Italy receives a surprise visit from a dog of the world: the golden jackal

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Italian environmentalists were taken by surprise in December when a new creature unexpectedly appeared: a golden jackal.

The traditional range of the jackal, which is the size of a large dog, is the Middle East, parts of Asia and the Balkans. But in recent years it has been seen as far as Norway, Austria and the Netherlands.

Why we wrote this

Golden jackals, once found mainly in the eastern Balkans, are now spreading across Europe. It’s an ecological puzzle that could be linked to climate change, land use change, or hunting rival predators.

Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why jackals are colonizing so many new territories. But they agree that it is almost unprecedented.

Many believe that the expansion of the range is being propelled by the persecution of wolves in Europe. They believe that the jackal benefits from an ecological niche that has thus opened up.

But some scientists suggest other possible factors, including the fact that countries in Eastern Europe were required to reduce their use of poison bait when they joined the European Union. Additionally, across much of Europe marginal farmland of poor quality has been abandoned, providing exactly the kind of scrub forest and open pasture that jackals love.

Global warming could also be a factor. “We know that jackals don’t like deep snow,” says Nathan Ranc, environmentalist and jackal expert. “Climate change can give them an extra boost.”

Rome

There is no shortage of wildlife in the hills and forests of Tuscany, in the heart of Italy. But Italian environmentalists were taken by surprise in December when a new creature unexpectedly appeared: a golden jackal.

About the size of a large dog, the animal’s traditional range is the Middle East, parts of Asia, and the Balkans.

But in recent years, the species has seen a remarkable expansion out of its Balkan strongholds to the north and west, appearing in places as far away as Norway, Austria and the Netherlands.

Why we wrote this

Golden jackals, once found mainly in the eastern Balkans, are now spreading across Europe. It’s an ecological puzzle that could be linked to climate change, land use change, or hunting rival predators.

Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why this secretive and shy animal is colonizing so many new territories. But they agree that it is almost unprecedented.

“This is one of the largest range expansions of a mammal that we have ever seen, anywhere in the world,” says Nathan Ranc, University ecologist and jackal expert. from California to Santa Cruz. “Golden jackals have been in Europe for thousands of years, but limited to small areas of the Balkans and Greece.

“The only other species it could be compared to is a similar expansion of coyotes in the United States”

An ecological puzzle

Many scientists believe that the expansion of the golden jackal’s range is being propelled by the same factor as that of the coyote – the persecution of wolves.

They believe the jackal – the next canine on the scale in terms of size – is enjoying an ecological niche that has opened up as a result of wolves slaughtered, trapped and poisoned across much of their historic range in Europe.

“We think there is a correlation,” says Dr. Ranc. “This is what happens when the population of a dominant carnivore declines. We believe the persecution of wolves was a trigger. The jackal has a lot in common with the coyote.

John Linnell, another environmentalist who has studied the phenomenon, is not so sure.

“The timing doesn’t seem quite right, given that wolves are reappearing in many parts of Europe,” says Dr Linnell of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research.

He notes that wolves have been persecuted for over a century, but the expansion of golden jackal populations has occurred relatively recently. Golden jackals were first sighted in Norway last year, marking the northernmost extent of their expansion so far.

He believes other factors are at play, including the fact that once they joined the EU, countries in Eastern Europe had to cut back on their use of poison bait.

“Jackals are scavengers, so reducing the use of poison would benefit them,” he says.

A change in land use also likely helped the golden jackals. In much of Europe, marginal farmland of poor quality has been abandoned, providing exactly the kind of scrub forest and open pastures that jackals love.

Global warming could also be a factor. “We know that jackals don’t like deep snow,” says Dr Ranc. “Climate change can give them an extra boost.”

They are certainly able to adapt to many different environments. In addition to occurring in Italy, they have been observed in Denmark, Poland, France and Austria.

In Germany, there were reports last month that golden jackals are now breeding, while in the Netherlands a jackal was photographed by a farmer planting seed potatoes in May.

“I thought it was first a fox, then a wolf,” Jan Kolhorn told NOS, the Dutch national broadcaster.

“It is an incredible animal”

Unlike Burmese pythons in Florida or American mink and nutria in Europe, golden jackals are not an invasive alien species, experts say. “To be invasive, a species must be carried by humans, knowingly or unknowingly. But jackals move of their own accord, ”says Dr Ranc.

Scientists say the arrival of the golden jackal shouldn’t be alarming, noting that they rarely seem to prey on domestic animals such as sheep.

“A jackal can take a chicken or a domestic rabbit, maybe a little lamb, but it’s not an animal that farmers should worry about,” says Professor Luigi Boitani of the University of Rome.

He is the chairman of the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a group of scientists who study bears, wolves, lynxes, wolverines and the golden jackal. “It is an incredible animal, capable of dispersing on a large scale.”

In Tuscany, jackal sighting has been greeted with pleasure rather than dread.

Marco Morelli, the director of Fondazione Parsec, an environmental organization, called it “a fluke” that the animal was filmed.

While global warming may not be a major factor in the expansion of the golden jackal’s range, it is likely to have an increasing effect on animals in the future, says Dr Linnell. .

“We will see other species expand their ranges due to climate change. It is a natural process. And countries will have to welcome them.

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