Jackals moved north because wolves were eradicated

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

Jackals now vastly outnumber wolves in Europe:

Smaller than North American coyotes, the golden jackal weighs an average 20 pounds. It is native to the Middle East and southern Asia, ranging as far east as Thailand and inhabiting Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

The species arrived at the southern edge of Central and Eastern Europe about 8,000 years ago, fossil evidence suggests, and started to expand slowly in the 19th century. But the current boom really began in the 1950s and has accelerated over the past 20 years.

Jackals are one of the least studied canine predators. Like wolves and coyotes, jackals have family-based packs, but the groups tend to be smaller, with four to six animals, while wolf packs may include 15 animals.

A monogamous pair of jackals forms the core of a pack; the young may stay with the parents, or leave to establish their own packs.

Jackals are not as prominent in tales and proverbs as some other animals, although there’s an old quote, variously attributed, that it is better to live like a lion for a day than a jackal for 100 years. Hemingway described “personal columnists” as jackals, which no doubt refers to their scavenging habits.

Jackals did have one moment of past glory. The Egyptian god Anubis was sometimes said to have a jackal’s head. That claim to fame has been lost: The North African animal that may have inspired the sculptures of Anubis has been reclassified as the African wolf.

Golden Jackal in Croatia

Substantial populations of jackals now live in a number of European countries, including Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Austria, Italy, and above all, Bulgaria, which has the largest population.

Jackal wanderers — or advance scouts — have been found in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Belarus, Estonia, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Scientists think jackals began to move north because wolves were targeted for eradication, particularly in the Balkans. That opened a door, since jackals seem to avoid areas well populated by wolves.


The jackals’ expansion is a huge natural experiment, similar to but more surprising than the spread of coyotes in North America. Coyotes were well established in the West and Southwest before they started arriving in the Northeast and Southeast, and lately in Mexico.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The golden jackal, like the coyote, can interbreed with dogs and wolves. In the US, eastern coyotes are now about 5/8 western coyote, 2/8 wolf and 1/8 large dog. The hybrid is about 50% larger than the western original, forms packs and happily lives besides people in cities. It is believed that 2,000 of them reside in Chicago, many down town.

    The Eastern Coyote has been proposed as a new species. It is a threat to pets and small animals and even to humans, especially children. It will be interesting to see if that happens in Europe.

    For some details, go look up Stanley D. Gehrt. Professor & Wildlife Extension Specialist, Ohio State University.

  2. Isegoria says:

    Yeah, as we’ve mentioned before, the coywolf is more than the sum of its parts.

  3. L. C. Rees says:

    “Wolf-headed god” sounds so pedestrian.

    “Jackal-headed god”: that has some crackle.

    Anubis, thy honor is taken from thee.

  4. Adar says:

    The first thing the wolves did when they were reintroduced into Yellowstone was kill half the coyotes in the park. 2,000 coyotes in the park pre wolf, 1,000 coyotes post wolf.

    A competitor for food and also you can’t have two tough guys on the same block. One has to go.

  5. Isegoria says:

    I was actually thinking the exact same thing, L.C. — which is odd, given how cool wolves are. Too on the nose?

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