Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf’ is a term which will, unless action is taken, soon be well and truly out of fashion here in Pakistan where indigenous grey wolves have all but disappeared completely.
Grey wolves, scientifically known as ‘Canis lupus’, were, a long time ago now, quite common in many areas of the country but, aside from being routinely persecuted, they have been hard hit by human population expansion, the rapid growth of urban and rural population centres and, as with so many other indigenous species, a worrying loss of natural habitat which has been destroyed either by human expansion or by irreversible exploitation of natural resources.
The resident species here is actually a subspecies, ‘Canis lupis pallipes’, otherwise called the ‘Indian grey wolf’ and is much smaller in size than the monstrous grey wolves inhabiting places such as Northern America and Canada but, if cornered, it can be just as ferocious. An average adult male weighs in at around 24kg and stands up to just less than two feet at the shoulders.
Females are much smaller and weigh approximately 10–15kg, standing perhaps 50cm at the shoulder.
Greyish light brown in colour, wolf hair is relatively coarse in texture, especially during the summer months when coats are thin to prevent the animals from overheating. During autumn, however, they grow a much thicker, softer coat to keep themselves warm through the long months of winter with the pelts, as their skins are called, of wolves from the bitterly cold, mountainous regions of north Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan having the thickest, softest pelts of all.
Always, right down through history, wolves all over the planet have been viewed as dangerous pests as they attack, kill and eat the domesticated sheep, goats, chickens, etc., kept by hardworking farmers but, as they much prefer the easier prey of often diseased wild dogs and jackals, they also do some good.
Wolves do not limit themselves to small areas of territory but enjoy roaming far and wide and they often live in very close knit family groups of perhaps five to seven or more. Female wolves have their first cubs at the age of about two years, giving birth to up to five cubs in one litter. They only have one litter of cubs each year and generally give birth during early to late spring, depending on the warmth of the temperature in the region they have chosen to call home.
In desert regions in Southern Punjab and Sindh, very few, if any wolves remain but a few can, if you are both patient and lucky, be seen in Balochistan and the highly dangerous border region that separates Pakistan from Afghanistan. When kept in captivity, such as in zoos, wolves rarely live longer than 10 years but, in their natural habitat, they can live to the wise old age of 15 to 16 years or so. As with all indigenous species, wolves too do have an environmental balancing role to play and it would be unfortunate if they become extinct.