The Wolf (Canis lupus) of Mewar Region, Rajasthan
Hills are also practically denuded of forests now. The ideal habitat of wolves has been claimed by man. Slowly the wolves have receded to barren hilly tracts. Due to the absence of wild animals and change of habitat, marked change can be observed in the habits of wolves of this region.
Down memory lane: This is reproduction of article by Dr Raza Tehsin – First Published in BNHS in 1987
Udaipur city is surrounded by Aravali Hills, the oldest mountain range of the world. East of Udaipur, beyond Debari date, there is a vast plain interspersed by hillocks. Before independence it teemed with antelopes and other animals. Wolves were in a fairly good number here.
In the hilly terrain where there were barren patches wolves were often met with. Most of the hilly area was dominated by leopards (Panthera pardus). Gradually large herds of Black Bucks (Antilope cervicapra) and other animals like Chinkara (Gazella gazella), Blue Bull (Bose laphus tragocamelus), Wild Bore (Sus scrofa) etc. disappeared from the plains. Most of the cervids totally disappeared and the plains were converted into agricultural fields. Hills are also practically denuded of forests now. The ideal habitat of wolves has been claimed by man. Slowly the wolves have receded to barren hilly tracts. Due to the absence of wild animals and change of habitat, marked change can be observed in the habits of wolves of this region.
On 14th August 1978 I submitted a report to the then Collector regarding the wolves east of Udaipur. Two packs were operating. The beat of one containing 8 animals was operating from Kurabar to Nawa village and the other pack of 5 animals operated from Ghorach to Shringrishi. Shringrishi is quite near to Nawa village and sometimes these two packs combined to form a big pack of 13 animals and wrought havoc in the area. To the best of my calculation these two packs inflicted damage to the villagers of their beat to the extent of about one lack rupees in a year. They used to kill goats, sheep and sometimes calves also. They never stayed in one locality for more than 24 hrs.
The wolves around Udaipur used to breed in mid-summer and this period has gradually shifted towards rainy season. This year, two litters were dropped in late June and early July. The reasons for this shift are lack of bush cover and disturbances caused by grazers to its breeding places. In the fifties the average size of a litter was between 4 to 6 pups. The size of a litter is also declining. From 1970 to 1986 I got an authentic report of 33 litters out of which the number of litters containing one pup was 11 and the remaining 22 contained 2 pups each. Because of the shrinkage of habitat, it appears that nature is controlling their breeding power, a natural family planning! The villagers are bitter enemies of this animal but they are practically unable to control them so they unleash their vengeance on small pups. Whenever they get the news of any litter they burn these helpless animals alive in their dens.
This year I observed a very interesting and puzzling behaviour of the wolves. About 13 miles from Udaipur on Udaipur-Nathdwara road there is a village Delwara and a mile off from there is a hamlet Goodly. It is situated at the base of a hill. Right in front of it there is a cave in a ravine. Previously these hills were clothed with jungle and the cave was a permanent maternity home for leopards. As the jungle as well as leopards disappeared, this cave was used by Hyenas (Hyaena hyaena) and Jackals (Canis aureus) but they too were wiped out for their pelts. Now this cave is often used by wolves for littering. This year on 23 June (1986), two groups of wolves were sighted outside the cave. The villagers became excited and planned to burn them alive. The news was conveyed to me by Mr. Karan Singh Jhala, ex Jagirdar of the area, who saved these animals.
The pups often came out of the cave for play and retreated back as soon as they sensed any danger. When they grew a little bigger the responsibility of rearing was shared by both the partners who used to feed the pups with semi-digested food, which they would vomit on a flat rock near the cave. After sometime the pups were fed with raw meat by their parents.
The most striking feature of this littering was that as long as the wolves occupied the cave the dogs of the village remained silent. Even in the night they seldom barked. This village lost on an average 12 to 16 thousand rupees worth of livestock annually. As long as these pups were there these wolves touched not a single animal from this village, though on several occasions they were seen passing quite close to the grazing herds of goats and sheep. On 6th August in the morning the pups went out of the cave with their parents but returned back to the cave after going for about a 100 yards. This was repeated for three consecutive mornings. On the fourth morning they left the cave and the parents killed a she goat of the Goodly village very near to the cave to which they did not return. In the afternoon the dogs of the village became active and started barking and during the whole night the dogs barked madly.
After a week the family returned back to the cave in late evening and were greeted by barking dogs. Next morning they left their cave for good and joined their pack. Nowadays a pack of 8 animals is operating in this region. The pack consists of 5 adult and 3 sub-adult animals.
As the wolves of this region have to depend on domestic animals there is a marked change in their mode of killing. They try to disembowel the prey with amazing speed. After that they tear the prey into pieces and run away with the booty for at least a distance of 5 to 6 km before settling to eat. The tearing of their prey is so fast that it cannot be seen and the method requires being filmed for explaining the process. Attendants of the herds shout at them, pelt them with stones and chase them for long distances. If the prey, or part of the prey, is dropped by the wolf the villagers pick it up for their own use.
An idea of the strength of these animals can be formed from the following instance. Near Chandesra village we were standing at the edge of a soapstone quarry on the face of a hill. At the base of the hill there was a meadow fenced by Euphorbia with a mixed flock of sheep and goats grazing peacefully. Suddenly a wolf attacked a goat. There was a great hullabaloo made by the grazers but the wolf carried the goat in its mouth and cleared the fence 5 ft high and 3 3/4 ft broad easily with the goat in its mouth. The men working in the quarry ran after the wolf creating a great din. Some ran right behind it and some took a short cut to intercept it on its way. After more than a kilometre’s chase the wolf dropped the prey and ran away. The dead goat was carried back triumphantly to the quarry. It weighed 7 kg and was eaten by the workers of the quarry.
I have not heard of any child lifting by wolves during the last 35 years around Udaipur. Rabid wolves have been reported from this region. Leopards are very few in this county and they rarely prey upon the goats and sheep, depending on ailing and useless cows and bullocks, which are left in the jungles unattended. Villagers seldom bother about such losses. The villagers are however worried by the depredation of wolves and try every means in their power to destroy them. But at present the wolves seem to own a charmed life. The villagers are searching means to counter the threat posed by the wolves. If they succeed in turning the table, the small population of this beautiful, courageous predator will be wiped out in a very small period.
Published in Journal of Bombay Natural History Society:
Tehsin, R. H. (1987) The Wolf (Canis lupus) of Mewar Region, Rajasthan. J. Bom. Nat. Hist. Soc. 84(2): 422