Gold jackals in Europe and the Netherlands
At the end of February 2016 it was big news, the first jackal was spotted in the Veluwe. This was a golden jackal. Many people don’t really know what kind of animal it is and how it behaves. Many people also wonder why he came to the Netherlands. Many people are afraid that it would pose a threat to biodiversity, but the question is whether this is justified.
The golden jackal: what kind of animal is it?
The golden jackal belongs to the wild canid species. There are two other types of jackals, the black-backed jackal and the striped jackal, but genetically it is not very closely related to them. In terms of size, the golden jackal is in between the fox and the wolf. Gold jackals live in groups and have proven to be able to manage in a variety of habitats. They can withstand prolonged drought and have an omnivorous diet, although they are slightly more carnivorous than the fox. A golden jackal lives at night and is a withdrawn animal. If a person approaches him, he will feel threatened and will quickly run away. It is therefore not dangerous for humans! Goldjackals like ungulates (also found dead), hares, rabbits, reptiles, birds and their eggs, invertebrates, fruit and waste. In Europe, the golden jackal prefers cultivated areas and wetlands at low elevations, but with enough vegetation to hide. Some human presence in the vicinity is convenient for him, as it improves his chances of finding food. After all, they are regularly spotted at waste places in cities to scrape a meal together. In Europe, very dense forests and highly cultivated areas without any vegetation are not suitable for the golden jackal. For example, a reed swamp would be a good place for the animal.
Where has he been spotted in Europe?
The animal has been increasingly migrating to the north and west of Europe since the 21st century. He has since been seen in Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, for example. Italy, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States. At first, its traditional habitat was mainly in southeastern Europe in countries such as Greece and the Balkans. In total, he has been seen in thirty European countries since 2016 and there are more. Ecologists had predicted for some time that the golden jackal would eventually also reach the Netherlands, because the advance is simply unstoppable. The first golden jackal was spotted in the Veluwe at the beginning of 2016. This was faster than the ecologists expected. It is clear that Europe has now acquired an important role in protecting animals. Nevertheless, in certain parts, such as in the Baltic states, he is regularly shot.
Why did he come to Europe and the Netherlands?
The exact reasons why he came to Europe have not been well researched, but ecologists do have some suspicions. During the late Pleistocene, an ancestor of the golden jackal, the canis arnensis, already lived here. At some point it disappeared from Europe. It is likely that global climate change, making Europe’s weather milder and milder, is causing the jackal to return to Europe. Especially a great migration to Western and Southern Europe can be expected, because the winters here are the mildest in all of Europe. On average even softer than, for example, in the Balkans, where it had been present for some time. There are also fewer wolves in Europe (his natural enemy). The golden jackal is likely to end up in places in Europe where it has never lived in its entire evolution.
Allow or shoot?
People are concerned because they believe that gold jackals can affect biodiversity in certain parts of Europe by hunting and spreading disease. Some even suspect that the predator has been smuggled into Europe, causing the animal to wander in an unnatural habitat for it. Yet this can be called controversial. For example, there has been a study in which genetic information of some gold jackals from the Baltic states was examined. The genetic information would correspond to jackals from multiple regions. It is therefore unlikely that they were smuggled in, as a smuggler would not take jackals from various areas. In that case, the genetic information should correspond more closely. Gold jackals are strong animals and are likely able to travel hundreds of miles. For example, they could well run on their own from the northern Black Sea coastline or the Caucasus Mountains, along the Dnieper and Dvina river basins. As of 2016, no country is known yet, looking at the thirty European countries where it has now been identified, in which the golden jackal is said to have caused a loss of biodiversity. So there is no obvious reason to shoot jackals in large numbers.