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Wild canids and hyenas are potential flagships for conserving a wide diversity of habitats in India

India’s focus on large carnivore conservation has mostly centred on forested national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, with tigers as a natural flagship species and a continued priority for WCS India. However, the country’s non-protected areas support many carnivores representing unique and under-valued habitats and ecosystems. In a new study, scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society–India, University of Florida (USA), Ashoka Trust for Ecology and the Environment, Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Centre for Biological Sciences and James Cook University (Australia) find that protecting wild dogs or dholes, jackals, wolves, foxes and hyenas offers incredible potential to expand the conservation enterprise in India.

The scientists undertook a multi-pronged approach to gather information on wild canids (dhole, golden jackal, Indian wolf, Tibetan wolf, Indian fox, red fox, desert fox, Tibetan fox) and striped hyenas across India, using citizen-science surveys, social media and literature surveys. Combining these with statistical models to map their distribution patterns, the authors conducted a prioritisation analysis and identified taluks/tehsils across the country that need to be protected as ‘Canid Conservation Units’ to save wild canids, hyenas and their habitats.

“Our assessment is unique in that it focuses on hitherto overlooked carnivores of India, which represent some of the most imperilled habitats like grasslands, scrublands, open barren lands, deserts and ravines. The study also combines ecological requirements of these carnivores, with human population densities, poverty levels, budgetary allocations by states for forest/wildlife conservation, and potentially detrimental infrastructure projects,” said Arjun Srivathsa, the lead author of the study.

The findings suggest that states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh – which ranked high on the priority scale – should invest efforts towards conserving these carnivores and their habitats. The authors plan to extend the project for continuous, real-time monitoring to help state governments channel conservation efforts. “Our study paves the way for a decentralised process of data collection using, amongst other sources, information obtained from India’s passionate naturalists, nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers,” according to co-author Priya Singh.

The study titled “Opportunities for prioritising and expanding conservation enterprise in India using a guild of carnivores as flagships” was conducted as part of the Wild Canids–India Project (, and published in the prestigious international journal Environmental Research Letters. The authors include Arjun Srivathsa (Wildlife Conservation Society–India and University of Florida, USA), Iravatee Majgaonkar (Ashoka Trust for Ecology and the Environment), Sushma Sharma (Wildlife Conservation Society–India), Girish Punjabi (Wildlife Conservation Trust), Priya Singh (National Centre for Biological Sciences), Malaika Mathew Chawla (James Cook University) and Aditya Banerjee (Ashoka Trust for Ecology and the Environment).

Header image: striped hyenas. Credit: © Kalyan Varma.