KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 25 (UPI) -- The Himalayan wolf has been the source of taxonomic confusion for more than a century, but new research confirms the uniqueness of the species' lineage, as well as its presence Nepal.
They may not be there for long, however. The new analysis, published in the journal ZooKeys, highlights the vulnerability of the species, Canis lupus chanco, and encourages stronger protections.
The Himalayan wolf's appearance is distinct from its European neighbor. In addition to being slightly smaller, the Himalayan wolf boasts a longer snout and stumpier legs. Its coat is more wooly in appearance and its underside is marked by white fur.
The species is also genetically distinct. Genetic analysis confirms the Himalayan wolf as the most ancient wolf lineage. Having become genetically distinct so long ago, it has evolved in isolation -- separate from the broader wolf-dog clade.
The Himalayan wolf's genetic uniqueness make the species especially important to conservationists.
According to the new research, farmers in Nepal view the wolf as a direct threat to their way of life. Their antagonistic approach to the wolf's presence has pushed the wolf to the verge of extinction, researchers say.
"These genetically distinct Himalayan wolves deserve special conservation attention, at the same time that the conservation of this species in a context of human-wildlife conflict is challenging," researchers wrote in their study. "A species action plan needs be formulated that develops mechanisms to minimize conflict, and strategies for motivating local communities towards wolf conservation."