Česká verze

Jackal discovers Europe

20.8.2015, Carnivores.cz

Less than three years has passed since we have informed on our website that a dog-like animal resembling in appearance and behaviour the wolf was spotted by Swiss biologists on camera trap images. Subsequent genetic analyses confirmed what scientists had been expecting – that this was the first evidence proving the occurrence of a golden jackal (Canis aureus) in Switzerland. At the time, the discovery came as a surprise but today there are already several dozen similar reports from various parts of Europe. At first glance we can see a certain parallel with the return of large carnivores to the areas of their original presence; however, there is one crucial difference: the traditional home range of the jackal is in the Balkans and, until the twentieth century, it was almost unknown in the rest of Europe. The spread of jackals to new areas poses a number of questions regarding its legal protection which were the topic for an international team of zoologists and lawyers. Their findings were summarized in an article published in the scientific journal Biodiversity and Conservation.

Historical and current range of the golden jackal

Palaeontological findings suggest that we would not have encountered a jackal in Europe until the end of Stone Age. The species only reached European continent after the last ice age. Records from medieval and early modern period document its occurrence in the Mediterranean, the Adriatic, and the Black Sea regions. Jackal first appeared in the Carpathians in the nineteenth century, but the main expansion of the species did not start until about fifty to eighty years ago. Since then, the jackal population numbers grow and individual animals were recorded north and west from its original range in the Balkans.

The map below shows current range of golden jackal. Yellow colour indicates the areas with a permanent presence, red dots mark the isolated cases of occurrence. Some recent information is missing from the map, for example, the incident in the Czech Republic where a stray animal was shot last summer in the Nový Jičín region by a hunter who allegedly mistook it for a fox.

Map of golden jackal occurrence in Europe. Source: A. Trouwborst, M. Krofel & J.D.C. Linnell, http://link.springer.com/

Experts are now looking for reasons why jackals are spreading to other European countries. Why is their home range extending to the north-west? In this context, the mention is often made of the global climate change. Research also shows that jackals appear more often in the areas with the absence of wolf. Wolves may predate on this smaller, in appearance similar carnivore.

Is golden jackal an invasive or protected species?

The spread of golden jackal in Europe cannot be compared to the gradual increase of areas with presence of wolves and other large carnivores that are recolonizing their original habitats. Thus, a question arises from time to time whether the jackal should be considered an invasive species. According to international convention and European directive on conservation, this view does not hold. It defines invasive species as plants or animals which spread from their original location primarily as a result of human actions (were introduced by humans).  However, jackals spontaneously expanded from Balkans to other European countries. In a similar way, collared dove colonised much of Europe over the last century. This is why neither the collared dove nor the jackal is subject to international commitments regarding the obligation to regulate invasive species.

On the other hand, the international legislation does not ensure the strict legal protection of such species. The table below shows how individual countries treat the jackal. Only the countries with the attribute “fully protected” in the second column of the table provide the jackal with full protection (for example, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and Poland); in most places, it is hunted in accordance with the national hunting regulations. In the Czech Republic, it is not protected but neither is it included among the game (according to the Hunting Act) which means it may be legally killed only with the permission of the nature conservation authority.

Conservation status of golden jackal in European countries. Source: A. Trouwborst, M. Krofel & J.D.C. Linnell, http://link.springer.com/

Certain guidelines on how to approach the situation of golden jackal are provided by international conventions – specifically, the Berne Convention and the European Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora). Under the first agreement, European countries are required to ensure that the jackal population of is not put under threat. The Habitats Directive lists jackal in Annex V which means that hunting is not excluded but it must be compatible with maintaining the species in a favourable conservation status, even in the areas where it historically did not occur.

First records of jackals in the Czech Republic

It is ironic that the confirmed cases of the jackal occurrence in the Czech Republic are mostly of the animals that died after being hit by a vehicle or shot (see the Nový Jičín incident). The first reliable record dates from the end of winter 2006 when the carcass of an adult individual was found in the Uherské Hradiště region; this animal, like the next two cases, died on the road – in 2009, another dead jackal was found in the Břeclav region, followed in 2011 by a case in the Benešov region (Vranovice). There are also numerous undocumented observations. In July, for example, volunteers reported a jackal killed by a car near Hradec Králové, unfortunately, the body disappeared before the case could have been documented or verified.

The findings and observations of the golden jackal in the Czech Republic and its close vicinity recorded until January 2014 (dots – documented findings/observations, asterisks – undocumented observations). Source: M. Anděra

Assessing the presence of jackal in the Czech Republic is complicated by the possible confusion with other canids, particularly the fox. While the jackal is similar in size to the fox, in appearance it resembles the grey wolf from which it is distinguished by smaller size and shorter legs. It has a short dark tail and its colour changes during the year. Usually, it is tawny to reddish brown (in winter rather greyish brown or yellow-grey), often with a dark stripe of black hair along its back. An interesting identification sign can be found on the bottom of jackal’s front feet which have two fingers grown together.

Jackal is another carnivore gradually discovering our landscapes. Its spontaneous expansion across Europe to the areas where it never lived before is an example of dynamics characterising an ever-changing nature. The label of invasive and harmful species occasionally put on the jackal exemplifies the confusion of concepts and misunderstanding of the fundamental natural processes such as the spread of species. Factors influencing the expansion of the golden jackal to the north of Europe are not yet plausibly described. The international and European legislation, however, restricts the hunting of jackals and requires that the countries protect the species from extinction also in its new home range.

Photograph of the front paw of the jackal shot dead in 2014 in the Nový Jičín region. The fusion of two front fingers in their rear part is clearly visible. The length of the paw was just under 7cm. Photo: Dana Bartošová





Trouwborst A., Krofel M. & J.D.C. Linnell, 2015: Legal Implications of Range Expansions in a Terrestrial Carnivore: The Case of the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) in Europe. 24 Biodiversity and Conservation (published online 27 June 2015)

Anděra M., 2014: Co je nového v zoologii. Pozor na šakala! (Latest news from zoology. Watch out for the jackal!) Živa (1): 25

Trouwborst A., Krofel M. & J.D.C. Linnell, 2015: Expansion of Golden jackals across Europe creates tricky legal issues


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