RZSS WildGenes Blog: The Himalayan Wolf Project

September 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last week I was in Kathmandu setting up genetic analysis methods for the Himalayan Wolf Project.

The project, which aims to provide a scientific basis for national and international conservation of the Himalayan wolf, is led by Geraldine Werhahn who is a researcher with the University of Oxford’s WildCru. RZSS Wildgenes is partnering with the project by providing design of genetic protocols and training to the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, a laboratory in the capital Kathmandu.

Geraldine has just returned from a two month expedition to the remote Humla Valley where she surveyed the wolves and collected their scats for analysis. In future, surveys will be expanded across the region where wolves are now predominantly confined to remote high valleys. Wolves are threatened by hunting both for protection against livestock loss and for the wildlife trade as their paws are popular talismans.

The survey team on the move through wolf habitat.

The survey team on the move through wolf habitat.

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Helen and the CMDN team at work testing the new protocols designed by the RZSS WildGenes lab team in the Kathmandu lab.

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Discussing some initial results.

Masala chai break with Kathmandu sky line.

Masala chai break with Kathmandu sky line.

Whilst Geraldine has been spending long days at altitude (over 4000m) looking for samples, the WildGenes team has been busy at the lab at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo developing genetic protocols for analysis of the samples. We did this with the help of the keepers from RZSS Highland Wildlife Park who collected scats from our very own grey wolves so that we could test-run the methods.

Once we had the protocols up and running, I could travel to Kathmandu to transfer them to the team at the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal who will conduct the bulk of the analysis. We are aiming to use genetic profiling to understand how many wolves there are, what sex they are and how evolutionarily different they are from Eurasian grey wolf.

Dr Helen Senn
RZSS Research Scientist

What it’s all about: The elusive Himalayan wolf.

What it’s all about: The elusive Himalayan wolf.

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Highland Wildlife Blog – Wolf Pack Politics

May 22, 2015 § 1 Comment

by Douglas Richardson, Head of Living Collections, RZSS Highland Wildlife Park

On the same day that our new female polar bear arrived from Denmark, another important carnivore arrived. Jax, a two year old male European wolf, arrived from Jarv Zoo in Sweden to be paired with our female wolf, Ruby.

Most people think of wolves as quite social animals, which they are, but establishing a compatible wolf pack is far from straightforward, and if not done properly, the wolves can start to set-about each other with potentially fatal results. To enable Jax to be introduced to Ruby, all Ruby’s relatives had to be moved to other collections to create a suitably stable environment for the new pair to settle. The basis of every wolf pack is the alpha male and female, who are unrelated to each other, and their offspring. As they mature, some of the offspring will disperse out of the pack to find mates and start their own packs and sometimes older offspring are driven out if the home territory does not have enough prey to sustain the pack. In a captive situation, older offspring would be sent to other zoos to start new packs as space can become an issue, not food supply.

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Ruby’s parents were introduced to each other in 2010 in what was our new wolf wood, opened by the Princess Royal in September of that year. In 2012 they reared their first litter of three males and two females, one of which was Ruby. In 2013 they reared a litter of two males and two females bringing the pack size up to 11. In 2014 Ruby’s mother became ill and had to be put to sleep, but when one of the alpha pair is lost, the whole pack structure can collapse into a snarling, fighting mass as the hierarchy is disrupted and the fights for dominance begin. A new park called Wild Place was looking for a single sex group of wolves and so we sent them all the males to reduce the aggravation in our group and avoid any mating between relatives. This left us with the four young females. Three other zoos in the UK were looking to add European wolves into their collections, so the coordinated plan was for us to send Ruby’s three sisters south to be joined by young males from continental zoos. Four male wolves were imported, with one, Jax, coming north to us, to start a new Highland Wildlife Park wolf dynasty.

After 24 hours in the adjacent off-exhibit enclosure and a suitable amount of observed interest from both wolves, the separating door was opened and the new pair was together. Initially Jax spent his time checking out the main enclosure whilst Ruby watched him closely. Because this new pack is just one male and one female in a large complex enclosure, there is no competition with others of the same sex and there is plenty of room to avoid confrontation. After a few weeks, all the signs indicate that we have a new bonded pair, and with some luck the next litter of wolf pups will be born one year from now.

This piece was first published in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald

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