Geraldine is a Swiss Ecologist working to protect Himalayan Wolves across their range. . Her passion for carnivores led her to start the Himalayan Wolf Project. Together with a team of researchers, Geraldine walked 1800 kilometres in remote mountain areas of Nepal and China at 3000 to 5500 meters altitude to gather data on the ecology and genetics of the rare Himalayan wolves. Due to their monumental efforts, they discovered that these wolves are specially adapted to live in high-altitudes. In high-altitude areas, such as the Himalayas, very low oxygen levels are a challenge to all life forms. So it is surprising that the Himalayan wolf can thrive in such conditions. Despite its unique adaptation, the Himalayan wolf is unpopular among livestock keepers. That is because when natural prey are scarce, the wolves have little option but to kill livestock. To tackle this issue, Geraldine is working with local communities to develop conflict mitigation strategies that are compatible with the local traditions and culture.
Geraldine Werhahn grew up in Switzerland, where she studied to be a Wildlife Biologist. It was during a “trekking” trip to Nepal that she found the species that would change her career path. After noticing that wolves were practically absent from the region, she started asking questions to locals. They revealed to her that if she wanted to find wolves, she had to go higher up the mountain. And so she did. Geraldine initiated the Himalayan Wolf Project in 2014, which aimed to uncover more about this elusive wolf. What Geraldine and her team found was a unique genetic background, adapted to life in high-altitudes, that would set the Himalayan wolf apart from all other known wolf subspecies. This discovery launched Geraldine to become a lead expert on the Himalayan wolf, and now part of the IUCN canid specialist group. She was also the first person to photograph a wild Yak in Nepal in over five decades. Her photo now features on the back of the Nepalese 5 Rupees bill. In 2016, Geraldine started her PhD thesis studying Himalayan Wolf Ecology and Phylogeny as a member of the WildCRU at the University of Oxford, UK.
Vision and Approach
Geraldine started The Himalayan Project out of her passion for wolves, and the knowledge that protecting large carnivores helps protect entire ecosystems. After discovering that the Himalayan wolf was very rare, partly due to persecution by humans, she took it upon herself to change that. Her research revealed that the Himalayan wolf was unique in its ability to live in high-altitudes due to a genetic adaptation to low oxygen concentrations in the atmosphere, unlike any other wolf subspecies. This discovery places the Himalayan wolf as its own species, which means its conservation status is also separate from the more abundant Gray wolf. Her research is now informing the formal taxonomic classification and conservation of the Himalayan wolf, attributed by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). This means that, if the conservation status of the Himalayan wolf is raised to higher concern, the species enjoys more protection by international conservation legislation and policy. These findings are combined with working with local communities to develop conflict mitigation strategies that are considerate of local traditions and culture. For instance, Geraldine’s work includes the creation of education and awareness campaigns aimed at local peoples living in Himalayan wolf habitats. She hopes that this amazing species can bounce back and continue to make the Himalayan mountains and the Tibetan Plateau such special places on Earth with the help of local communities.
Impact of the Future For Nature Award
- The Future For Nature Award helped Geraldine conduct surveys to local Buddhist communities in the high Himalayas, shedding light onto the human perspective of human-wolf coexistence in the Nepalese high-altitude habitats.
- Geraldine used the Future For Nature Award funds to conduct an in-depth analysis of the Himalayan wolf dietary requirements. This is an essential step to understand how the decline of prey and abundance of livestock shape wolf-human coexistence in the region.
- With the Future For Nature Award these insights are now being used to work, develop and implement wildlife conservation programs suitable for the entire Himalayan range.
"Geraldine’s courage and tenacity to work among remote rural pastoral communities on a patently unpopular predator in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments is admirable."Mr. Brian J. Huntley, International Selection Committee