A few photo-trap pictures revealed two golden jackals (Canis aureus) on camera in the district of Hartberg-Fürstenfeld in Styria, Austria. The local hunter assumes, that three to five individuals roam in this specific area. The golden jackal is not new in Austria, and specifically not new to Styria. People have observed and reported golden jackal’s presence in different areas over the past few years, like in St. Johann, Unterrohr and Oberrohr. Now, there are more than single individuals, most likely a family of golden jackals that lives in Styria.
Effective colonisers in Europe
The Eurasian golden jackal is distributed over large areas from Asia to Europe. There is an ongoing expansion in Eastern and Central Europe. Originating from the Balkan population, the golden jackal expands more and more to Northern and Western Europe, including Austria. Reasons for golden jackal to colonise Europe in such an effective way are manifold. Abundant food waste and increasing temperatures are supporting golden jackal’s successful expansion. There even seems to be a link between wolf’s and jackal’s occurrence. This way, golden jackals avoid areas where wolves are present.
Another threat to livestock and wildlife?
Golden jackals usually have a partner for life. They defend their relative small territory and live in pairs. Occasionally, they live in groups as a family. Golden jackals usually hunt alone, sometimes in pairs, but rarely as a group. This is in contrast with the behaviour of wolves. The golden jackal is an opportunistic feeder, it eats whatever is easy to get. In some countries human garbage seems to be an important and welcome food source as it is abundant and easily accessible. Golden jackals are therefore often reported close to human settlement. This does not mean that the golden jackals are used to people, though.
Small to medium-sized mammals like mice or rats are also often part of their diet. They also feed on plants (like fruit or corn), birds, reptiles, fish, and whatever else is available. In some areas their main food source is carrion or remains from hunted animals. This strategy makes jackals very flexible and adaptable to different habitats and food sources. Golden jackals share a very similar food niche with foxes and are not persistent hunters. They only hunt ungulates like roe deer in rare occasions. There is no evidence, that roe deer might be an important prey species.
Unnecessary concerns and right actions
Representatives of hunting associations in Styria address concerns about the golden jackals’ presence effecting wildlife. They report about a change in roe deer’s behaviour and lower encounter rates over the last year. Also, hunters express their concern that golden jackals will kill many roe deer. This makes it more difficult for hunters to reach annual quotas. However, golden jackals rarely hunt roe deer. Furthermore, changing behaviour of ungulates due to presence of predators, like golden jackals or wolves, is fully natural. Livestock owners who fear for their animals should take preventive measures to protect them. Protection measures like electric fences, guard dogs and shepherds that are effective against wolves, can also protect livestock from golden jackals. Austria has financial measures in place to support these preventive measures.
It is important to realise that golden jackals are not a threat to human safety. Furthermore, at the moment these animals are so rare, that encounters are very unlikely. In case you encounter one, it could be possible to confuse it with a young wolf or even a fox. But just like roe deer and wolves, the golden jackal is part of the ecosystems in Europe. It is important that the Austrian public receives correct information to increase awareness and acceptance.
Find out more about the golden jackals in Austria here.