Whilst the population of tigers is on the rise in India, the Indian wolf is facing all sorts of trouble as explained by this article by Sneha Mahale. Ms Mahale’s article says that India now has fewer than 3,100 wolves as the areas in which they live face encroachment.

What’s even more tragic is how wolves are having to change their behaviour to survive in India’s booming economy: “In landscapes modified by human activity, the Indian wolf may be adapting by suppressing their iconic howl, finds a 2023 study from Maharashtra. Initially intended to look into the frequency and timing of wolf howls to use acoustics as a tool for population surveys, the results took the researchers by surprise.

“However, early patterns guided us down an unforeseen path. The striking and frankly worrying revelation that emerged was that in heavily human-altered landscapes, wolves might be adapting by suppressing their howl,” explains Sougata Sadhukhan, one of the study authors and an assistant professor at the Institute of Environment Education and Research, Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune….

The team focused on howls used for maintaining territories, intra-pack communication and social bonding. Beyond indicating their physical presence, howls play a crucial role in instilling fear and influencing foraging behaviour among the lower cascade.

Through playback surveys, where the team plays simulated howls, the study uncovered a disparity in their howl response based on the distance to villages. In areas of eastern Maharashtra that were relatively less disturbed by human activity, wolves largely avoided responding to howling surveys within 1200 metres of villages but responded to those conducted farther away (more than 1200 metres). In areas of western Maharashtra that were highly occupied by human settlements, wolves exhibited a high response rate within 1200 m from villages, but the rate decreased within 500 m of the villages to perhaps avoid easy detection of the wolves.

Data obtained from collared wolves demonstrated significantly high response rates in their home-range core, but decreased if the core area was close to a village. The researchers concluded that howling too close to a village was disadvantageous, despite the increase in their tolerance for responding to surveys in human-dominated landscapes.

“This finding, while surprising, isn’t entirely shocking. Human disturbance can impact animal behaviour and howling can draw unwanted attention, potentially increasing conflict and risk. However, the lack of response in the home range core is surprising, if the core is close to the village,” says Sadhukhan.”

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