Flora and Fauna in Palestine

The Two Wolf Subspecies (Canis lupus arabs Pocock, 1934) and (Canis lupus pallipes Sykes, 1831) in Palestine

The Two Wolf Subspecies (Canis lupus arabs Pocock, 1934) and (Canis lupus pallipes Sykes, 1831) in Palestine

By: Prof. Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa

Article Reference

Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, Prof. Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2013). The Two Wolf Subspecies (Canis lupus arabs Pocock, 1934) and (Canis lupus pallipes Sykes, 1831) in Palestine. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. ISSN 0178 – 6288. Number 107, November 2013, Muharram 1435 AH. pp. 1-29. Dubai and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.          http://flora-fauna-palestine.webs.com/palestinewolf1.htm

As evidenced by quotations in the Holy Qur'an, the wolf (Canis lupus Linnaeus, 1758) coexisted with man in the area of Palestine for thousands of years and was well known as a predator, as we know it from the story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph). The Reverend Henry Baker Tristram (1884) stated in his reference book “The survey of western Palestine. The fauna and flora of Palestine” that the wolf is found in every part of Palestine. Wolves still live in over half of Palestine, but have disappeared during the last 70 years from the more densely settled areas. It appears, however, that in some areas their population has increased recently due to easily available food from garbage dumps (Mendelssohn 1982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990). The "Israeli" Wild Animals Protection Law of 1954 completely protected almost all wild animals in Occupied Palestine except, among others, the Palestine Golden Jackal (Canis aureus palaestina Khalaf, 2008), which was later given complete protection. The Palestinian Fauna (including the wolf) is also protected under the Palestinian Environment Law no. 7 of 1999.


The human population of Occupied Palestine in 2013 is estimated at 11,439,000 in an area of 27,009 square kilometer, or 424 people per square kilometer. The northern and central part of the country has a much higher human density than Al-Naqab (Negev) Desert (the southern arid part) and the Rift Valley (Jordan Valley, Dead Sea depression and Wadi Araba), where most of the contemporary wolf population lives. Already in the 1930s, wolves had disappeared from the densely settled areas - the coastal plain between Haifa and Jaffa and the mountains between Nablus and Hebron (Al Khalil) (Khalaf-von Jaffa, 1990).

 Palestinian wolves are animals of open areas. They have never inhabited the dense Mediterranean scrub forest that covers about 400 square kilometer in Galilee (Jaleel) and on Mount Carmel. According to Shahi (1977, 1983), the Indian Canis lupus pallipes Sykes 1831, apparently also do not live in dense forest cover.

Because of Palestine's small size, its nature reserves are also small and, thus, are of little use to such wide-ranging animals as wolves. The largest nature reserve in the north, that of Mount Meron (Jabal Al Jarmaq), has an area of about 90 square kilometer, which is largely covered by scrub forest and therefore not suitable for wolves (Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

Several subspecies of wolves occur in the Middle East. The smallest of all the wolf subspecies, the Arabian Canis lupus arabs Pocock, 1934, is found in a large part of the Arabian Peninsula, in Southern Sinai, in Southern Palestine and probably also in Southern Jordan. To the north of the distribution of this subspecies, the Indian Canis lupus pallipes occurs, the distribution of which extends from Palestine through Syria, Southern Iraq, Southern Iran, Kuwait to Southern Pakistan and India. In Palestine two discrete populations of this subspecies have been found, that differ in size and colour and live in different climatic regions (Khalaf-von Jaffa, 1990).

Prof. Dr. Heinrich Mendelssohn (1983) wrote in his article "Status of the wolf in the Middle East" : "The taxonomic situation of the wolves of Syria and Turkey is not yet well known. Wolves that are larger and darker than typical Canis lupus pallipes, but are different from Canis lupus lupus or Canis lupus campestris, have been found in the Golan. Similar wolves have recently been observed in Eastern Lebanon, close to the Syrian border, and it is possible that the wolves of Turkey and Northern Syria belong to this form”.                                                                               

The existence of wolves in Lebanon is surprising. Lebanon, with a dense human population and an enormous, unrestricted hunting pressure, has very little wildlife left. The jackal (Canis aureus) was so far supposed to be the largest wild mammal surviving in Lebanon. In August 1982, however, several wolves were observed by reliable observers, feeding on garbage dumps in the area of Lake Karoun, close to the Syrian border. A few days later ten wolves were seen feeding on a cow carcass in the same area. The wolves of Northern Iran are similar to Canis lupus campestris (Mendelssohn 1983, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

Wolves still occur, as far as is known, in all the countries of the Middle East, but are generally rare, and their distribution is not continuous. They have been eliminated from areas with dense human population. Apparently, Occupied Palestine is the only country in this region where wolves are legally protected. Some countries, such as Jordan, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have in recent years introduced some restrictions on hunting. It seems that in Jordan and in Oman these regulations are quite well obeyed, but predators are apparently not included in this protection (Mendelssohn, 1983). Nowadays, Wildlife Protection laws is found in all Arabian countries to protect the Flora and Fauna (including predators). But such protection of predators would not be acceptable to the public as predators are, except in Palestine, considered generally as pests and killed on sight. Only smaller species, such as jackals and foxes, are not endangered. All the larger species that still exist, such as hyenas (Hyaena hyaena), leopards (Panthera pardus) and wolves, must be considered as endangered (Mendelssohn 1983, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

 Prof. Dr. Mendelssohn (1983) wrote: "In most countries of the Middle East, wolves feed mostly on livestock carcasses or have to prey on domestic animals, as wild ungulates have been exterminated or are, besides wild pigs (Sus scrofa), so rare that they cannot present a food base for wolves. Even in Turkey, where seven species of ruminants were regionally not rare 30 years ago, they are now so rare in most areas, or have been completely exterminated, that wolves cannot rely on them. Wild pigs occur in the northern and more humid areas of this region and are regionally common, but it is not known if wolves prey on this species." In Palestine wild pigs are common, but there are no observations indicating that wolves prey on them (Khalaf-von Jaffa, 1990).                         

Scavenging on garbage dumps presents another source of food and the smaller subspecies of wolves, especially the small Canis lupus arabs, feed also on rodents and other small animals (Khalaf-von Jaffa, 1990).

Mendelssohn (1983) writes: "Wolves are endangered by shooting, as in most countries of this region "everybody carries a gun and shoots at everything" (Kumerloeve, personal communication) and wolves are shot on sight. If they prey on livestock, retaliation poisoning or trapping ensues. Many poisons are available and widely used: Fluoracetamide (1081), Sodiumfluoracetate (1080), Strychnine, as well as pesticides, such as Endrin, Parathion, etc. Rabies is endemic in most countries of the region, and the veterinary authorities carry out poisoning campaigns, using mostly strychnine and 1080, in order to eradicate predators and feral dogs.”                                                                                                  

Thus the life of the wolf in most areas of the Middle East is precarious because of the unpredictable and unsure supply of food, persecution and antirabies campaigns. Their survival is due to the fact that in most areas of this region the density of human population is still low, and nomadic livestock raising is widespread, with quite a high rate of mortality in the herds, thus supplying carcasses. The human population, however, increases rapidly, and veterinary care of the nomadic herds improves, causing a decrease in the availability of carcasses (Mendelssohn 1983, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).                                                                                     

The eventual survival of wolves in the Middle East will depend on the slowly developing nature conservation ethic, in which predators ought to be included. As the general attitude is, however, still strongly anti-predator, extensive conservation education is extremely urgent. Legal protection alone is meaningless: In Turkey the leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana) and the tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) have been protected since 1966, but still every detected specimen is shot and both subspecies are about to be exterminated or have already disappeared (Kumerloeve 1975, Mendelssohn 1983, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990)."

Dr. David L. Harrison (1981) wrote in his book "Mammals of the Arabian Gulf" about the Wolf : "Although the Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs) is considerably smaller than its northern Eurasian relatives, it is nevertheless strikingly larger than the Jackal, with a total length of about 1140 mm. The general build is like an Alsatian dog, with rather long legs, a short, bushy tail and large ears. The coat is rather short and coarse, variably greyish or yellowish brown on the flanks, with a blackish crest along the spine. The tip of the tail is also black, while the cheeks and underside are usually white. Wolves from the more northerly parts of the peninsula (Canis lupus pallipes) are larger and have thicker, more luxuriant coats.”

The desert wolves of Arabia usually hunt singly or in pairs, and many tales are told by the Bedouin of their cunning in snatching sheep from the flocks. Considering the long-standing enmity of the species with man it is surprising that young wolves can be readily tamed. The species seems to be dependent on water and is therefore not found in the hearts of the deserts. It has occurred, albeit in scanty numbers, throughout the Gulf region from Dibbah, Buraimi and Jebel Hafit in the south to Hofuf, Jabrin and the vicinity of Kuwait in the north (Harrison 1981, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

Measurements: Total length 1140 mm.; Tail 320 mm.; Hind foot 184-197 mm.; Ear 80-92 mm.; Greatest length of skull 184.5-220 mm. (Harrison 1981, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

Ellerman and Morrison-Scott (1951) do not state which wolf subspecies occurs in Palestine but, because they include northern Arabia in the distribution area of Canis lupus pallipes Sykes 1831, it may be concluded that this subspecies also occurs in Palestine (Mendelssohn 1982). Wolves in Palestine display a wide range of size and colour differences. Tristram (1884) considered them to be larger and stronger than European specimens.

Palestinian wolves are larger and darker in areas of higher rainfall, and smaller and lighter-coloured in arid areas.                                                                                       

Size difference of specimens of the same sex is apparent. For example the condylobasal length (CBL) of the skull for a male near Haifa was 218.4 mm., and for a male from the Naqab, the CBL was 185.3 mm. The distance between collection localities was 250 kilometer (Mendelssohn 1982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

Precipitation in Palestine is highest in the north and west, and decreases toward the south and east. The lower Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea depression, The Naqab Desert and the Wadi Araba are deserts with less than 150 mm. annual rainfall.                                                                                                                             

The largest wolves are all from areas with more than 400 mm. annual rainfall and a Mediterranean climate and vegetation, whereas the smaller wolves inhabit the more arid areas with less than 400 mm. rain (Mendelssohn 1982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

For Mediterranean Canis lupus pallipes wolves, the average CBL for males was 214.5 mm., and for females 203.8 mm. For the Desert Canis lupus pallipes wolves, the average CBL for males was 205.1 mm., and for females 193.8 mm. While the Palestinian southern subspecies Canis lupus arabs Pocock 1934, has an average CBL for males 192.9 mm., and for females 181.1 mm. (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990). 

In the desert areas (less than 400 mm. rain), two sizes of wolves occur. Most desert wolves are quite uniform in size, but in the most southern area with less than 50 mm. rain, and in southern Sinai, much smaller wolves occur. They not only have smaller skulls, but also smaller bodies. The males had CBLs of less than 200 mm., and the females had CBLs of less than 190 mm.                   

Although the larger wolves in Palestine can be divided into two size groups separated by the isohyet of 400 mm., they can all be considered Canis lupus Pallipes. There is also a considerable difference in the size of the os penis between the local Canis lupus pallipes and Canis lupus arabs. Whereas the lengths of the os penis of three Canis lupus pallipes were 79.7, 81.1 and 81.5 mm., the measurements for two Canis lupus arabs were only 68.0 and 69.3 mm.                                                      

Wolf size apparently is more influenced by rainfall than by temperature. There is no size difference between wolves from the hot rift valley (mean greater than 23°C) and those from the much cooler Naqab Highlands (mean less than 19°C); rainfall is similar in both areas (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).


Nothing is known about the relations between Canis lupus pallipes and Canis lupus arabs, that occur together in the southern Wadi Araba in areas with less than 50 mm. rain. Possibly this area was formerly inhabited only by Canis lupus arabs, which are probably better adapted to extreme desert conditions. Increasing human development of the area improved the conditions for wolves by providing an easily available source of food at garbage dumps, and by stimulating increase of wildlife near areas of irrigated agriculture. These improved conditions may have enabled the penetration of Canis lupus pa1lipes into this area, perhaps competing with Canis lupus arabs and supplanting it.  If this assumption is correct, Canis lupus arabs should disappear from this area in the future. They are now much rarer than Canis lupus pallipes. It is not known if the two subspecies interbreed. Neither is information available to indicate whether the two populations share the same habitat, or whether they are spatially or temporally separated (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

A similar case is occurring with two hedgehog species in the coastal plain of Palestine, where the European Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus, following agricultural development, is supplanting the Long-eared Hedgehog Hemiechinus auritus (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

There still remains the fact that the wolves of the Mediterranean area of Palestine (greater than 400 mm. rain) are distinctly larger than those of the more arid areas (50-400 mm. rain). The question of whether these two discrete populations should be given separate subspecific status has to remain open until more material from other areas in the Near East can be examined. For the time being, the terms "Mediterranean pallipes" and "Desert pallipes" will be used (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

A very large male from the Syrian Golan, with a CBL of 226.7 mm., and a weight of 32.3 kilogram and a dense, dark winter fur, is certainly quite different from any Canis lupus pallipes and looks more like a European wolf.                                           

It is remarkable that the wolves that lived in the Huleh Valley fall well within the range of the Mediterranean pallipes. The Huleh Valley is only a few kilometer distance from the Golan, but about 1,000 meter lower. The amount of rain is about the same in both areas, but the Huleh Valley is much warmer (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).


Weights of Mediterranean pallipes wolves: the mean of males 23.6 kilogram; and the mean of Desert pallipes wolves: males 20.1 kg, females 17.0 kg; while the mean weight of Canis lupus arabs: males 18.0 kg, a female 12.3 kilogram.                           

It may seem strange that in such a small country as Palestine, only 410 kilometer from north to south, there are three distinct populations of such wide-ranging animals as wolves. There are, however, considerable climatic differences. Perhaps the different populations are well adapted to local climatic conditions. A similar situation is found with the leopard. They formerly occurred in Galilee, and perhaps in other areas in the north, Panthera pardus tulliana (now extinct in Palestine), one of the largest of the leopard subspecies. However, in the Jerusalem or Judean Desert and in the Naqab, Panthera pardus nimr occurs, one of the smallest subspecies. Perhaps for these two subspecies, the 400 mm. isohyet was also the dividing line. The greatly varying environmental conditions over relatively small distances in Palestine may stimulate the development of differing populations adapted to special local conditions. There is in Palestine four populations of mole-rat Spalax ehrenberi that differ in size, chromosomes and behavior (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

 The fur of Canis lupus pallipes and Canis lupus arabs is very short and thin in summer. The dorsal hair is somewhat longer, even in summer. Perhaps the longer dorsal hair provides some protection from solar radiation in summer if the animals have to be active during hot summer days. The winter coat is longer, but not as long and dense as that of more northern subspecies.                                    

The hair of the summer coat of Canis lupus pallipes and Canis lupus arabs is about 30 mm. long on the back and about 10 mm. on the sides, but there is much variation. Winter back hairs, particularly from the Mediterranean area, are 45-65 mm. long, those of the saddle 70-100 mm., and those of the sides 20-30 mm. long. Whereas the summer coat has no wool, or only a little between the longer dorsal hairs, the winter coat has a dense wool layer (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

A characteristic feature of many wolves in Palestine is that the pads of the third and fourth toes are connected from behind. This connection is conspicuous mainly on the forefeet, but if the pads of the forefeet are connected, those of the hind feet are generally connected too. Under favorable conditions, this connection also shows in the tracks and verifies that the track is from a wolf (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

By 1935 there were no wolves in the densely settled areas of the coastal plain and the areas between Hebron (Al Khalil) and Nablus. Between 1950 and 1970, they disappeared from most of northern Palestine and from the areas west of Jerusalem (Al Quds), and in 1980 they were rare in the areas north of Beer Al Sabea (Beer Sheva). They still occur in about half of Palestine in about 70% of the area they inhabited before 1950. The total number of wolves in Palestine may be 110-150 (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

According to many occasional observations, Palestinian wolves are opportunistic feeders, preying on smaller wildlife, rarely on wild ungulates, occasionally killing domestic animals, but often scavenging on livestock carcasses and at garbage dumps. Garbage dumps are good places to see wolves, especially in the desert, as are the feeding stations run by the "Israeli" Nature Reserves Authority (funded by the World Wildlife Fund) (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).


Analysis of 15 wolf stomach contents revealed remnants of the following animals: Jirds (Meriones sp. sp.), Hares (Lepus capensis) and Chukar Partridges (Alectoris chukar). Hares seem to be a common prey, bat many apparently are road-killed hares picked up by wolves. Several wolves that had been killed on roads had undigested pieces of hare in their stomachs.                                             

Gazelles (Gazella sp.) are occasionally taken, but there is only one observation of wolves hunting gazelle. In the northern Wadi Araba (Arava), three wolves were seen one morning chasing a male dorcas gazelle (Gazella dorcas subsp.) which they caught after a chase of about 1 kilometer. As gazelles are diurnal with poor vision at night, they are easily caught at night by wolves.                                                                             

In the Jerusalem (Judean) Desert and in the Naqab (Negev), wolves inhabit areas in which ibex (Capra ibex nubiana) occur, but no cases of predation on ibex are known. Wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are very common in northern Palestine and in the Golan, but no cases of preying on pigs have been observed so far (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

Wolf predation on livestock occurs mainly with the larger Mediterranean wolves, but is not common. They prey on sheep and beef cattle calves. Zebu calves are very rarely killed by wolves.                                                                            

Wolves of the Mediterranean area also feed on small animals, as shown by stomach contents and scats. A female that had been conditioned to people because she pair-bonded with a domestic dog, was observed catching and eating a hare, and she was often seen catching and eating voles (Microtus guentheri) weighing 25-40 g.

The desert pallipes do not prey on large livestock. Predation on sheep in this area is rare, but the Bedouin consider wolves as predators of their black goats which are smaller than sheep, and in the southern Naqab and Sinai, weigh only 12-25 kilogram. Hairs of the black Bedouin goats have been found in wolf scats collected in this area, but it is unknown whether they were from kills or carrion (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).

The desert pallipes tend to approach settlements and people more than do the Mediterranean wolves. In a desert kibbutz (communal agricultural Israeli settlement), wolves entered the cowsheds at night and moved among cattle and calves without molesting even the youngest calves. However, they entered a hen-house and killed chickens. In another desert kibbutz, the wolves visited the area of the hen-houses at night and caught escaped chickens, but entered a hen-house and killed 10 hens when a door was left open. Their main food at both places, however, was chicken carcasses and offal that they scavenged from the garbage dump. These wolves react eagerly to the cheeping of chicks and were attracted from about one kilometer by these cheeps, both live and tape-recorded. Altogether, Palestinian wolves do not suffer from lack of food, as almost all specimens that could be examined were in prime physical condition (Mendelssohn I982, Khalaf-von Jaffa 1990).