Canis aureus (Linnaeus, 1758), or the golden jackal, is a widespread species especially in North and north-east Africa, and in Asia from the Eastern part to Indo-China. It is expanding quickly its range to Europe, being currently present in central, eastern and southern part of the old continent (Arnold et al., 2011). The largest population from Europe seems to occur in Bulgaria (Banea et al., 2012).
It is fairly common throughout its range, with high densities observed in areas with abundant food availability. Due to their tolerance of dry habitats and their omnivorous diet, the Golden Jackal can live in a wide variety of habitats. These range from the Sahel Desert to the evergreen forests of Myanmar and Thailand (Jhala & Moehlman, 2008). Golden Jackals are opportunistic and will venture into human settlements at night to feed on garbage, or speculate newborn cattle during the day. Sometimes the jackal provokes damages in protected areas, in other situation it attacks livestock, or it can be found on hunting areas eating small game-species (Lapini & Banea, 2013). Examined scats in Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia contained dried leaves and grass with the same frequency (24%) as the artificial material (plastic bags, cans, and metal) (Radović & Kovačić, 2010).
Medium-sized canid, considered the most typical representative of the genus Canis (Clutton-Brock et al., 1976). There is approximately 12% difference in body weight between sexes (Moehlman & Hofer, 1997). Basic coat colour is golden but varies from pale creamy yellow to a dark tawny hue on a seasonal basis. The pelage on the back is often a mixture of black, brown, and white hairs. Unique lighter markings on the throat and chest make it possible to differentiate individuals in a population (Macdonald, 1979; Moehlman, 1983). Jackals have the legs relatively long, and feet slender with small pads. Females have four pairs of mammae (Sheldon, 1992).
Jackals live in pairs, but are sometimes found in loose packs of related individuals. Mated pairs are territorial, and both the female and male mark and defend the boundaries of their territory. Family or pack members communicate with each other by a screaming yell and yapping, or a siren-like howl when a kill is located. Litters number up to six but usually average is two to four.
There is needed a good cooperation between researchers and biologists from different countries for a better understanding of the jackal populations ecology and for drawing new policies of conservation measures or controlling level populations where the density overpasses the normal limits, for the interest of the other biodiversity.
Jackal and anthropogenic pressure, in form of waste dump, one of ecological factors responsible of high density. Case report by Jasna Mladenovič (here).
The European distribution of this species has been noticeably modified in the last sixty years, due to the increase of its Croatian and Bulgarian populations and to the natural trend to long dispersal rates of the species (Krystufek & Tvrtkovic, 1990; Krystufek et al., 1997; Arnold et al., 2011).
In the XX Century the first pulsation of its distribution-range in North Adriatic Hinterland dated back to the first years of 50’s, when some packs of golden jackals arrived in North-Western and Central Slovenia (Brelih, 1955).
A second bigger pulsation began in 80’s and a third impressive expansion seems to have started at the beginning of the XXI Century (Lapini et al., 2009; Krystufek, 2011).
The present situation is a consequence of the above-mentioned range pulsations, particularly due to the drastic reduction of the Balkan populations of wolves, culminated at the end of the first half of the XX Century (Krystufek & Tvrtkovic, 1990; Krystufek et al., 1997).
The influences of the recent Climate Global Changes on this general picture are not clear yet, but might be negligible, because the main factors involved in the modification of the range of the species seems to be clearly anthropogenic (Lapini et al 2011).
In the last decade, there has been an increase in jackal records in areas where the species has not been reported before. Increased presence is recorded northwards and westwards of the distribution range of the golden jackal, specifically in Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia. In Austria, the first case of reproduction was confirmed in 2007; reproduction has also recently been reported in Italy (Arnold et al 2011).
Golden jackal is becoming a species of great economic impact in southeastern Europe due to its increasing number and to its influence on game losses (Stoyanov, 2012).
In recent past, distribution boundaries of the golden jackal species in SE Europe fluctuated and two main centres of distribution were identified:
1) Eastern Thrace (Turkey) and Strandja Mountains (Bulgaria).
2) Dalmatia and Northern Greece (Demeter & Spassov, 1993).
The Pannonian population became extinct around the middle of the twentieth century. During the last few decades there has been a great expansion in the Jackal’s range within Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, and vagrants occasionally appear far outside the Balkans, in north-eastern Italy, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia (Krystufek et al., 1997).
New records and determined estimates of densities are available in Greece (Giannatos, 2004), Croatia and Slovenia (Krofel, 2006; 2008), Italy (Lapini et al., 2009; 2011), Hungary (Szabó et al., 2007), Serbia (Cirović, 2007 pers. comm), Romania (Banea, 2011; Banea et al., 2012) and new sightings have been recently reported from areas where jackals were completely absent or rare as occurred in Cantons of Waadt, Bern and Freiburg in Switzerland (Kora news, 2012) and in Ghiduleni village, Rezina county in Republic of Moldavia (Radio Orhei news, 2012).
Stable population of jackals occurs in lowlands of Dniester River and Odessa Oblast Southern Ukraine since 1998 (Rozhenko N, 2013 pers comm) while in Northern Ukraine were registered as vagrant on 15th of October 2013 (Zagorodniuk I, 2013 pers comm).
In Estonia, 2 jackals were killed in 2013, in February and August 2013 (Peep Männil, pers comm.). In the vicinity of Salevere N58.70217º, E 023.57977º Läänemaa (West Estonia) was registered at least one territorial group during BALTICA 2013, jackal survey organized by Matsalu National Park Reserve Administration and NGO Crispus Sibiu (Papp et al, 2013). On 26th of December 2013 jackal female was removed by hunter near Jelgava close to Lielupe River in central Latvia. (The news appeared on 9th of January 2014). On 7th of February 2015 a jackal was shot in Lithuania. At the end of May 2015 a jackal was photographed in NE Poland. In Lithuania, the Environmental Board was planning to declare jackals as Invasive Alien Species. GOJAGE claimed this erroneous statement. In summer 2015 a male jackal was road-killed in Denmark (here).
These records show the elusive character of its biogeography, which remains unknown and that jackals are still expanding. Pulsations from regions where species reached good density were incriminated as being the main factor of jackal expansion together with habitat specialist behaviour or human infrastructure. Based on literature and sightings, a cyclic pattern of jackal local dynamic was observed during the last 70 years in Bulgaria (Spassov, 2007) and Romania (Banea et al., 2012) with a period of 10-15 years, while other three big pulsations could be observed in central Europe during 50s, 80s and 2000s (Lapini & Banea, 2013 not published).
Other factors for their dispersal into Central Europe, according to Giannatos (ex verbis), could be: plains and low altitude as no barriers, daytime refuge (lowland plantations, few small forest remnants, riverside or channel-side dense vegetation), big rivers catchments (e.g. Danube and tributaries), probably less snowy winters and a large food base from anthropogenic sources (agriculture, livestock, hunting units).
While in Greece, Giannatos (2004) concluded that the number of jackals is decreasing and in Hungary the expansion of jackal has been considered “invasive” due to exponential growth (Szabó et al., 2007) remains unclear how the species develops its settlement in other European countries without having data on several years and observing the dynamic on time (Papp et al 2013).