Golden jackals eat what they find

International experts and scientists recently discussed the latest international developments on the golden jackal during the second international Jackal Symposium in Greece. Four of the more than 80 presentations of the symposium dealt with the diet of the golden jackel and the role predation plays. The necessity to include the golden jackal in livestock protection measures was discussed as well. The organisers of the symposium collected all scientific papers and presentations of the event within a book.

Please also read: Exclusive interview with a golden jackal

The diet of golden jackals

The golden jackal (Canis aureus) is a very effective coloniser and inhabits different climatic areas all over Eurasia. This can be mainly led back to the golden jackal being a so-called mesocarnivore. This means that 30-70% of his diet consists of meat. This dietary flexibility enables the golden jackal to expand its distribution rapidly and successfully. However, scientists try to learn more about limiting or supporting factors of this rapid expansion. A study about the feeding ecology of the golden jackal by József Lanszki et al., took a closer look at variations in golden jackal’s diet across various regions and their place in the ecosystem.

Going through numerous studies, the researchers could conclude that golden jackals usually eat mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and plants. In fact, plants, small mammals and domestic animals were the main food source for golden jackals in several places. Nevertheless, the diet of golden jackals varied with the season and geographic location. For example, golden jackals more frequently ate invertebrates and plants in warmer periods. Interestingly, different food types varies largely in diet proportion. For example, small mammals ranged from 0% to 90% of the golden jackal’s diet. This study underlines the opportunistic and flexible nature of the golden jackal. On the other hand, it makes predictions of its diet in newly colonised areas difficult.

by Shutterstock
by Shutterstock

Predation behaviour of the golden jackal

A study by Matt W. Hayward et al., also found that the golden jackal mainly feeds on prey up to 15 kg. This supports the findings of the study of Lanszki et al.,. The golden jackal in Europe seems to prefer the brown hare (Lepus europaeus). This could also give an explanation for the rapid expansion of the golden jackal throughout Europe. Brown hare appears in high numbers all across Europe. This study further confirmed that the golden jackal’s diet is not only influenced by prey size. In addition, the presence of apex predators, like the wolf, affects their distribution. The previously mentioned study by Lanszki et al., also addressed the role of ungulate carrion in the golden jackal’s diet.

Is livestock protection neccessary in the presence of the golden jackal?

The two mentioned studies once more confirmed the high dietary flexibility of the golden jackal. The percentage that livestock takes up in the diet also depends on geographical location and availability. A study by Yannick Fanin et al., took a closer look on the predatory behaviour and carcass consumption of livestock of the golden jackal. The study focussed on the Italian Friuli Venezia Giulia, where the golden jackal is confirmed since 1996. A local breeder monitored his sheep herd from 2015 to 2016. The sheep farmer protected his 40 sheep with a metal wire mesh and semi-extensive management. During this time the researchers analysed 18 sheep carcasses, likely killed by golden jackal. The study monitored another 15 carcasses with camera traps to study the consumption behaviour.

The study found that golden jackals preyed most animals at night or at dawn in summer and autumn. Golden jackals killed most animals in October. These killed animals were mainly in a weak condition, meaning lambs, elderly or sick sheep. The golden jackals bit most animals in the throat. The muscular parts of the back limbs as well as the heart and the lungs were the first parts to be eaten. The study concluded that the approach of golden jackal to kill sheep is very similar to the wolf. Consequently, this data confirms that proper livestock protection measures should not only focus on the wolf, but have to include the golden jackal.

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