They have long been there. After animal returnees such as wolves, lynxes and beavers, which were exterminated for a long time, as well as immigrated or introduced species such as raccoons and raccoon dogs, golden jackals are now also spreading in Germany. All over Germany. The last evidence so far comes from the North Sea coast: on November 16 at 6.52 a.m., a jackal groped in a photo trap in the Cuxhaven district. The Lower Saxony State Hunters’ Association then published the recording on the Internet.
In terms of appearance and size, the predator with the Latin name Canis aureus is a mixture of fox and wolf. His fur does not shine, as the name might suggest, really golden, it rather changes between yellow-gray to reddish-brown. According to the German Hunting Association, golden jackals can weigh 15 kilograms, shoulder heights of up to 50 and a body length of up to 90 centimeters, plus 20 to 30 centimeters for the fuse, i.e. the tail.
As opportunistic omnivores, golden jackals are not picky about their meals. In addition to berries and corn, carrion and slaughterhouse waste, their menu includes insects, amphibians, fish and small mammals such as mice. Only when it is absolutely necessary do golden jackals dare to approach larger prey. They can also kill deer, freshlings and sheep, especially when they hunt as a pair or in a pack. In 2017, three sheep were attacked by a golden jackal in Schleswig-Holstein and were slightly injured.
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People don’t need to be afraid of attack. Golden jackals are very shy, avoid settlements and live in small territories. In addition, they are mainly out and about at dusk and at night or on the hunt.
The traditional distribution area of the golden jackal extends from South Asia over the Middle East to the Balkan Peninsula, in Europe alone up to 120,000 of these animals are said to live – around five times more than wolves. But golden jackals have only appeared in central and northern European countries for a few years. In Austria, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and even Finland.
No returnees, but new species
There have never been golden jackals in any of these countries. “He is not a returnee, but a completely new species,” says jackal expert Felix Böcker from the forestry research and research institute in Baden-Württemberg.
Jörg Tillmann from the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt lists at least 25 secure golden jackal records since 1997. The animals were snapped in photo traps, genetically identified based on their faeces or, as has been the case several times in Lower Saxony, run over by cars. The last time a female golden jackal was found dead on Autobahn 7 near Hanover was found dead near Osnabrück.
Climate change is probably a reason for spread
Tillmann estimates that the 25 detected animals are probably only a fraction of the immigrated or migrating animals. From his point of view, climate change is one reason for the spread of the golden jackals. The snow-poor winters of recent years and the dry, hot summers – these are good conditions for four-legged friends to now penetrate as far as Northern Europe.
“If the golden jackal establishes itself here, it will change the ecosystem in its area of distribution,” predicts Tillmann. His appeal: So that potential future conflicts, such as those currently observed in wolves, do not even arise, “a scientifically reliable database is important from the start”. Interest groups such as nature conservationists and land users should therefore already be made aware of the possible occurrence of the species via specialist information and identification aids.
As soon as it is documented that the golden jackal is raising offspring in this country, it should be actively monitored. A management plan can then be drawn up on this basis. In the Fauna-Flora-Habitat (FFH) Directive of the European Union, the golden jackal is listed as an animal species of community interest. This means that the EU member states must ensure a favorable conservation status for the species before they can hunt animals. In the case of the golden jackal, however, this condition has not yet been defined for Germany. And – although nobody knows how many specimens are hiding in the woods – certainly not reached.
In ancient Egypt, the golden jackal was worshiped as a sacred being and the god of death Anubis was depicted with a jackal’s head. However, the species living in Africa was classified as independent in 2015 and has been called the gold wolf since then because, unlike the local golden jackals, it is genetically more closely related to the wolf.