wolves, their carnassials weaker, and their eyes are larger and rounder. Their vocalisations also include a higher proportion of short, sharp barking [2] and they seldom howl, unlike northern wolves.[4] Also, their small size and less aggressive demeanor in captivity than northern wolves would have made them much easier to tame.[2][5]


The pelage is shorter than that of northern wolves, and has little to no underfur.[6] Fur colour ranges from greyish red to reddish white with black tips. The dark V shaped stripe over the shoulders is much more pronounced than in northern wolves. The underparts and legs are more or less white.[4] The skins of Indian wolves in the British Museum are almost invariably browner than those of European wolves.[7] Indian wolves, like Arabian wolves, have short, thin fur in summer, though the hair on their back remains long even in summer. It is thought that this is an adaptation against solar radiation. The winter coat is long, though not as long as northern subspecies.[8] The contour hairs on the shoulder measure 50–85 mm in length, 35–65 mm on the flanks. Even the longest hairs never reach the same lengths as those of the Tibetan wolf.[9]

Indian wolves are generally smaller than European wolves, being 3 feet in length and 26 inches high at the shoulder, while the tail is 16 to 18 inches long.[6] In their western range, Indian wolves can be distinguished from Arabian wolves by their larger size, darker fur, and proportionately larger heads.[10] Some specimens may exhibit fused pads on the third and fourth toes. The frequency of these fused paw pads can be as high as 100% in India, 80-90% in the western part of the Arabian peninsula and 20% in northern Palestine.[2] In northern Israel, Indian wolves are split into two different populations known as "Mediterranean pallipes" for those living in areas with over 400 mm of rainfall, and "Desert pallipes" for those in areas with under that amount. Specimens from the former kind of habitat tend to be the largest.[3]


Indian wolves do not form large packs like northern wolves, though they have been shown to tolerate crowding conditions in captivity better.[2] Packs typically consist of a nuclear family of six to eight animals, though pairs are more common,[6] thus making their social structure more similar to that of dingoes and coyotes than northern wolves.[2] They tend to breed from mid-October to late December. The cubs are born blind with floppy ears and a white mark on the chest which disappears with age.[4]

Indian wolves typically prey on antelopes, rodents and hares.[11] Indian wolves usually hunt in pairs when targeting antelopes. When hunting them, a single wolf will distract the herd with its presence, acting as a decoy, while its pack mate(s) attack(s) from behind.[12] A similar behaviour was noted by Sir Walter Elliot when wolves attacked sheep: the main pack would kill and drag off a sheep while the others distracted the herding dogs.[6] When working in packs, Indian wolves have been known to use ambush tactics: Walter Elliot observed three wolves chasing a gazelle herd through a ravine where two other wolves were lying in wait. It was popularly believed by ryots that prior to such a hunt, the ambushing wolves would dig holes and lie in them to conceal themselves from the herd running towards them. This behaviour was confirmed by McMaster, who observed wolves lying in wait in holes while an antelope herd approached them. In India, wolves hunting alone are known as Won-tola.[6]


Israel has a stable population of 150 protected wolves, both of the Indian and Arabian subspecies. Saudi Arabia has a stable population of 300-600 wolves which are given no legal protection. Turkey has an unknown number of wolves thought to be as high as 1,000. It is not known if they are increasing or decreasing. There are currently no recent or reliable estimates on wolf populations in Iran.[13] Syria has a lingering population of both Eurasian and Indian wolves which probably number between 200-300.[4] India has a decreasing population of roughly 1,000 wolves which are legally protected.[13] In India, the Indian Wolf is mainly distributed across the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. A study released in 2004 estimates that there are around 2000-3000 Indian Wolves.[14] The Indian wolf, because it takes children and preys on livestock, has long been hunted, though it is protected as an endangered species in India under schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.[15]

Relationships with humans

Attacks on humans

Indian wolves have a history of preying on children, a phenomenon called "child-lifting". In Uttar Pradesh, 1878, 624 people were killed by wolves, and 14 others were killed in Bengal during the same period.[16] 285 people were killed in the Central Provinces in 1900.[17] Between 1910-1915, 115 children were killed by wolves in Hazaribagh, Bihar, and 122 were killed in the same area in 1980-1986. In Jaunpur, Pratapgarh and Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh, wolves killed 21 children and mauled 16 others from March 27, 1996 to July 1, 1996. Between April 1993 and April 1995, five wolf packs attacked 80 children, 20 of which were rescued, in Hazaribagh West Koderma and Latehar Forest Divisions in Bihar State, India. The children were taken primarily in the summer period in the evening hours, and often within human settlements.[16] According to Robert Armitage Sterndale, wolves in India were seldom said to attack adults, though he mentioned in his Natural History of Mammals in India and Ceylon of an old woman being killed.[6]

In Iran, wolf attacks have been reported for millennia. As with India, there are many cases of wolves making off with small children. Adults have been attacked on occasion. Rashid Jamsheed, a US trained biologist wrote in his Big Game Animals of Iran of an incident in which a policeman was killed and partially eaten by three wolves after dismounting his horse to relieve himself.[18] On January 2, 2005 in the village of Vali-Asr, near the town of Torbat Heydariya, northeastern Iran, a wolf pack attacked a homeless man in front of witnesses. Although the police intervened, the man died of his wounds.[19] In early November 2008, a wolf attacked an 87 year old woman in the village cemetery of Kashan in central Iran, biting off one of her fingers, but was suffocated to death when she fought back.[20]

A miniature, depicting a wolf hunt in ancient Persia

In India, Hindus traditionally considered the hunting of wolves, even dangerous ones as taboo, for fear of causing a bad harvest. The Santals however considered them fair game, as with every other forest dwelling animal.[21] During British rule in India, wolves were not considered game species, and were killed primarily in response to them attacking game herds, livestock and people. In 1876, in the North-West Provinces and Bihar State, 2,825 wolves were killed in response to 721 fatal attacks on humans.[22] Two years later, 2,600 wolves were killed in response to attacks leaving 624 humans dead.[23] Wolf exterminations remained a priority in the NWP and Awadh through to the 1920s, due to the fact that wolves were reportedly killing more people than any other predator in the region. Female cubs were bountied for 12 Indian annas, while males for 8. Higher rewards of 5 rupees for each adult and one for each cub were favoured in Jaunpur. In Gorakhpur, where human fatalities were highest in summer, the reward for an adult wolf was 4 rupees, with 3 for a cub. Acts of fraud were quite common, with some bounty hunters presenting golden jackals or simply exhuming the bodies of bountied wolves and presenting them to unsuspecting magistrates for rewards. Overall, it is thought that up to 100,000 wolves were killed in British India between 1871-1916.[22]

Mythology and literature

Wolves are occasionally mentioned in Hindu mythology. In the Harivamsa, Krishna, in order to convince the people of Vraja to migrate to Vrindavan, creates hundreds of wolves from his hairs, which frighten the inhabitants of Vraja into making the journey.[24] In the Rig Veda, Rijrsava is blinded by his father as punishment for having given 101 of his family's sheep to a she-wolf, who in turn prays to the Ashvins to restore his sight.[25] Bhima, the voracious son of the god Vayu, is described as Vrikodara, meaning "wolf-stomached".[26] In Persian mythology, wolves were a creation of the evil spirit Ahirman.[25] In Turkic mythology, the she-wolf Asena is associated with a Göktürk ethnogenic myth "full of shamanic symbolism".[27] The legend tells of how after a battle, only an injured young boy survives. Asena finds the injured child and nurses him back to health. He subsequently impregnates the wolf which then gives birth to ten half-wolf, half-human boys. One of these, Ashina, becomes their leader and founds the Ashina clan that ruled the Göktürks and other Turkic nomadic empires.[28][29] The Bible contains thirteen references to wolves, which are usually used as metaphors for greed and destructiveness.[10] Indian wolves take a central role in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books, in which a pack in the Sioni area adopts the feral child Mowgli and teaches him how to survive in the jungle whilst protecting him from the tiger Shere Khan and the marauding dhole.


1. ^ a b c "Smithsonian National Zoological Park". Hiding in Plain Sight. Retrieved August 19, 2006.
2. ^ a b c d e f Helmut Hemmer: Domestikation, Verarmung der Merkwelt. Vieweg, Braunschweig 1983, ISBN 3-528-08504-5. (also available in English: Domestication: the decline of environmental appreciation, translated by Neil Beckhaus, Edition: 2, illustrated. Published by Cambridge University Press, 1990. ISBN 0521341787, 9780521341783)
3. ^ a b Early Domesticated Dogs of the Near East by Tamar Dayan, Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University
4. ^ a b c d A monograph of the canidae by St. George Mivart, F.R.S, published by Alere Flammam. 1890
5. ^ Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training: Adaptation and learning, by Steven R. Lindsay, published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2000, ISBN 0813807549, 9780813807546, 410 pages
7. ^ The great and small game of India, Burma, and Tibet by Richard Lydekker, revised edition, published by Asian Educational Services, 1996
8. ^ Fred H. Harrington, Paul C. Paquet (1982). Wolves of the World: Perspectives of Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. p. 474. ISBN 0815509057.
9. ^ Fauna of British India: Mammals Volume 2 by R. I. Pocock, printed by Taylor and Francis, 1941
10. ^ a b Bright, Michael (2006). Beasts of the Field: The Revealing Natural History of Animals in the Bible. p. 346. ISBN 1861058314.
11. ^ Predation on Blackbuck by Wolves in Velavadar National Park, Gujarat, India
12. ^ The living animals of the world; a popular natural history with one thousand illustrations Volume 1: Mammals, by Cornish, C. J. (Charles John), 1858-1906; Selous, Frederick Courteney, 1851-1917; Johnston, Harry Hamilton, Sir, 1858-1927; Maxwell, Herbert, Sir, published by New York, Dodd, Mead and Company
13. ^ a b L. David Mech & Luigi Boitani (2001). Wolves: Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation. pp. 448. ISBN 0226516962.
14. ^ "Yadvendradev V. Jhala". Conservation of Indian Wolf. Retrieved August 19, 2006. [dead link]
15. ^ "Wolf Corner". Sub Species of the Wolf. Retrieved August 19, 2006.
16. ^ a b Child Lifting: Wolves in Hazaribagh, India by Kishan Singh Rajpurohit
17. ^ A Book of Man Eaters by Brigadier General R.G. Burton, Mittal Publications
18. ^ WOLF ATTACKS ON HUMANS By T. R. Mader, Research Division
19. ^ Homeless man eaten by wolves in Iran
20. ^ Wolf slain by 87-year-old Iranian woman
21. ^ Maclean, Charles (1980). The Wolf Children. p. 336. ISBN 0140050531.
22. ^ a b Knight, John (2004). Wildlife in Asia: Cultural Perspectives. p. 280. ISBN 978-0-7007-1332-5.
23. ^ Bright, Michael (2002). Man-Eaters. p. 304. ISBN 0312981562.
24. ^ The Vishńu Puráńa: A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition by Horace Hayman Wilson, Fitzedward Hall, published by Trubner, 1868
25. ^ a b Mythical animals in Indian art by K. Krishna Murthy, published by Abhinav Publications, 1985, ISBN 0391032879
26. ^ Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic by W. J. Wilkins, published Kessinger Publishing, 2004, ISBN 0766188817
27. ^ André Wink. Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World. Brill Academic Publishers, 2002. ISBN 0391041738. Page 65.
28. ^ Findley, Carter Vaughin. The Turks in World History. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0195177266. Page 38.
29. ^ Roxburgh, D. J. (ed.) Turks, A Journey of a Thousand Years. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005. Page 20.

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