Get ready for the golden jackal

The golden jackal is native to several south-eastern parts of Europe. However, due to several factors, their population is growing and expanding. Warmer temperatures and food abundance make it easy for golden jackals to explore new territories. But just as with the return of the wolf, this canine relative also causes concern amongst groups of people. Scientists, experts and other people gathered this month for the international Jackal Symposium, to share their latest findings.

Please also read: The return of the Golden Jackal

Hungry in Hungary

Although the golden jackal is native to Hungary, it was absent in the second half of the 20th century. The same occurred in many other European countries, as people hunted, poisoned and trapped the golden jackals. However, since the 1990’s golden jackal populations started to expand once more from the places where they survived. A new study from Dios et al., looked at the perception of threats among local people in Hungary. Typically, hunters claim that golden jackals affect the wildlife management. Additionally, livestock owners accuse the golden jackals for damages to their animals.

There is a lot of scientific data available on the diet preferences of golden jackals. As a lazy hunter, the golden jackal will eat what it finds. Actively attacking larger animals, such as sheep, roe deer or even red deer, occur sporadically. It is thus very important to communicate and educate local people on the actual role and impact of golden jackals in an ecosystem. This will avoid misunderstandings that could lead to conflict situations.

Causes of expansion

Slovenian golden jackal specialist Krofel addresses the phenomenon of golden jackal expansion in Europe at the Symposium. It appears that people have triggered the expansion of golden jackals by almost eradicating the wolf. Golden jackals tend to avoid wolf territories because of competition. However, since people killed the wolves almost completely across Europe, the golden jackal was more free to move. Other factors that influence the expansion, according to Krofel, are the availability of food sources, changes in land use, and even climate change. The effect of golden jackal presence on local ecosystems is difficult to predict in new areas. As a highly flexible opportunistic feeder, the golden jackal will adapt to the circumstances.

Where next?

Because of the golden jackal capability to adapt to new circumstances, it is difficult to predict where the expansion goes. Ranc et al., performed a habitat analysis study on current factors that limit the distribution. The results are clear: a golden jackal does not like snow and wolves. Also, golden jackals like to stay close to human settlement and waterbodies. This means that not only south-eastern Europe is a suitable place for golden jackals. Ranc et al., thus also expect that golden jackals will continue to expand to Western and Southern Europe. But we can for sure say that the golden jackal will live in a human world.

Golden jackals moving north

Golden jackals seem to not only move west and south, but also to Northern Europe. Even in Estonia and Latvia multiple breeding pairs settled along the Baltic coast. Research from Männil and Mustasaar in Estonia shows that the expansion in the Baltic region is restricted. This is also affected by the legal hunting that occurs. The Baltic States regarded the golden jackal at first as alien invasive species. Nowadays, the countries acknowledge that golden jackal is returning naturally. However, hunters can still kill a number of golden jackals yearly, at least in Estonia.

Is hunting effective?

A new study from Stoyanov in Bulgaria addressed the question whether hunting is effective to suppress golden jackal’s expansion. The golden jackal density in Bulgaria is believed to be the highest is Europe. In the country it is also legal to hunt golden jackals. But do we need hunting of golden jackals as part of wildlife management?

The EU allows hunting of animals is usually when a favourable conservation status remains. However, since there is little know about the golden jackal, the status is often unclear. Since 1998 the golden jackal population in Bulgaria increased annually with 13%. After 2010 the increase stopped and the population size stabilised. Hunting did not affect the population size dramatically. However, it did impact the age structure of the population. Above all, it was the main cause of mortality.

Especially important to note is that the golden jackal population has no significant impact on the wildlife and livestock, as they are simply not the main prey. Nevertheless, local people tend to have a more negative attitude towards golden jackals. In fact, improving human waste disposal is more effective than hunting golden jackals. This is similar to the research on wolves, that shows how livestock management is more effective than killing wolves.

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Join more 100+ forest experts demanding a radical change in German forestry management.

Sign the Open Letter to the German Federal Minister of Forestry and Agriculture

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.

Motto: SYSTEMIC FOREST ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT INSTEAD OF WOOD FACTORY

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