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.

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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