Witnessing Europe’s largest population explosion

Many people are still unfamiliar with the animal. It looks like a big fox or a small wolf, with a slightly different colour palette. A species that normally only lives in South-Eastern Europe, but is exploring new countries rapidly. Another wild animal to which people have to get used. We are talking of course about the golden jackal.

An exotic visitor

The golden jackal (Canis aureus) is a member of the canid family, related to dogs, foxes and wolves. Other relatives include the coyote and different jackal species in other continents. For a long time, the golden jackal resided only in the warmer regions of Europe, in the southeast. But in the last couple of decades, the population of golden jackal has rapidly grown and expanded. Scientists even claim that it is the biggest ‘explosion’ of an animal population in Europe at this time. So what is a golden jackal, and why is its population growing so rapidly?

Going back to the first half of the 20th century, we find the golden jackal population concentrated in the Balkans, all the way up to the Anatolia and Caucasus region. Earlier historic data is scarce, as the animal was not interesting to humans, and thus not hunted. The main populations settled in Hungary, Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Occasionally, during good conditions, the population expanded towards Bulgaria and Serbia.

Population dynamics

In the mid 20th century, the 1950’s to 1960’s, the golden jackal population shrunk drastically. Scientists suspect that the loss of habitat, as well as poisoned bait was the main cause for it. At its lowest point, there were only small subpopulations left, dispersed across the Balkans. They became the four so-called core populations:

  • Coastal Bulgaria and Turkey
  • Adriatic region
  • Strimon-Chalkidiki region
  • Poloponnese region

As poisoned bait was banned and species protection installed in Bulgaria, the golden jackal population started to grow again in the 1970’s. The most powerful expansion came from the core population on coastal Bulgaria and Turkey. Quickly, the population expanded into Bulgaria, Serbia and making its way to Hungary. And the expansion did not stop there.

Factors providing a free way

Bulgaria made poisoned bait illegal and installed a temporary protection status on the golden jackal in 1962. Furthermore, hunting in Bulgaria flourished, leaving behind game carcasses as food source for the golden jackals. Meanwhile, free ranging sheep that died provided extra food sources for scavenging. This led to an abundance of food for golden jackals. Suitable habitats were the next thing to focus on.

Intensive plantations of commercial forests created a mosaic landscape. Agricultural lands, forests and shrubs alternated across the South-Eastern European landscape, an optimal habitat for golden jackals. And important to note, the biggest threat to golden jackals practically disappeared: the wolf.

Population explosion without an end?

All these factors enabled the golden jackal population to continue to expand. Individuals appeared in Italy and Austria in the late 80’s. In the past years, individuals even made it to the Switzerland, Netherlands, France, Denmark and the Baltic States.

So, can we expect that the golden jackal population simply continues to grow as it does? Not really. Golden jackals avoid areas with seasonal deep snow, extreme low temperatures, large forests, and steep mountains. Also, it tries to avoid conflicts with wolves, which population is also slowly growing.

Where to find them?

The recent study on the golden jackal population in Europe gives us a clue where we can expect the golden jackals to go. Notably, most of the golden jackals live below an altitude of 500 meters, within 2km distance of water. The majority of monitored golden jackals lived in agricultural and mixed habitats, less in woodlands. Additionally, two thirds of the individuals lived outside of wolf territories.

Encountering a golden jackal is more likely than encountering a wolf. A part of the golden jackals live close (less than 1km) to human villages with less than 1000 inhabitants. From bigger villages, golden jackals tend to stay further away.

Nevertheless, people should become aware that the golden jackal is making a rapid return across Europe. The latest estimations state that there are 117 000 individuals already. Fortunately, people do not need to fear the golden jackal. It only hunts for small prey, and scavenges on bigger carcasses and human trash that it finds. Find more details and reasons for the golden jackal population explosion in the full article, available below.

Please download the study here.

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Sign the Open Letter to the German Ministry

Join more than 70 forest experts demanding a radical change in the German forest management system.

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.


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